Ruins of an 8th-6th Century BC Israelite walled city, located on the side of the ancient route leading from the east to Beersheba; mentioned as one of the southern Judean cities during the time of King David.
* Site of the Month June 2012 *
Tel Aro’er is the ruins of an 8th-6th Century BC Israelite walled city, located on the side of the ancient route leading from the east to Beersheba. It was mentioned as one of the southern Judean cities during the Kingdom of David.
1 Samuel 30 26, 28: ” And when David … sent of the spoil … And to them which were in Aroer…”.
Location and Map:
Tel Aro’er is located in the southernmost point of the Beersheba Valley. The ruins of the city are located on a hill on the south side of the road to Dimona, about 22 km southeast of modern Beersheba.
Aro’er was one of the cities in the region of Judea, and listed as one of the cities that received presents from King David during the 11th Century BC (1 Samuel 30 26, 28): ” And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD;… And to them which were in Aroer…”.
Map of the area around Aroer – during the Canaanite to the Israelite periods (based on Bible Mapper 3.0)
Late Iron Age (Israelite II)
The archaeologists examined several excavation areas on the mound, and identified the majority of the structures as Late Iron Age – 8th to 6th Century BC. The city covered at the time the entire top side of the mound and some of the surrounding foothills. The total area was 27 Dunam (2.7 Hectares), with an upper city of 10 Dunam and a lower city of 17 Dunam.
The city was protected by a massive casemate wall (double walls with a chambers between them), 4m wide, which is a common Iron Age design. It was destroyed at the beginning of the 6th Century BC, according to an accumulation of ash found on this layer.
Another occupational phase came in centuries later, during the early Roman period (1st Century BC). A fortress was built on top of the hill and above the ancient layer.
Tel Aro’er was first excavated in 1975 under the direction of Prof. A. Biran and R. Cohen. Additional excavation seasons were held in 1976, 1978, 1980-1982, under the direction of Prof Biran.
This section is ordered ‘clockwise’ from north to west, after the aerial views.
(a) Aerial Views
A drone captured this northwest aerial view of Tel Aro’er. Notice the city wall along the edges of the top of the hill.
Click on the photos to view in higher resolution…
The next aerial view, also captured in April 2016, is from the southwest side. Extensive excavations were conducted on this south side.
Behind the mound is highway #25 from Beersheba to Dimona, close to Aroer junction on the far right side.
The following YouTube video shows a flight of a drone over the north and south sides of the mound.
(b) Ground views
The mound of Aro’er is visible from the road from Beersheba to Dimona. If you have some time to explore the site, simply stop at the side of the road just before reaching to the junction of the modern ‘Ar’ara village, which preserved the ancient name.
In front of the mound, on its northern side, is a Bedouin cemetery.
- North/West side – Area Y
The mound rises over the valley. On the north side of the mound was the lower city, an area of 17 Dunam. A small section of the western side of this section was examined in an area named ‘Y’, which included a section of the Iron Age city wall and few structures behind the wall.
A section of the city wall is visible here, as a result of the excavations.
Scattered ceramic fragments are seen all over the site.
- North Side – Area B North
Another excavation area (‘B’) is located on the north edge of the lower city. The photograph below shows a section of the city wall. Behind it is a large round area cut into the surface, perhaps a reservoir from a later date. Beyond it is the top of the hill – the location of the “upper city”.
- North-East – Area B
Another section of the Iron Age city wall is visible on the eastern side.
This wall climbs up along the hillside towards the top of the hill. The excavators marked this area as ‘B’, which included the wall and the structures along it.
A great view of the valley on the east side is seen behind the wall. The valley is about 50m lower than the top of the hill. The names of the valley and the stream is “Ithnan”, named after one of the Judean cities (Joshua 15 22-23): “And the uttermost cities of the tribe of the children of Judah toward the coast of Edom southward were … And Kedesh, and Hazor, and Ithnan“.
The Iron Age city wall was built in a casemate form (double walls with a chambers between them). Dwelling rooms touched the border of the inner wall. This architecture is seen in the photograph below.
The casemate form (Hebrew: “Sogarim”) is based on two parallel walls (one external and one internal), which are connected at small intervals with inner walls, thus creating chambers. The chambers – 4m wide – were used for storage and dwelling, and during war it could be reinforced by filling them with earth.
- South side – Area D & A
Around the top of the hill (at an altitude of 445m) are the remains of an Late Iron age city, dated to the 8th to 6th Century BC. You can notice in the picture below the un-hewn rocks which are part of the city wall and the bases of the houses.
The Iron age structures were damaged by the Roman period fortress, which was built many centuries later over the ruins of the earlier structures. The structures were built behind the city walls at the top of the hill, and also beyond the city walls on the slope of the hill.
Yifat Thareani published a comprehensive report on a unique 7th-6th Century BC structure found in Area A, which was located outside of the Iron Age city wall. She rules out that this structure was a typical four-room dwelling house or a store house. Rather, she suggests it served as a caravanserai (khan, fondouk, inn), based on its location (outside the city wall, and near a trade route), existence of sleeping accommodations, food preparation and consumption area, animal pens, and being on a secured location on top of the hill.
- Roman fortress – Area D
A Roman period fortress was built on top of the earlier Iron Age structures, at the top of the hill. The opening to the structure is located on the north-west side (here, on the bottom left side).
The internal design of the fortress is based on four rooms.
The external size of the fortress is 12.5m by 11.25m, and its walls are 125cm wide.
Notice that these stones are nicely cut, unlike the crude cut stones of the Iron age structures.
- Far South – Area C
Beyond the top of the hill is another section of the Iron Age city, which was revealed in the excavation Area ‘C’.
A stone vessel is one of the few architectural elements found here. A lizard seems to enjoy the sunny side of the center of the vessel.
A closer view of the lizard is shown below. Oz from the Israel Insect World identified it as Ptyodactylus Guttatus (common name: Sinai Fan-fingered Gecko, or Hebrew: “Manipanit Metzuya”).
Lizards are mentioned in the Bible in several places, such as in the list of non-kosher ‘creeping’ things (Leviticus 11 29-20): “These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth… And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole”.
- West of the Tel – Bedouins
The valley on the west side of the mound is seen here, with a herd of cows and sheep. Some green patches remain here after the winter, so the cattle has some fresh food to eat.
Two shepherd girls watch the herd.
They were on the way to the Bedouin compound located near the mound.
A 360 degrees Panoramic view from the top of the north side of Tel Aro’er a is shown below. If you press on the picture below, a panoramic viewer will pop up. Using this flash-based panoramic viewer, you can move around left and right, zooming in and out, and view the site in full screen mode. The viewer automatically rotates slowly around. Due to its large size, it may take minutes to upload… but its worth the view!
To open the viewer, simply click on the photo:
View from the top of the mound – Dated Apr 2012
Etymology (behind the name):
- Extramural – term: exists outside the walls; in the Bible it is called in Hebrew: “Huzzot” (2 Kings 20: 34; Jer. 37: 21)
Links and references:
- Tel Aro’er – An Iron Age II Caravan Town and Roman Fort in the Negev
- Extramural Neighborhoods in the Iron Age II Negev – Yifat Thareani-Sussely (2008; text: pp202-205, figures: pp289-290; pdf)
- An Archaeological view from ‘Aroer – Yifat Thareani(2007; pdf pp129-139)
* Internal links:
- Drone Aerial views – collection of Biblical sites from the air
BibleWalks.com – Ancient wonders in the Negev desert
This page was last updated on Apr 1 , 2016 (Added Aerial views)