From the Semitic root for "ruin", the name given in archaeology to an artificial mound built of successive layers of mudbrick and refuse left by continuous levels of occupation. The mounds can reach impressive heights; Megiddo in Palestine stands at over 70 ft, while Lachish stands at over 100.

The general Near Eastern landscape and climate is rather hostile to wide-spread habitation without human intervention. The rainfall is on average 200-250 mm annually, well below the 300-350 mm required every 3 out of 5 years to support subsistence agriculture. The solution, at least since the Ubaid period, has been to build settlements on the occasional strips of land irrigated naturally by rivers, and to develop canals to extend the water supply into the surrounding fields. A natural side-effect of this process is that particular sites are continually inhabited over long periods of time; there are few sites suitable for development, and it is easier to maintain earlier canals and settlements than to start afresh.

As the settlements expand, basic buildings made of mudbrick and reed deteriorate, while even sturdier buildings of stone are destroyed and rebuilt. As each area is destroyed, the materials are leveled and used as foundations for their replacements. Occasionally, an entire city is destroyed in war or burned by a major fire, and these too become layers in the archaeological record. Even when the city is finally abandoned and becomes covered in sand and soil, it is often still used today as pasturage for a local village or nomadic group. The Tell El Jib, the site in the earlier part of this century of a commonly used well, was found after digging to be the site of the ancient city of Gibeon. The layers thus form a datable series of strata, forming an archaeological record of the political changes in a city.

Countless tells dot the landscape of the Near East, most of which remain unexcavated. Usually a site is chosen after a careful surface survey, collecting potsherds which have settled to the top of the mound. If the surface survey is favourable, the next step is usually to dig a step trench, basically cutting an insection into the mound from which a representative portion of the layers are visible; recent excavations at Tell Hamoukkar in Syria have revealed layers of walls from the Islamic, Persian, and Assyrian periods, all the way back to the Sumerian in the bottom-most layer.

Tell (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Told (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Telling.] [AS. tellan, from talu tale, number, speech; akin to D. tellen to count, G. zahlen, OHG. zellen to count, tell, say, Icel. telja, Dan. tale to speak, taelle to count. See Tale that which is told.]


To mention one by one, or piece by piece; to recount; to enumerate; to reckon; to number; to count; as, to tell money.

"An heap of coin he told."


He telleth the number of the stars. Ps. cxlvii. 4.

Tell the joints of the body. Jer. Taylor.


To utter or recite in detail; to give an account of; to narrate.

Of which I shall tell all the array. Chaucer.

And not a man appears to tell their fate. Pope.


To make known; to publish; to disclose; to divulge.

Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Gen. xii. 18.


To give instruction to; to make report to; to acquaint; to teach; to inform.

A secret pilgrimage, That you to-day promised to tell me of? Shak.


To order; to request; to command.

He told her not to be frightened. Dickens.


To discern so as to report; to ascertain by observing; to find out; to discover; as, I can not tell where one color ends and the other begins.


To make account of; to regard; to reckon; to value; to estimate.


I ne told no dainity of her love. Chaucer.

Tell, though equivalent in some respect to speak and say, has not always the same application. We say, to tell truth or falsehood, to tell a number, to tell the reasons, to tell something or nothing; but we never say, to tell a speech, discourse, or oration, or to tell an argument or a lesson. It is much used in commands; as, tell me the whole story; tell me all you know.

To tell off, to count; to divide. Sir W. Scott.

Syn. -- To communicate; impart; reveal; disclose; inform; acquaint; report; repeat; rehearse; recite.


© Webster 1913.

Tell, v. i.


To give an account; to make report.

That I may publish with the voice of thankgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works. Ps. xxvi. 7.


To take effect; to produce a marked effect; as, every shot tells; every expression tells.

To tell of. (a) To speak of; to mention; to narrate or describe. (b) To inform against; to disclose some fault of. -- To tell on, to inform against. [Archaic & Colloq.]

Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David. 1 Sam. xxvii. 11.


© Webster 1913.

Tell, n.

That which is told; tale; account.


I am at the end of my tell. Walpole.


© Webster 1913.

Tell, n. [Ar.]

A hill or mound.

W. M. Thomson.


© Webster 1913.

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