Remains of a Biblical city, dated to the times of David. Its name means "two gates", which were actually found in the excavations. Recent excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (also known as the "Elah fortress"), situated on a north hill above the valley of Elah, have found an Iron Age II fortified city with two gates, establishing the identity of this site as the Biblical Shaaraim.
The following aerial view shows the points of interest, with the valley of Elah in the center. Khirbet Qeiyafa, which is identified as Shaaraim (Sha'arayim), is located on the north side of the middle of the valley.
You can point on the yellow squares to navigate to the selected place within this page or other web pages.
The city of Sha'arayim ("two gates")
was one of the cities of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15: 20, 35-36): "This is the
inheritance of the tribe of the children of Judah according to their
families.... Socoh, and Azekah, And Sharaim,...".
It is also mentioned in Chronicles, as part of the list of cities occupied by the tribe of Simeon, who co-shared cities with Judah until the reign of David (1 Chronicles 4:31): "The sons of Simeon ... at Bethbirei, and at Shaaraim. These were their cities unto the reign of David".
The city also appeared in the Biblical account of the aftermath of the battle between David and Goliath of Gath. This famous battle is detailed in the web page of the Valley of Elah. According to the Bible, Shaaraim is located near the place of the battle in the valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17: 52): "And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron".
Shaaraim was probably the largest Iron age II city in Judea, and was abandoned during the end of the Iron age IIa - at about 925BC. The reasons for the destruction was either by war, earthquake or other reasons.
After the destruction of the Iron age city, other findings were found at the site which date to later periods. The site was fortified in the Hellenistic period (third-second C BC), reusing the earlier walls and building blocks.
At a close proximity to Sha'arayim is another ruins, named Khirbet Aklidia. This site was settled during Roman and Byzantine periods.
Ottoman period - PEF survey
The area around the valley of Elah was examined in the PEF survey (1866-1877) by Wilson, Conder and Kitchener. The valley of Elah appears on this map of 1878 in its Arabic form - "Wadi es Sunt" (the valley of the Acacia).
The ruins of Biblical Sha'arayim is marked as Khurbet Kiafa, which is located near the height marked as 1185 ft. Their report of this place was merely: "Heaps of stones". So these ruins did not catch the attention of the explorers until recent years.
Part of Map Sheet 17 of Survey of Western Palestine, by Conder and Kitchener, 1872-1877. (Published 1880, reprinted by LifeintheHolyLand.com)
In 1992 Yehuda Dagan first published an estimated plan of Kh. Kiafa (Qeiyafa), and Zvi Greenhut conducted a survey in 2001, which caught the attention of the archaeologists.
Extensive excavations of Kh. Qeiyafa started in 2007/2008. The excavators are headed by Prof. Yosef Garfunkel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Mr Saar Ganor (Israeli Antiquities Authority). There are also teams and scholars from the Universities of Southern Adventist, Oakland and Virginia Commonwealth. The archaeologists unearthed a pair of gates, which fit to the name of the city and made its identification almost certain.
The site is located on a high hill (328m) above the valley of Elah. It is built on two platforms - a lower city of 100 dunams (10 hectares) and an upper city of 30 dunams (3 hectares). There are two gates - on the west side (directed towards the Biblical city of Azekah) and a south gate (directed towards the valley of Elah and the Biblical city of Sochoh). It is completely surrounded by a 2-4 m wall built in a casemate form (double walls with a 4m chamber between them), with a base of long and heavy blocks. Dwelling rooms touched the border of the inner wall.
The following aerial view shows the points of interest. You can point on the yellow squares to navigate to the selected place within this page or other web pages.
After 4 seasons of excavations (2007-2010) the excavators dated the city to 1050-925BC (end of Iron Age I, and Iron Age IIa). Other remains from later periods (Hellenistic period and a Byzantine period) were excavated at some parts of the site.
The most prominent find is an ostracon bearing five lines with 70 letters in "Proto"-Canaanite script.
Based on the findings they determined that the fortified city was a well organized Judean Hebrew city, which existed at the times of David and Solomon. Their claims of the Judean identity are based on the cooking habits (lack of pig bones, use of baking trays), the structure of the city (residential houses abut the city wall), the existence of the two gates, the ceramics and finding of a Semitic inscription, an Aniconic cult in a sanctuary found in the site, the location of the site and the Biblical references. The site is indeed a remarkable Iron age city, but there are debates among scholars on its identity. Probably more years of excavations will resolve some of these issues.
Remains of this Biblical city, dated to the times of David, are seen above the north side of the valley. The archaeologists unearthed a pair of gates, which fit to the name of the city and made its identification almost certain. The western gate is seen below, with Azekah in the center of the far background.
Click on the photos to view in higher resolution...
A closer view of the site is shown below. The south gate is located in the middle of the top of the hill.
Another view from the south-east, as seen from the foothills of Sochoh:
A narrow dirt road leads up to the site from the valley of Elah. Perhaps this is where the wounded Philistines fell after the battle of David vs Goliath (1 Samuel 17: 52): "And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim ...".
Approaching the site from the west, a long wide wall stretches towards the site. Khirbet Qeiyafa is seen in the background.
Another view of the wall:
The western wall of the site is built of massive blocks, and is dated to the Iron age. Before excavating this section of the hill, a Hellenistic period wall, composed of small fieldstones, covered this wall.
The photo shows the left (north) side of the west gate. A grey line in the wall shows the height of the wall before it was reconstructed by the excavators.
As seen under the first level of the blocks, the wall was built on top of the bedrock.
A wide gate is located on this side. Four chambers are located on both sides of the gate.
The next picture is a west view of the west gate. In the background is the ancient city of Azekah and a western section of the valley of Elah in the direction of Gath.
On each side of the gate are two chambers.
View of the gate area is shown in the following picture. This area of the gate and south was designated as "Area D".
A north-west view of the western gate is seen below.
The next picture is a south-west view of the gate. You can notice on the right side that the city wall is a casemate design, consisting of an outer and an inner masonry wall braced by transverse masonry partitions. This design divides the gaps between the walls into a series of chambers.
A road once connected the west gate to the stream of Elah, west of the site. The road continued to Azekah which is seen on top of the hill in the center of the far background.
A closer view of Azekah can be seen in the next photo.
You can read more about this Biblical site in its featured web page.
To the north of the west gate are excavated sections of the dwellings structures along the wall. This area was designated as "Area B".
Another section, more to the north, is seen below. The structures are well preserved Iron Age dwellings. On the floors of the rooms the excavators found installations, large quantities of pottery, and stone tools - in an excellent state of preservation.
The dwellings are built against the casemates, incorporated as part of the construction. This design - a dwelling belt along the casemate city wall - is a typical feature of urban planning in Judean cities, which supports the identity of the city as part of the Judean kingdom. Furthermore, this city is the oldest known example of this design.
The excavators in 2011 are working on a section south of the west gate. This area in the "lower city" is designated as "Area D".
The archaeological work in progress:
Part of the process is shifting thru the soil in order to detect all the ceramic fragments, bones and other remains.
On the top of the hill is the location of the "upper city", which covers an area of about 30 dunams (3 hectares). A large (35 x 42m) rectangular enclosure is located in the center of this area, with several rooms on its south-west side.
A section, designated as "Area A", explores a small section of the upper city. Two layers were exposed - the older layer dated to the Iron age II period, while the upper layer is from the Hellenistic period.
As seen below, the archaeological work is in progress.
In the south-east side of the ruins is a second gate, which was excavated in an earlier season. The discovery of the second gate supported the identification of the site as "Shaaraim" - two gates.
In the next picture is a view of the south gate, with two chambers on both its sides. The valley of Elah is seen in the background, with the ancient city of Socoh located on the brown hill seen on the left side.
A detail of one of the chambers on the east side of the gate:
A covered channel is located under the gate, as seen below. Excavations continued in 2011 around the gate, which is designated as "Area C".
A south view of the excavation work and the gate behind them is below.
This area on the west side of the south gate is an open piazza and the excavations will try to understand its purpose, as well as identify other functions near the gate.
A stone vessel, which looks like was used for cooking, was found near the gate:
Another section of the excavated area to the east of the gate.
Several vertical stones may have been part of a stable:
Another section of the city is located below the south gate:
The Iron Age city was protected on all sides by a 700m long casemate wall, consisting of an outer and an inner masonry wall braced by transverse masonry partitions. This inner wall is seen below in the inner line, with partially exposed large hewn blocks.
An external, lower wall, is seen on the external (far) side. It is about 1.5m thick and based on small or medium size fieldstones. This wall is dated to the Hellenistic period, and is built over base of the Iron age wall.
Another section of the wall:
The same section, with a south view towards the valley of Elah:
Another section of the external wall is below - with a breach in the wall that exposes its inner section.
In the background is the valley of Elah, stretching towards the east. The ruins of the Biblical city of Sochoh are seen on the other side of the valley (on top of the the brown round hill in the center of the picture) .
An underground cistern can be seen along the road that follows the city wall:
* Sha'ar - Hebrew: gate.
* Sha'arayim, Shaaraim - Hebrew: two gates.
* Elah - the Hebrew name of the Terebinth (Pistacia) tree.
* Sochoh - the Biblical name of the city. The Arabic names (Kh. Abbad, Shuweike) preserved the ancient name.
(Hebrew; 4-2011) - recommended for reading