History of Research

The Fourth Expedition to Lachish builds on three previous expeditions that have investigated the site since the 1930s. The wealth of information about the history of the site and its importance for understanding Canaan and the kingdom of Judah is significant. The results have been published in volumes of final reports that serve as an important base to the new expedition.

Artist reconstruction of Lachish

The First Expedition

The British Wellcome-Marston expedition excavated at Lachish from 1932–1938, directed by James Leslie Starkey and his assistants Olga Tufnell and Lancaster Harding. The expedition ended abruptly when Starkey was killed by Arab bandits and its publication was superbly completed by Tufnell. The British team developed the stratigraphic sequencing of occupations as Levels I-VIII, which was followed and modified only slightly for the earlier periods by subsequent expeditions. Highlights of the British excavations include the impressive approach ramp and triple-chambered monumental gate and city walls, Sennacherib’s siege ramp that was built during the Assyrian attack on the city in 701 BCE (Level III), the monumental Iron Age palace-fort at the summit of the tel, the famous cache of ostraca that became known as the Lachish Letters dramatically illustrating the final days of Judah before the Babylonian destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE (Level II), and the solar shrine from the Persian-Hellenistic period (Level I).

The Second Expedition

From 1966-68 a brief Israeli expedition was mounted by Yohanan Aharoni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later Tel Aviv University, focusing on the solar shrine in the northeast quadrant of the site. The purpose of the excavation was to excavate beneath and adjacent to the solar shrine. Aharoni found a complete stratigraphic sequence of Levels I-VI in his research including what he interpreted as an Iron Age II sanctuary or cult room.

The Third Expedition

The third expedition, the Renewed Excavations to Lachish, under the superb direction of David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University, was a long-term excavation project that extended between the years 1973 and 1987. A subsequent restoration project of the Iron Age gate continued until 1994. The renewed excavations focused on Area S—a large stratigraphic section to the northwest of the gate; Area P—the monumental Canaanite buildings and palace-fort; Area D—a trench in the courtyard of the palace fort; Area G—the city gate; and Area R—the siege ramp and focal point of the Assyrian attack in 701 BCE.

The Starkey-Tufnell and Ussishkin expeditions set new standards in excavation and publication. They revolutionized the understanding of various aspects of Lachish, such as the later history of Judah and the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city from a pre-Israelite period.