In 701 BCE—according to both the Bible and other ancient sources—the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded the kingdom of Judah and laid waste to dozens of cities. Among these, it appears, was Beit Shemesh, which archaeologists long assumed was subsequently abandoned. But, in the course of a salvage excavation in preparation for the construction of a new highway through the modern city of Beit Shemesh, the archaeologist Yehuda Govrin has uncovered a vast ruin dating to the 7th century BCE, lying to the east of the ruins of the fortified ancient city. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:
There has been a roadway in this area—where several ancient routes and borders meet—for some 3,000 years. Excavations have revealed human settlement on the archaeological mound since the late Bronze Age. . . . Many of the great characters of the Hebrew Bible also passed through Beit Shemesh, literally the House of the Sun. . . .
Govrin managed to uncover some fifteen olive presses and over 200 “royal” jug handles labeled “for the king.” In addition to thought-provoking artifacts, the excavation offered impressive structures, including what Govrin considers a large administrative center. For Govrin, it was evidence of a large-scale olive oil industry in an area—and era—that was [thought] to be vacant.
Until recently, said Govrin, a research fellow at Hebrew Union College, archaeologists tended to look only at strategic high points for [evidence of] settlement, not the harder-to-defend lowlands. He hypothesized that following the Assyrians’ campaign, fortification was perhaps no longer necessary (or allowed). The Judeans could therefore settle in a more hospitable area, closer to the plaster-covered water cisterns his large team . . . had unearthed.
In discovering the unexpected industrial zone and dozens of houses on the relatively small strip of land, “we solved the central mystery of why it was that we didn’t have evidence of the 7th century” BCE — because archaeologists had searched in the wrong places. “Not only did they settle, but there was a massive settlement,” said Govrin.