Iron Age II


The Iron Age II (1000-539 B.C.E.) fortress [Figure] in the southern part of sector D, is one of the few excavated examples in Moab. It probably belongs to the belt of fortifications established by the Moabite kings (perhaps in the period of King Mesha, who boasted to have built towns and strongholds in the region). The fortress follows the general contours of the plateau and measures 33 m to 37 m east-west and 43 m north-south. During the excavations it became clear that it was built in connection with a northern settlement of an earlier period [Figure]. The Lehun fortress has a precinct wall, nearly 1.30 m wide, which is interrupted by two entrances: the main gate is located in the north, while a smaller postern is visible in the eastern wall. Four defensive watchtowers, in antiquity probably filled with small stones and earth, had a triple function: strategic (overlooking the region in four directions), structural (stability of the walls), and defensive (possibility of quickly defending the two dominating directions). There is no trace of doors or any other constructions inside the towers. An additional southern curtain-tower overlooks the Wadi Mujib and was probably built in the same period as the fortress. The consolidation of the corners with watchtowers, built inside the enclosure wall, can be explained by the natural topography, which is too steep to allow the traditional extramural constructions. The centre of the fortress functioned as a large courtyard (20 m x 30 m) which was first levelled with pebbles and earth and than plastered to hide the irregularities.

The northern main gate is approx. 1.5 m wide, with salients, 3 m long by 1 m wide. It is built of local limestone with the characteristic local shell incrustations. The inner part of the gate was embellished with a coating. The threshold has one step with a door socket, proving that the door opened from the inside. The lintel is still in situ and consists of a long, well cut flat stone, with an indentation and a hole for the doorspill [Figure]. Some flat stones just in front of the entrance indicate that the courtyard was partially paved.

The enclosure walls have a uniform thickness (approx. 1.30 m wide) and are made of roughly and/or natural shaped blocks. They are preserved to a height of 1 m to 1.5 m above bedrock. After examination it became clear that the original height of the wall must have been over 6 m.

The outer wall was part of a casemate system with 15 rooms north, south and west of the central courtyard. Perhaps in times of peace they were used as living and storage quarters by an agricultural population, as attested by ovens, silos and grinding stones found inside.    

According to the pottery sherds found in the lower part of the precinct wall, it was obvious that this wall was constructed in an earlier period, probably the transition period between Late Bronze and Iron Age. This was also confirmed by examining the outer face of the wall, where two different construction periods were visible. Unlike the oldest , the most recent wall was covered with a thick coating to hide irregular construction blocks. The coating was of a yellow, white-greyish colour up to a height of 70 cm, then curved slightly obliquely to a width of 20 cm and a thickness of 3 cm. There could have been three main reasons for the coating: first, to cover the stones; second, to protect the southern and western parts of the fortress, the most exposed to bad weather conditions; and third, to allow water drainage.

Among the finds were numerous ceramics, the usual mortars and grinding stones used as sling stones in wartime, small circular silos and a terracotta figurine representing the head and upper body of a horse. Again the pottery shows a typical agricultural environment, with its large pithoi, its cooking pots and ovens. The stronghold did not only serve a military purpose, as the one in Ara'ir, but probably also an economic one as a storage fortress, to contain wheat and barley provisions for the king's troops. It can thus be compared with some forts of the Negev and is unique in Moab. It is smaller than the one of Qadesh Barnea (60 x 41 m), or Horvat Usa (57 x 45 m) in Western Palestine, but is larger than most rectangular Iron Age fortresses. 
From the Saite period (7th-6th C. B.C.E.), a beautiful incomplete New Year's flask in faience [Figure] suggests that Lehun was perhaps still inhabited.  The fragment was typical with its papyrus-shaped bottleneck, decorated with two squatting monkeys. This Egyptian export product is found all over the Mediterranean basin, in Palestine, Phoenicia, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. It is however, astonishing to find it in a remote place such as Lehun.  



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