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In archaeology, a tell or tel (derived from Arabic: , 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.
Tell is derived from the Arabic word tall (), 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 () is a cognate. There are equivalents in other Southwest Asian languages, including tepe or tappeh (Turkish/Persian: , also transliterated teppe and tepe), hüyük or höyük (Turkish), and chogha (Persian: ). 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 (?), meaning 'ruin', also occurs in the names of many archaeological tells.
An excavation area at Tell Barri, northeastern Syria. Note the person standing in the middle for scale.
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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^MacDonald, Kevin C. (1997). "More forgotten tells of Mali: an archaeologist's journey from here to Timbuktu". Archaeology International. 1 (1): 40-42. doi:10.5334/ai.0112.
^Davidson, Donald A.; Wilson, Clare A.; Lemos, Irene S.; Theocharopoulos, S. P. (2010-07-01). "Tell formation processes as indicated from geoarchaeological and geochemical investigations at Xeropolis, Euboea, Greece". Journal of Archaeological Science. 37 (7): 1564-1571. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2010.01.017. hdl:1893/16434.