Gezer Fire Engulfs Canaan Site, But With Little Permanent Damage
The Gezer fire that broke out on Monday in Israel’s Biblical Tel Gezer National Park was fierce and swift. Initial reports of the fire at Gezer “proclaimed” widespread damage to this protected and illustrious archaeological site. Tel Gezer has 26 settlement layers going back nearly 5,500 years! Luckily, actual assessments on Tuesday morning revealed no permanent damage to the antiquities at the site.
Some 3,000 years ago, Gezer was a major Canaan city and settlement, and the 25 layers of habitation at this site provide a window into the fascinating history of this area of the Levant, reports Haaretz.
The fire at Gezer razed the entire archaeological site but it was a grass fire, so just intense heat and scorching but not for long. This image shows part of ancient Tel Gezer and the Gezer kibbutz in the background. (Hunter / Adobe Stock)
The Gezer Fire: Saved by the Firefighters
Israel Nature Parks and Authority (INPA) Sharon Regional Director Roee Shtrauss said:
“This morning we came with our restoration and conservation team to assess the damage and though we see that there has been damage done, until now we have not seen any irreversible damage. We will need to restore and clean the antiquities which have been burnt, but we need to do a more thorough study of the situation in order to better determine what needs to be done.”
He added that 20 firefighters, with 4 planes and 2 helicopters battled the raging fire, successfully in the end. There were 1,100 scouts camping in the vicinity who were safely evacuated, with no injuries or casualties reported.
And luckily, no damage was done to the ancient water work system, which is the largest water system ever discovered in the Canaanite region, reports The Jerusalem Post. This water system was opened to the public only last year.
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“We will make a damage report, and with our experts who are assessing the situation, we will work on restoring the site and do everything possible so that it will be ready to reopen by next spring,” added Shtrauss, who explained that climate change had a role to play in this fire. Windy, hot, and dry conditions, exacerbated by the drought like situation in western Asia over the last two decades, added fuel to the fire, metaphorically.
It was also the careless behavior of a farmer burning debris for clearing land for cultivation that caused the fire in the first place, but the spread was due to the adverse climatic conditions. In general, most fires in this region in Israel are the result of some human activity, careless or intentional.
The Gezer High Place, with massebot standing stones and the square basin, was also very much burned to the ground in the recent Gezer fire, but stone survives all! (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Gezer: 5,500 Years of History in 26 Layers!
Gezer’s earliest structures, built around 5,500 years ago, are referred to in the Bible, and interestingly, there’s another pyro reference at Gezer in the Bible. The Bible recounts how the king of Egypt “had taken Gezer and burnt it with fire,” giving it as a loving wedding gift to his daughter who married King Solomon (1 Kings 9:16). Solomon is credited with subsequently rebuilding the city of Gezer, though the water work system predated his reign by about 600 years.
Gezer was a strongly fortified city-state in the Middle Bronze Age. The site spread over 32 acres (13 hectares). Here, 26 layers of settlement from the Chalcolithic period to the early Roman Period (roughly from 3500 BC to 100 BC) have been excavated.
The site has been under excavation since 1900, making it one of the most excavated places in Israel. However, it was only in 2013 that the evidence for one of the first pre-Solomonic layers was discovered.
There was another fire at Gezer 3,200 years ago, based on evidence found in 2017, including bodies of a mother and a child. Perhaps this was evidence for Pharaoh Merneptah's lofty claim of laying siege to this city, or perhaps another wildfire? More work at the Gezer site will shed light on this claim.
The site was clearly a strategically good one, with its positioning in the foothills of the Judaean mountains at the border of the Shfela region, roughly midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It would gain importance again at the time of the ancient Egyptian Empire, as it became a crossroad stop on the ancient coastal trade route that linked Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. For the Romans , Gezer was an important stop on their “ Via Maris” or Sea Road, linking Rome to Jerusalem. Finally, it was also on a vital trade and pilgrim land route that connected Jerusalem and Jericho.
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Gezer’s impressive ruins include a Canaanite guard tower, a cultic center with a huge array of monoliths, and the remains of a temple. The Egyptians sacked the city in the 10th century BC.
Further excavations are planned at the site to get clarify the role that the Egyptians played in the pre Canaanite ransacking of Gezer. Maybe the Gezer fire happened twice: in Biblical times more than 3,000 years ago, and just a few days ago. Clearly the first fire at Gezer was catastrophic for human life and building destruction.
Top image: The aftermath of the Gezer fire of early July 2022 shown in this image reveals that ancient stone ruins can survive grass fires, but that climate change is making more fires overall. Source: Roee Shtrauss / INPA
By Sahir Pandey
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