Oakland University students at Ziklag


Oakland University students help find Biblical town of Ziklag during a summer archaeological study abroad program.

By Brian Bierley

Photos Courtesy of Michael Pytlik

aerial view of the dig site at Ziklag
Aerial view of the dig site

This year marked the 11th time an Oakland University student group traveled to Israel for a summer archaeological study abroad program, but this may have been the most historically significant.

Some of the excavation team’s findings included stone and metal vessels, food bowls, jugs and jars of pottery, animal bones, weapons and parts of building structures. That, along with other evidence gathered in recent years, led expedition leader Professor Yosef Garfinkel from Hebrew University in Jerusalem to call a press conference. He declared to the world media that his team had found the biblical town of Ziklag at modern day Khirbet al-Ra’i.

Ziklag is known in the Bible as the site that was given to David by the Philistines before he was king and had fled from King Saul. The city was a gift to help the Philistines raid to the south of the land. The Book of Samuel records that after King Saul was killed in battle with the Philistines, David left Ziklag and traveled to Hebron to be anointed king of Israel.

Biblical references about Ziklag can be found in the Hebrew Bible at: I Samuel 30:1, II Samuel 1:1, I Chronicles 12:1, I Samuel 27:6 and Joshua 19:5.

Anthropology professor Michael Pytlik, director of Judaic Studies at OU, director of the Cis Maisel Center for Judaic Studies and Community Engagement and faculty leader of the OU group, said, “The site fits the biblical stories associated with Ziklag since it has an occupation of Philistine settlement, then a Judean settlement with probable mixed populations. It then remained Israelite until later events caused it to be destroyed.

“For the first time, the occupation layers, the geographical location and the references to the site all overlap. Some 12 other areas have been proposed for the site of Ziklag, but none of them contain the necessary dating, occupations or material finds to confirm the site’s identity.”

Ziklag dig site
Oakland University students working at the dig site

This year’s study abroad program lasted three and a half weeks, and the 13 students and their advisers spent weekdays working at the dig site from early in the mornings till late in the afternoons. Weekends were spent immersing the students in the culture and history of the region with travels throughout the country.

Veronica Russell, a fifth-year senior from Ortonville majoring in anthropology, said, “It was three weeks of hard work and I am not sure the significance of this year’s trip has hit me quite yet.”

Sydney Wendling, a second-year student majoring in anthropology and political science from Saginaw, added, “We heard something was happening around the dig site, but it was ‘hush-hush’ for a while until we heard they were calling a press conference to announce they found this Biblical city. It was magical. I hope I can go again next year.”

Jerad Inman, a fifth-year electrical engineering major from Birch Run, said he hoped to gather some new data and artifacts for the dig leaders but was surprised by the magnitude of news the group would make. “I never expected it to be this huge. We actually contributed to something that made national and international news.”

Over the years, Oakland students, under the direction of Pytlik, co-leader Dr. Jon Carroll and professor emeritus Richard Stamps, spent five years working at Khirbet Qeiyafa, another city from the time of David. They then moved their dig site for four years to the site of Lachish, the second city to Jerusalem in the Judean monarchy. This year marked the second season working at Khirbet al-Ra’i.

Oakland University’s study abroad in Israel program is supported by the Nina and Bernie Kent family, other donations to OU’s Judaic Studies’ program and research grants from the Provost’s office.

Learn more about the Oakland University Archaeology in Israel group and their recent trip by vising facebook.com/Oakdigs



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