The 9th century BCE destruction layer at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel: integrating macro- and microarchaeology.
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Destruction events in multi-period sites are valuable marker horizons that represent time-synchronous events across the site and sometimes between sites. Destruction layers often preserve rich finds that provide insights into site use. Here we use both macro- and microarchaeological methods to study a destruction event from the late 9th century at Tell es-Safi/Gath in Israel. A major conflagration at this specific location resulted in the consolidation of parts of the roof construction materials, thus enabling us to differentiate between roof, walls and floor materials. We could reconstruct the events which lead to the formation of an approximately 80 cm thick layer. The base of this layer that overlies the floor surface is a thin charred organic material-rich ash layer. As the clays in this layer were not altered by heat and the ceramics still have preserved residues, we conclude that the ash was produced elsewhere and was redistributed to this location. Ceramics that are associated with burnt roof sediments do not have preserved residues. We also estimate the time that each of the accumulation events might have taken, and conclude that this accumulation occurred over decades. The architecture and artifacts found within and beneath the destruction do not allow us to unequivocally identify the function of this area prior to destruction. We do however identify an unusual bin and associated stone pavement, and a corner rich in artifacts, phytoliths and charred organic material. We also show that a wall was built of fired mud bricks; a most unusual occurrence for this time period in the Levant. This study demonstrates well the usefulness of an integrated macro- and microarchaeological approach to understanding the archaeological record, as well as the benefits of using an on-site laboratory.
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