||Aerial view of the Beit She'an excavations (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Archeological investigation in the Land of Israel began in the middle of the 19th century, when biblical scholars surveyed the area in search of remains of places mentioned in the Bible. Toward the end of the 19th century, but mainly since the beginning of the 20th century, many mounds (in Hebrew tel) composed of the remains of ancient settlements were excavated, and the foundations for scientific archeological investigation were laid. Archeological activities expanded during the British Mandate period (1917-1948) and have been increased to a large extent since the establishment of the State of Israel.
The experience gained during the excavations has shaped the methods of stratigraphic research, accompanied by the meticulous study of the development (typology) of the forms of pottery vessels and other artifacts, by which archeological strata and remains may be dated. In recent years, archeological research has been extended to include less-known aspects of the ancient material cultures, such as nutrition, disease, economy, and commerce. These achievements of modern archeological research are being applied in the dozens of sites that are excavated every year.
Archeology in Israel involves the systematic investigation of all the remains of the country's past - from prehistory to the end of Ottoman rule. The profusion of material remains is evidence of the many cultures that have left their imprint on the Land. The unique geographical features influenced the more ancient cultures: tens of thousands of years ago, the Land served as a land bridge, over which bands of hunters crossed from Africa to Europe. Their camps and living quarters have been found along the Jordan Valley and in the caves of the Carmel range and the Galilee.
In biblical times, the Land was the bridge between the prosperous cultures of the Fertile Crescent: Mesopotamia (today, Iraq) and Egypt. Since its occupation by Alexander the Great, the Land of Israel has served as a geographic and cultural link between east and west.
Archeological research in Israel accords much importance to the fact that the country is the home of the spiritual heritage of the great monotheistic religions. Above all it clearly reveals the historical link between the Jewish people, the Bible and the Land of Israel, uncovering the remains of the cultural heritage of the Jewish people in its homeland. These visible remains, buried in the soil, constitute the physical link between the past, the present and the future of the Jewish people in its country.
This unbroken chain of history can be observed at sites all over the country: in the biblical cities of Hatzor, Megiddo, Gezer, Shomron, Be'er Sheva and Dan; in the cities of the Second Temple period - Tiberias, Sepphoris (Tsippori), Gamala - and the fortresses of Masada and Herodion, where the Jews fought for freedom; in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea, where the remains of the Essenes' spiritual center were uncovered, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the earliest copies of books of the Bible, were found. From the same period, sites associated with the life of Jesus were uncovered - Capernaum, Tabgha - where there are also remains of churches from the Byzantine period.