Tel ‘Eton


Large-scale excavations at Tel ‘Eton in southern Judah have added critical evidence in favor of the biblical description of the united monarchy. Tel ‘Eton is situated in the Judean Shephelah, east of the hills of Hebron, and over 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Jerusalem, as the crow flies. Prof. Avraham Faust and his Bar-Ilan University team have excavated the site since 2006. Throughout 10 seasons of excavation, an extremely large residential building (Building 101) was excavated at the very top of the mound.

The building is a variation of the typical four-room house common to Israel from the 10th century b.c.e. onward. Building 101 is unique, however, because it is over three times larger than most other urban Iron Age dwellings; the ground floor is 230 square meters (nearly 2,500 square feet). Given its large size, its location on top of the mound, as well as the use of large ashlar stones in its construction, Faust’s team called Building 101 the “governor’s residency.”

According to Faust’s report, published in the Radiocarbon scientific journal in 2018, the building was excavated meticulously, with all the earth sifted and every pottery sherd documented (The ‘Governor’s Residency’ at Tel ‘Eton”). The results showed that the large building was destroyed during the late eighth century b.c.e., likely at the time of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah. However, the date of its construction was harder to determine.

Typically, archaeologists date the construction of buildings by analyzing the material remains belonging to the earliest floor of the structure. By dating the material remains on top of the floor, and directly underneath it, a window of time is produced showing the date of construction. Most often, the material on top of the floor is sealed by a destruction, thus giving the latest possible time the building could have been built. Most of the finds would relate to the time the building was destroyed and a few from the construction period. Nevertheless, this is an accurate enough method to date the building if it was only in use for a few decades before it was destroyed. But what if the building was in use for hundreds of years before it was destroyed? In that case, following the typical archaeological method for dating the building is insufficient.

This is what Faust believes happened with the governor’s residence at Tel ‘Eton. Faust wrote in 2018, “Buildings and strata can exist for a few centuries, until they are destroyed, but almost all finds will reflect this latter event. We therefore suggest that Building 101, despite the differences between it and other buildings, is representative of a much more widespread phenomenon—the old-house effect—which should warn us against using the rarity of well-dated Iron Age iia finds as evidence for the late development of social complexity in Judah.”

Faust believes not taking into account this old-house effect is the reason many archaeologists have “misconstrued the social and political history of the region” during the time of David and Solomon. Since there were almost no large-scale destruction events that took place in Judah from the time of David to the time of Sennacherib, the archaeological remains at sites appear to favor a later date for construction, when in reality the structures were built much earlier. As such, the projects of the earlier builders (such as David and Solomon) are always going to be under-recognized.

With that in mind, when was Building 101 built? For this, Faust’s team excavated through the single floor and took four well-chosen carbon samples for radiometric dating from the floor’s makeup and below fill. Two of these were short-lived samples (olive pits) and two were pieces of charcoal. The dating of the samples pointed to a late 11th- or early 10th-century time frame—the time of the united monarchy.

According to Faust, not only was the governor’s house built at this time, but so too was the fortification line around the tel. During the first half of the 10th century, the village transformed into a central town replete with a city wall and a large residency made of ashlar stones.

Faust concluded, “The construction of the building coincided with the expansion of the mound (and probably also with the erection of the city wall), signifying a major change of the entire site. Both historical circumstances and the plan of the building—a classical four-room house—connect the changes with the highland polity, most likely the contested united monarchy.”