Ancient Site in Nablus Re-excavated


In collaboration with the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, which was re-established 15 years ago, a team of international archaeologists have recommenced the excavation of the ancient site of Tell Belata, in the West Bank city of Nablus.

“Establishing a department of archaeology was an important event. It can be viewed as a revival of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities (which) ceased to exist in 1948. At the same time it gives Palestinians the opportunity to participate in writing or rewriting the history of Palestine from its primary sources," said Hamdan Taha, director General of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities.

The aim of the excavation is to understand the site better, as it features evidence of human structures since 5,000 years.

"Tell Balata is identified as a biblical place in fact, Shekhem or Sikkim, however it's pronounced, but that same name occurs also in external sources. And the most important source is the Amarna archive tablets, clay tablets, found in Egypt, and they date to the fourteenth century BC. And especially from those sources we know quite a bit about the king of this small kingdom, with the capital in Sikkim or Shakmu, as it's called there, who was trying to rebel against the Egyptian overlord," said Gerrit Van Der Jooit of Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Over 3,500 years ago, the city of Shekhem, which the Jews still refer to it as, was an important regional center due to its strategic location in a pass between the mountains of Gerizim and Eibal.

When the Romans built a new city to the west, 2000 years ago, they named it Flavius Neapolis, and abandoned the original site. Neapolis, which means new city, became Nablus in Arabic.

The excavation has been interrupted for nearly a century since its commencement due to war and unrest.

"Through the 1970s and 1980s quite a few visitors came here, but on the other hand, at the same time it became neglected as well, that means it became a garbage area. And that of course will no longer happen,” said Mr. Van Der Jooit.

While the digging season nears the end, the team is preparing for the site to open as an archaeological park, to enlighten visitors of the wealth of antiquities of a place preoccupied by regular bloodshed.

“The local population have started very well to understand the value of the site. Not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity, because the local people have to feel themselves responsible for the archaeological heritage which is in their neighbourhood," said Mr. Van Der Jooit.

"The role of archaeology should be preserved to understand the past, and we believe that archaeology can be also an important means for understanding, mutual understanding," said Mr. Taha.

Gerrit Van Der Jooit - Leiden University, the Netherlands
Hamdan Taha - Director General of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities