When we went to Palestine in the summer of 1956 to begin the first archaeological excavation of the city of Gibeon, we might have anticipated our most important discovery from some hints in biblical history. While in the more than 40 times that Gibeon is mentioned, practically nothing is said about the physical features of the city, there is significantly an occasional and casual mention of the city’s water supply.

Joshua once cursed the wily inhabitants of Gibeon, those who so successfully deceived him that he made a covenant of peace with them, and “made them that days hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Josh. 9:27). Later, the scene of the famous contest between the 12 men of Joab and the 12 men of Abner is explicitly named as the “pool of Gibeon.” There the two opposing groups of contestants sat down, “the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool” (2 Sam. 2:13). Centuries later, after the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the usurper Ishmael was found by Johanan “by the great waters that are in Gibeon (Jer. 41:12).

Remarkable Water System

Yet these hints that Gibeon was long and widely known for its water supply did not fully prepare us for the discovery in 1956 and 1957 of one of the most extensive water systems ever unearthed in ancient Palestine. It included a system of tunnels cut through a total distance of 389 feet of solid rock, more than 172 steps for the water carriers of Gibeon, and a pool around the edge of which is a spiral stairway which once provided the “drawers of water” with an easy access to the water level deep within the hill on which the city stood. This elaborate construction is even more impressive when one considers that it was all hewn from rock with primitive, ...

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