Early Phase. The initial phase of the rural road included a western terrace wall (W102) and an eastern one (W105). Wall 102 (exposed length 52 m, width c. 3 m), terraced due to the natural topography, is a type of terraced rampart wall built of medium to very large limestone stones that served to elevate and keep the road level; it was used during both phases. The eastern W105 (width c. 1 m), erected above bedrock and used only in the early phase, is well-built of two faces of large stones with a core of smaller stones; it is preserved up to three courses high (Fig. 5). The width of the road in the first phase was c. 3.0–3.2 m.
Wall 108, running parallel to W105, is also constructed as a sloping rampart built of medium and small stones; it abutted W105 at its foundation (Fig. 4: Section 1-1) and served as its reinforcement wall. Both W105 and W108 were exposed continuously in Squares 1 to 3 until the point where the later phase wall (W101) cuts and overlaysW108. North of Square 3, W105 was exposed only in segments until the northernmost part of the excavation.
Late Phase. The later phase of the Imperial Roman Road is the most visible on the modern surface and is clearly traced both north and south of the excavated area for c. 300 m. Excavated from this phase is the eastern W101 (exposed length 52 m, width 1.3–1.5 m; Fig. 6). Wall 101 is constructed from a row of large boulders (length 0.7 m, width 0.4 m, height 0.4 m) that functioned as the western curbstone and were abutted by a layer of smaller stones. North of the excavated area, W101 often has a preserved second course of large stones, suggesting that in its entirety it was more than one course high. Wall 101 directly overlays brown soil that covered the bedrock; the latter has a moderate sloping ascent and is abutted by a layer of small stones.
Wall 101 cuts W108 of the earlier phase in Square 3 (Fig. 7), yet it runs parallel to W105 from this point until the excavation limits and beyond (width of W108 and W105 4.5–5.5 m). In Squares 1–3, W101 continues in a straight line, northeast–southwest, as opposed to W105 of the earlier phase, which follows the terrain and bears west from Sq 3 toward Sq 1. The maximum width of the road in Sq 1 is 8.5 m. It is probable that due to the conditions of the natural terrain, the direction of W102 was slightly altered for a few meters until it again straightened in alignment with W101 south of the excavation area. Locus 100 was the topsoil surface throughout the excavated area, for the center of the road in both phases.
The foundation levels of the earlier road were excavated east of W102 and west of W105. A stone layer (L111) composed of various sized stones abuts W102 and W105 in Square 1 (Fig. 8). This stone layer, laid directly above roughly hewn and leveled bedrock, as evident in Square 1 and in Probe 107 in Square 9, reached the top of W105. There were very few potsherds in the upper level of this matrix and it is probable that paving stones were originally laid over a thick beaten floor, which had overlain Stone Layer 111.
East of W105 and overlaying W108 was a dense gravelly layer (L112) that consisted of very small stones and large quantities of potsherds, which lent a reddish color to this gravel foundation layer. This layer filled the space between W105 and W108 and overlaid the sloping W108 (see Fig. 4: Section 1-1). Notable was the lack of animal bones or other ‘settlement’ debris in Gravel Layer 112, thus suggesting that this was an intentional matrix of small sherds and stones, rather than an opportunistic extraction of debris from an abandoned site, or sporadic field sherds. The gravelly layer was fully excavated in Sq 1, yet its distinct matrix was registered in other points along the road, such as Sqs 2 (L106/L109), 8 (L110) and 9 (L104), where it abutted W101 on the west.
The excavations did not expose any preserved paving stones or fragments thereof. This absence could be the result of either successive robbing for construction in the neighboring settlements or alternately for erecting fences or agricultural terracesduring later times. An alternative explanation for the absence of paving stones is that the road was not paved with well-hewn slabs to begin with and that the upper surface of the roadbed was laid with a different paving that was also not preserved.
