Visiting Azekah, Lachish and J. L. Starkey’s resting place

By Abigail Zammit (continued from The Lachish Letters in Jerusalem)

Apart from my museum visits, my next important objective for the trip was to dedicate an entire day to scouting two particular sites. With four litres of water, sun lotion, hat, scale rods, a compass, a GPS, north-points, photographic equipment, and a tripod, I travelled south-west of Jerusalem to visit the archaeological sites of Azekah (Tel Azekah) and Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir/Tel Lachish), to photograph key features and points of interest at both tells. These sites were, after Jerusalem, the two most important and last remaining strongholds during the Babylonian invasion of Judah, in the early 6th century B.C.E. (Jeremiah 34:7).

Fig. 1. The author standing outside the park entrance to Tel Azekah.

Fig. 1. The author standing outside the park entrance to Tel Azekah. Photo: A. Zammit.

My first stop was Azekah (Fig. 1). The name of this ancient fortress features in ostracon Lachish 4, the writer of which expressed that he and his men could not see Azekah, but were looking for the beacon or fire-signals of Lachish. At Azekah, I could see fenced-off open trenches and general work-in-progress from the Lautenschläger Azekah Archaeological Expedition, a joint project between Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg, which has been underway since 2012. Azekah is fairly large in size, but not as massive or imposing as Lachish, which dominates its surrounding countryside and vineyards.

Lachish was, of course, my next and last stop. For my research purposes, the main point of interest there is the so-called “guardroom”, the eastern room or tower upon entering the outer-gate to the fortress. The guardroom yielded sixteen of the Lachish Letters in the excavation season of 1935. Like Azekah, Lachish has now been turned into an Israeli National Park; the guardroom and most of the gateway area, also highly relevant to my research, have been lately reconstructed or restored by incorporating stone material, cobbles and gravel to the original walls and ruins in situ.

As a nod to Rev. Charles Bernard Mortlock’s 1935 photo of British archaeologist James Leslie Starkey at Lachish (Fig. 2) I took a similar photo of myself on site to indicate the findspot of the Lachish Letters inside the guardroom (Fig. 3). Other points of interest at the tell include the inner gate, which is partly fenced off, the palace ruins at the centre of the mound, and the saddle area at the southwestern corner of the tell.

Fig 2. James Leslie Starkey at the Lachish letters find site,  photograph taken by Rev. Charles Bernard Mortlock in 1935 (PEF-P-Portrait-Starkey). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Fig 2. James Leslie Starkey at the Lachish letters find site, photograph taken by Rev. Charles Bernard Mortlock in 1935 (PEF-P-Portrait-Starkey). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Fig 4. The author standing in the reconstructed guardroom at Lachish and pointing to the findspot of the Lachish Letters, view south.

Fig 3. The author standing in the reconstructed guardroom at Lachish and pointing to the findspot of the Lachish Letters, view south. Photo: A. Zammit.

In the late 7th and early 6th centuries B.C.E., a series of domestic units or storerooms was built alongside the east wall of the ruined Palace C. Two of the Lachish ostraca (Lachish 20 and 21) were recovered from one of these rooms (L12:1065) in 1938, among the ashes of the destruction left by the Babylonian army. Most of these areas are today covered by lush overgrowth. Around different parts of the tell, I came across fenced-off areas which are currently excavated by the Fourth Expedition to Lachish, a joint project between The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University, which commenced in 2013.

Back in Jerusalem, I didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) headquarters at the Rockefeller Museum, namely the Archives and the Library. Moreover, I went to the National Library of Israel to access two articles on the Lachish Letters, by H. Torczyner (later N. H. Tur-Sinai) and A. Bergman respectively, that appeared in the daily journal Ha-‘aretz of 1936, today preserved on microfilm.

Nearing the end of my research trip, I toured the Old City and took the opportunity to visit the resting place of none other than archaeologist James Leslie Starkey (mentioned above; Fig. 2), who was buried at the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery in Jerusalem on January 11th 1938 (Fig. 4). Starkey directed the British Mandate excavations of Lachish from 1932 until his murder on January 10th 1938. While at the Cemetery, I walked a few paces and climbed a few steps to an eastward upper field, to visit the grave of Starkey’s teacher, British Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie. This meaningful visit was a fitting conclusion to a most rewarding academic experience in Israel.

Fig 4. The author standing next to James Leslie Starkey’s tombstone, at the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, Jerusalem.

Fig 4. The author standing next to James Leslie Starkey’s tombstone, at the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

I returned from my productive journey with 5GB of data, which scream “Well worth the trip!”. I also took with me fond memories of Jerusalem and of the several places of archaeological interest I explored. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation go to the Palestine Exploration Fund for providing me with financial support to conduct my research in Israel, which proved to be a truly enriching and worthwhile opportunity.

Cite this article as: [Author], "Visiting Azekah, Lachish and J. L. Starkey’s resting place," in Palestine Exploration Fund Blog, 1 July 2015, http://www.pef.org.uk/blog/visiting-azekah-lachish-and-j-l-starkeys-resting-place/.

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