Project Overview

The ancient city of Ashkelon is strategically located along the southern Mediterranean cost of present-day Israel, and is characterized by its distinct D-shaped earthen ramparts that provided foundations for human enhancement during various occupation periods. The benefits of this location are attested to by its long occupation of nearly four thousand years, from the Middle Bronze Age through the Crusader Period (c. 2000 BCE–1280 CE). Throughout its occupation it was an important commercial port in the expansive trade networks that connected the Near East and wider Mediterranean region.

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon excavated the tell from 1985 to 2016, funded by the Harvard Semitic Museum and The Shelby White and Leon Levy Foundation. Punctuated by several study seasons, the main foci of the excavations have been the Middle Bronze Age occupation by the Canaanites, the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age occupations by the Philistines (one of the purported “Sea Peoples” that took to the Mediterranean region at the time), and Roman and Byzantine occupations. More recent work has focused on refining the occupational chronology across the site utilizing geoarchaeological methods, mapping the site using GIS, determining occupational densities across the tell through time, and, most notably, excavation of the first documented Philistine graveyard. Volumes detailing the Hellenistic and Islamic periods are in press, and include environmental analyses of floral and faunal remains.

For more information, check out the project website.

Environmental Archaeology Lab Member Involvement

John M. Marston has been director of paleoethnobotany for the Ashkelon project since 2012. He developed a systematic strategy for taking soil samples for flotation during excavation, as well as a sample processing protocol utilizing the project’s FloteTech machine. Kathleen Forste began her involvement in 2014, and returned in 2016 as an assistant staff member during the final season of excavation. She is using botanical material from the Early Islamic period for her dissertation project at Boston University. Marston and Forste, together with Kali Wade, worked to improve storage conditions on site in 2017. Marston and Forste also trained dozens of excavation volunteers in paleoethnobotanical methods of flotation and curation of samples, as well as in basic identification of plant remains.

Related Publications


Forste, Kathleen, and John M. Marston. 2017. Islamic and Crusader era agriculture at Ashkelon. In Islamic Ashkelon. Edited by Tracy Hoffman, in press. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN.

Marston, John M. 2017. Archaeobotany at Hellenistic Ashkelon. In Hellenistic Ashkelon. Edited by Kate Birney, in press. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN.

Related Presentations


Marston, John M., and Kathleen J. Birney. “Hellenistic agricultural economy in the southern Levant: new evidence from Ashkelon” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research


Marston, John M., Deirdre Fulton, and Kathleen M. Forste. “Animal and plant economies at Islamic and Crusader Ashkelon” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research


Forste, Kathleen, and John M. Marston. “Investigating economic and social impacts of agricultural production and consumption at Islamic Ashkelon” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research

Hoffman, Tracy, Kathleen Forste, and John M. Marston. “New evidence for agriculture and economy at Crusader Period Ashkelon” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research

Forste, Kathleen, and John M. Marston. “Paleoethnobotanical investigations of the economy of Islamic Ashkelon” Paper presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology


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  • Looking west between the Tells.

  • Marston re-housing botanical samples on-site.

  • Lots of grape seeds at Ashkelon!

  • The Caananite Gate.

  • Later architecture eroding into the sea.