Ancient Judean Guard Tower Exposed in Center of IDF Base

By Aryeh Savir/TPS • 19 June 2019
Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority

A watchtower dating to the rule of Judean King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE was recently uncovered by IDF paratroopers carrying out archeological excavations in an IDF base in southern Israel.

The excavation was conducted together with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as part of the project called “the Nature Defense Forces Project- Commanders Take Responsibility for their Environment.”

The tower, which dimensions are estimated to have been 5 x 3.5 m, was built of especially large eight-ton stones and was erected at a high geographic point, probably used as an observation point towards the Hebron Mountains, the Judean plain and the Ashkelon vicinity.

Sa’ar Ganor and Valdik Lifshitz, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, explained that “the strategic location of the tower served as a lookout and warning point against the Philistine enemy, one of whose cities was Ashkelon.”

In the days of the First Temple, the Kingdom of Judah built a range of towers and fortresses as points of communication, warning and signaling, to transmit messages and field intelligence. This tower is one of the observation points connecting the large cities in the area. In ancient times, beacons of smoke were lit during the day and beacons of fire at night to transmit signals. It is probable that this watchtower is one of those towers, they said.

In the Bible, beacons, or, in the language of the Bible, “pillars,” are mentioned several times. The use of pillars of smoke is described in the Book of Judges in connection to the story of the Concubine in Givah.

The prophet Jeremiah also describes the manner in which the beacons were used in chapter six.

Evidence is also known from one of the ostracons, letters written on clay, discovered at Tel Lachish. At the end of letter number four, it is written, “May Yahweh cause my lord to hear reports of good news this very day …. Then it will be known that we are watching the (fire) signals of Lachish according to the code which my lord gave us for we cannot see Azekah.” This letter shows that the beacons and the interpretation of the signals were part of the defense system in the Kingdom of Judea during the Iron Age.

Activity in the ancient tower, uncovered in the area of the military base, ceased in wake of the expedition of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, to Judah in 701 BCE, which destroyed Judah.

Now, some 2,700 years after Sennacherib’s expedition, IDF soldiers uncovered an observation tower belonging to Judean soldiers, similar to the watchtowers they use today.

The IDF’s Nature Defense Forces Project was established with the aim of leading commanders and soldiers to becoming responsible and actively involved in protecting nature, landscape and the heritage values of their surroundings. Some 60 activity centers operate across the country.

Second Lieutenant Roi Ofir, the commander of the recruits team in the reconnaissance battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade which participated in the dig, said that “the connection to the land, and the fact that there were Jewish fighters in the past, gave me a sense of mission.”