Historical and archeological facts about Tel Megiddo




Tel Aviv University’s May 21 2012 press release presents the exceptional jewelry hoard discovered at Tel Megiddo.

By Gideon

Centuries before the pyramids of Egypt rose along the Nile, the inhabitants of Megiddo organized themselves into a massive city and began construction on a monumental home for their revered god. This temple would be one of the most ambitious construction projects in the Levant, and the city responsible for it would be the earliest and largest urban formation for hundreds of miles.

Is Armageddon = Megiddo?

Many scholars believe that the word Armageddon comes from two Hebrew words —“har” and “Megiddo.” The word “har” means a mountain in Hebrew.  Thus, Armageddon equals Magiddo Mountain.

Tel (har) Megiddo

The site of Megiddo (Tel Megiddo) has long captivated the imagination of archaeologists, Biblical scholars and military historians. Tel Megiddo, which rises an impressive 100 feet above the surrounding valley, is about 55 to 60 miles north and east of Jerusalem and about 20 miles east of the port city of Haifa. In ancient times, this area was part of a main highway between Africa and Asia. It provided a natural gathering place due to the flatness of the surrounding topography. Archaeology shows evidence of frequent, extremely heavy defense facilities there. Tel Megiddo universal value has won it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Inhabited from 7000 BC to 586 BC, Megiddo was a strategically significant site in the ancient world of the Levant. It sat astride a narrow pass and trade route connecting ancient Egypt and Assyria.  It is mentioned in Ancient Egyptian texts related to the military campaign of Egypt’s Thutmose III, who attacked the city in 1478 BC. The battle is described on the walls of his temple in Upper Egypt. Megiddo was also the site of two other famous battles, including one fought between Egypt and the Kingdom of Judah in 609 BC and the Battle of Megiddo in World War I, fought between allied troops under General Allenby and Ottoman forces.

At the beginning of the third millennium BCE, Megiddo was already a fortified city with huge walls, and 1,000 years later it became a center of Egyptian rule over Canaan. Strategically, it was invaluable: It controlled the end of the Iron Valley in the heart of the ancient Via Maris (the Way of the Sea), which linked Egypt and Damascus. The Egyptian pharaoh Thutmoses III took Megiddo in 1468  BCE during his campaign to entrench Egypt’s power over the region.

His majesty (Thutmose III) speaks to his generals:

That wretched enemy (the Canaanites)… has come and has entered into Megiddo. He is there at this moment. He has gathered to him the princes of every foreign country that had been loyal to Egypt, as well as those as far as Naharin and Mitanni (in today’s Syria)…Then his majesty issued forth at the head of his army… He had not met a single enemy. Their southern wing was in Ta’anach, while their northern wing was on the south side of the Qina Valley… Thereupon his majesty (Thutmose) prevailed over them (the Canaanites) at the head of his army. Then they saw his majesty prevailing over them, and they fled headlong to Megiddo with faces of fear. They abandoned their horses and their chariots of gold and silver…

Six letters found in the archives of the Egyptian kings at el-Amarna, dating to the 14th century BCE, were sent by the king of Megiddo to his overlords, the kings of Egypt. In these letters, Biridiya, king of Megiddo, describes the growing threat to his city at the hands of Labayu (king of Shechem) and pleads for help:

To the king, my lord, and my Sun-god, say: Thus Biridiya, the faithful servant of the king. At the two feet of the king, my lord, and my Sun-god, seven and seven times I fall. Let the king know that ever since the archers returned (to Egypt), Labayu has carried on hostilities against me, and we are not able to pluck the wool, and we are not able to go outside the gate in the presence of Labayu, since he learned that thou hast not given archers; and now his face is set to take Megiddo, but let the king protect the city, lest Labayu seize it. Verily, there is no other purpose in Labayu. He seeks to destroy Megiddo.

With the decline of Egyptian control in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE, struggles for power took place among the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites which left their mark upon the remains at Megiddo. The city was finally conquered by King David, who established it as an important regional center of his kingdom. The city flourished during the time of his son, King Solomon. In 924 BCE, Pharaoh Shishak conquered Megiddo, but the city was rebuilt, and in Ahab’s time it became an important chariot city. In 732 BCE, the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III took the city. Later, King Josiah of Judah was killed there after facing off against Pharaoh Neco. The city was abandoned after the Persian period. Megiddo is identified with Armageddon, the scene of the battle of the End of Days according to Revelation 16:14-21.

Tel Megido’s highlights include the Late Bronze Age gate (1500-1200 BCE), the palace; ‘Solomon’s Gate’; the panoramic northern lookout; the southern lookout with a shady area for pilgrims’ prayers; stables and the water system, testimony to the amazing abilities and initiative of its engineers. The water system probably began as a reservoir in King Solomon’s day, when a path between parallel walls led to the spring outside the city walls. Later, apparently during Ahab’s time, a more complex system was built to conceal the spring and allow people to draw water without leaving the city walls. The system includes a 25-meter-deep shaft to bedrock. At the bottom, a 70-meter-long, 3-meter-high tunnel was dug. The floor of the shaft was lower than the spring, allowing water to flow from the spring to the shaft, where people could draw their water. A wall was built to conceal the location of the spring. The site includes remains from the city’s glorious past with paths leading through the main sites such as the City Gates and the Ivory Palace in which a treasure of ancient ivory objects and jewelry were discovered – the richest Canaanite treasure ever discovered.

Several expeditions have excavated at Megiddo since the beginning of the 20th century. The most important excavations were conducted by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago between the years 1925 and 1939. All four of the uppermost cities of the tel, dating to the first half of the 1st millennium BCE, were excavated by this expedition. Several sections excavated to bedrock exposed the remains of the earliest city. The finds corroborate written evidence concerning the importance of Megiddo, first as a royal Canaanite city, then as an Egyptian stronghold and administrative center, later as a “chariot city” of the kings of Israel, and finally as the controlling city of Assyrian and Persian provinces. Excavations at Megiddo were renewed in 1994, with the aim of clarifying the tel’s stratigraphy and chronology and of obtaining further information about architectural and cultural remains at the site.

Tel Aviv — Researchers from Tel Aviv University have recently discovered a collection of gold and silver jewelry, dated from around 1100 B.C., hidden in a vessel at the archaeological site of Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel (see picture above). One piece — a gold earring decorated with molded ibexes, or wild goats — is “without parallel,” they believe. According to Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, the vessel was found in 2010, but remained uncleaned while awaiting a molecular analysis of its content. When they were finally able to wash out the dirt, pieces of jewelry, including a ring, earrings, and beads, flooded from the vessel. Prof. Finkelstein is the co-director of the excavation of Tel Megiddo along with Professor Emeritus David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University and Associate Director Prof. Eric Cline of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The researchers believe that the collection, which was discovered in the remains of a private home in the northern part of Megiddo, belongs to a time period called “Iron I,” and that at least some of the pieces could have originated in nearby Egypt. Some of the materials and designs featured in the jewelry, including beads made from carnelian stone, are consistent with Egyptian designs from the same period, notes Ph.D. candidate Eran Arie, who supervises the area where the hoard was found.