Where was the entrance to the Persian and Hellenistic Administrative Building (PHAB)? This turned out to be one of the most basic yet challenging questions confronted by the excavation, and it wasn’t until 2012 that we were able to answer it fully.
At first, we assumed the entrance to the building must have been from the south, since this huge building at the edge of the artificial tel would have been most conspicuous when approaching from that side; monumental imperial constructions are often positioned high above the landscape, so passers-by would both be impressed and overawed, but also simply know where they were going as they approached. But as we excavated along the southern wall of the building, no opening was apparent, and the types of facilities we were finding (drains, kitchens, and other utility areas) were not the sort we would expect to be near the entrance to the building, in the spaces most accessible to the public and visitors. There was another problem as well: today, the southern edge of the tel is extremely steep and very difficult to climb. Was there some sort of ramp or other approach in antiquity? Excavations at the base of the tel in 2008 demonstrated that there was extremely little evidence of human use of the area in any period. The southern entrance theory was out.
It was quickly, however, replaced with a new one: maybe the entrance was on the east side of the building, which was also against the edge of the tel and would have been quite striking from that angle approach. The east had been rejected as a possibility several years prior, since we had believed the eastern third of the building was a private, domestic area. But two discoveries, as well as comparanda from other Persian imperial buildings, supported the eastern entrance hypothesis. Over the course of 2006 and 2008, we uncovered an elaborate three room complex with white mosaic floors and polychrome painted plaster just east of the large courtyard in the western third of the building. These rooms were by far more nicely decorated than any other part of the building we had yet excavated, and were obviously designed for receiving and entertaining important visitors to the building. Various doors and access routes known to us at the time indicated that this suite of rooms must have been entered from the east, and would have been encountered in passing from the east into the courtyard and, eventually, the archive area. In 2009, the identification of two monumental stylobates (surfaces on which columns rested) suggested to us that during the Persian phase of the building, the entrance was from the east, via a series of three sequential open courts. Similar entrance systems can be found in Persian buildings at Nimrud, Ecbatana, and Susa. However, after conducting a series of small probes along the eastern edge of the building, no opening was found – although the walls were quite deeply robbed.
Since most of the western, southern, and eastern enclosure walls of the building had been exposed with no real sign of a Hellenistic entrance system, that left us with the north wall. And indeed, near the end of the 2010 excavation season, we found an opening in the north wall roughly 20 meters west of the northeast corner of the building and 30 meters east of the northwest corner. Although there was no real evidence of monumentality, the centering of the door along the earlier Persian period stylobate corridor and its alignment with another door a few meters further inside the building was conclusive: we had found the Hellenistic entrance! Further excavation in 2012 revealed a moderately sized entrance court in the northeast area of the building, just off the door. Clearly, people, animals, and goods entered through this area.
The great brilliance of this entrance, in the end, was that the ancient building entrance turned out to be right where we, the modern excavators, entered the excavation area after climbing up the tel from the northeast. A study of the possible ascent routes up the slope of the tel indicates that our route is one of the easiest and most natural – apparently then as now. A northern entrance also suggests more communication and involvement with inhabitants of the presumed village which must have existed on the northern or southern tel during the Hellenistic period, rather than with farmers from the surrounding area.