In archaeology, a tell or tel (derived from Arabic: تَل, tall, 'mound' or 'small hill'), is an artificial mound formed from the accumulated remains of mudbricks and other refuse of generations of people living on the same site for hundreds or thousands of years. A classic tell looks like a low, truncated cone with sloping sides and can be up to 30 metres high.
Tells are most commonly associated with the archaeology of the ancient Near East, but they are also found elsewhere, such as Central Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa and Greece. Within the Near East, they are concentrated in less arid regions, including Upper Mesopotamia, the Southern Levant, Anatolia and Iran, which had more continuous settlement.
Tell is derived from the Arabic word tall (تَل), meaning ‘mound’ or ‘small hill’, and is first attested in English in 1840 in a report in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. Variant spellings include tall, tel, til, and tal. The Hebrew word tel (תל) is a cognate. There are equivalents in other Southwest Asian languages, including tepe or tappeh (Turkish/Persian: تپه, also transliterated teppe and tepe), hüyük or höyük (Turkish), and chogha (Persian: چغا). These often appear in place names and are sometimes used by archaeologists to refer to the same type of sites. The Arabic word khirbet or khirbat (خربة), meaning 'ruin', also occurs in the names of many archaeological tells.
A tell is an artificial hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. Over time, the level rises, forming a mound. The single biggest contributor to the mass of a tell are mud bricks, which disintegrate rapidly. Excavating a tell can reveal buried structures such as government or military buildings, religious shrines, and homes, located at different depths depending on their date of use. They often overlap horizontally, vertically, or both. Archaeologists excavate tell sites to interpret architecture, purpose, and date of occupation.
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