The pottery assemblage contains well-known types from Roman-period sites in the Galilee, like the Kefar Hananya pottery workshop, and is dated to the second and third centuries CE in the Galilee. Although some of the pottery types date from the first century CE onward, all the types from the excavation continue until at least the end of the third century CE, with a few carrying on until the fourth century CE. Most of the potsherds were retrieved from the foundation layer (L109, L112) that was found in the later stage of leveling and upraising the road level.
The assemblage included Kefar Hananya Galilean Bowls, Types 1A (Fig. 9:1), 1B (Fig. 9:2), 1C (Fig. 9:3, 4). Two additional bowls, Types 1D (Fig. 9:5) and 1E (Fig. 9:6), were found in the stone foundation of the road (L111). Two open cooking pots of Type 3B (Fig. 9:7, 8) were retrieved from the foundation of the road and in the initial topsoil descent. Three Shikhin-type kraters (Fig. 9:9–11) were found in the foundation layers of the road (L109, L111, L112). Of the two store jars recovered from the topsoil of the excavation, an early type (Fig. 9:12) is Fernandez Type 1.3 and the second is a Shikhin-type store jar (Fig. 9:13), which is found at Sepphoris from the second/third centuries CE until the second third of the fourth century CE.
The pottery assemblage is dated to the Roman period (second–fourth centuries CE). However, a fine tuning of the chronological span is possible with the study of specific vessel types found at sites in the Galilee, such as the Galilean bowls that have a well-documented chrono-stratigraphy from many sites, including Sepphoris. It enables us to propose that the excavated foundation of the Roman road north of Sepphoris was laid not prior to the mid-third century CE.
A single coin (Fig. 10) was recovered from a pile of debris extracted from the foundation layer (L112). It is an extremely rare civic issue of ‘Akko-Ptolemais, possibly minted late under Antiochus IV (169–164 BCE) or slightly later.
Obv. Head of Artemis (?) l. Dotted border.
Rev. Inscription that begins vertically on left, continues horizontally and ends vertically on right [ANTIOXEΩN] / TΩN / [EN ΠTOΛEMAIΔI] Doe (or stag?) with tall neck standing r. Under the animal a small (human?) figure, raising hands upward, as if suckling.
IAA 106529, 2.20 g, 14 mm, Æ, ↑. Beveled edge.
The evidence gathered from the excavated segment of the Roman Road exhibited two distinct phases, both dated to the Roman period, showing that the original narrow road was later widened and straightened, resulting in a wide and paved route. The excavation results lead us to propose that the earlier phase is a local rural road and the later widening of the road is attributed to the paving of the Imperial Roman Road. The scant finds from the excavation is not surprising from this type of archaeological context and unfortunately, do not allow us to securely date the earlier stage of the rural road; however, it is not later than the mid-third century CE, as indicated by the potsherds from the foundation layers. The paving of the Imperial Roman road at the northern entrance to Sepphoris is suggested to date not earlier than this period.
A junction of the excavated main road and a narrower secondary road is located 20 m north of the excavated area (Fig. 11). To the north of this junction, the main Imperial Roman Road turns northwest (c. 300 m, measured with GPS) and the rural road continues north over a more rocky terrain (Fig. 12). Although the excavations revealed an earlier and later phases of the road, it is conceivable that from this junction, both roads were used continuously for different needs. A rock-cut cistern was surveyed west of the excavation; numerous stone ruins, perhaps agricultural towers, were noted alongside the rural route.
It is proposed that the early phase of the excavated road originally continued north across the rocky terrain over what is termed ‘local rural route’. Subsequently, in the later phase, the road was widened and 'straightened', with a new path that turned west along the fringes of the rocky hill, where the landscape was more easily leveled and passable. Generally, we can state that many later road arteries followed earlier routes, signifying how during different periods similar routes were chosen. However, we suggest that the variation of width, path and paving from the two phases of the excavated road demonstrate the different functions of the earlier rural road versus the later Imperial Roman road at the northern entrance to Sepphoris. According to the finds from the foundation levels of the later phase, it can be dated not earlier than the mid-third century CE.