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Archaeological Excavations and Development of Resources for Tourism at Beitin (Bethel)

Archaeological Excavations and Development of Resources for Tourism at Beitin (Bethel)

Keio University

Palestine

The Beitin site

2012-Ongoing Masterplan,Human Resource Development,Conservation and Restoration,Local Development,Fundamental Research,Awareness Raising and Promotional Activities
01/04/2014
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BACKGROUND

The High Place of a “Golden Calf”—National Shrine of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

Beitin

Beitin, the subject of the project, is an archaeological complex located 5km northeast of Ramallah in Palestine and 14km north of Jerusalem. In a small village with a population of a mere 2,000 lie an ancient tell (archaeological mound), necropolis from various periods, ruins with an ancient tower (called Burj Beitin), water reservoirs from the Byzantine period, and pre-modern agricultural facilities. These archaeological features provide a broad overview of the history of the region from around 3,500 BC to a hundred years ago.

Significance of the City of Beitin (Bethel)

The site of Beitin, particularly that of the Bronze and Iron Ages, has been identified with the city of Bethel, which appears frequently in the Hebrew Bible, and is thus an invaluable site in understanding the faith and world of the Bible. It is a place where Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, the forefathers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam stayed and particularly identified with the place where Jacob dreamt of angels coming up and down a ladder. When the United Monarchy separated into north and south, a national temple of the northern kingdom was built at Beitin and a “golden calf” is said to have been placed there to stand against the Temple of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. Thereafter, written records show that people who returned from Babylonian captivity formed a community at Beitin (Bethel), and the area prospered as a pilgrimage site during the Byzantine period. Today, as more than half of the world’s population are believers of these religions, Beitin is expected to become a place of interest to many people and attract tourists from around the world.

Location of Beitin

A tower at Burj Beitin

ACTIVITIES

Renewed Archaeological Researches and Tourism Development in Palestine

Excavations and Conservation to Date

In recognition of its significance, Beitin was already a focus of attention in the first half of the 20th century, and excavated by archaeologists W. F. Albright and J. Kelso. Their excavation report, however, has been criticized and is inadequate considering the development of archaeology in the following 50 years. Archaeological researches and conservation of sites in Palestine have been largely suspended after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and its effective control of Palestine. In recent years, however, the political situation in Palestine became relatively stabilized. Palestinian Authority became a member of UNESCO in 2011, and is actively promoting the development of the tourism industry focused on archaeological sites through such activities as registration of Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site and designation of Tell el Balatah (Shechem) as a national park.

Joint Project between the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestine
and Keio University

The archaeological excavations and tourism development project at Beitin was launched in response to such current trend, as a joint undertaking by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestine and Keio University. During fiscal 2012, contour maps and distribution maps of various archaeological features were created and activities to establish a relationship with the local community and to raise local awareness of the site were conducted. As a result, possible existence of a slightly raised acropolis on the northern side of the tell was realized and multiple dwelling phases until the Islamic period were recognized at Burj Beitin. The valley on the southern side of the village was found to be a necropolis where more than 60 graves were detected. From 2013, archaeological excavations started at the necropolis and Burj Beitin. Graves from c. 2,000 BC (Middle Bronze Age I period) and 1st century AD (Roman Period) were found at the necropolis. A large Christian facility which has a delicately made gate with curved ashlar stones and mosaic floors was unearthed together with residential remains from the Mamluk period at Burj Beitin.

Scene of surface survey at Tell Beitin

Examples of rock cut tombs scattered throughout Wadi Tawaheen

RESULTS

Beitin as Resources for Tourism

Expected Results of the Excavations

This project has just begun, but on-going excavations will shed light on the nature of the ancient site of “Bethel.” Clarification of the character of Patriarch Jacob’s holy place and the shrine of the northern kingdom of Israel will be particularly important. It is also meaningful to understand how the pilgrimage sites commemorating these events developed and to find out the changes brought to the region after the Muslim invasion. Tombs from different periods will provide hints for appreciating the nature of respective societies.

Towards the Development of Beitin’s Resources for Tourism

Based on the results of archaeological excavations, the project also aims to help making the sites in the village of Beitin into an archaeological park. In fiscal 2013, a three-party committee for tourism development was established among the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Beitin village office, and Keio University, welcoming the minister of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The committee will build tourism strategies such as preparing pamphlets of the site, installing guideboards, developing walking trails, and establishing a visitor center using a historic architecture in the center of the town. The project also conducts awareness-raising activities among the local community, such as having elementary school children to participate in archaeological excavations as a part of their school lessons and creating pamphlets in which the locals appear, because they need to have proper appreciation of the site in order to maintain and manage the archaeological park after its establishment.

Excavation members lined up in front of an old building in the center of the village

Gate at Burj Beitin

MAP