In December 2014, a trial excavation was conducted in the village of ‘Illut in the Lower Galilee (Permit No. A-7278; map ref. 224693/735943), prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by S. Odetallah, was directed by Y. Shalev (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), R. Liran (surveying and drafting), W. Atrash and K. Covello-Paran (scientific guidance), E. Stern (pottery reading), H. Tahan-Rosen (pottery and glass drawing), C. Amit (studio photography), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass) and D.T. Ariel (numismatics).
The current excavation was conducted in the village center, c. 120 m north of the spring. Two excavation squares were opened (50 sq m) and architectural remains from the Umayyad period (Phases 1, 2; Fig. 2) and from the Mamluk or Ottoman periods were exposed. Pottery sherds from the Hellenistic, Late Roman and Byzantine periods were found in all of the excavation strata, and in the upper strata were also pottery sherds from the Fatimid and Crusader periods.
The Hellenistic–Byzantine Periods
A rim of a Hellenistic bag-shaped jar made of buff colored clay (Fig. 3:1) was found. Ceramic finds from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods included a Kefar Hananya Type 1E bowl (Fig. 3:2), Late Roman Red-Slip bowls (Fig. 3:3, 4), jars (Fig. 3:5, 6) and roof tiles (Fig. 3:7). Pottery from these periods was scattered throughout the strata. A severely abraded coin from the early fourth century CE (IAA 148986) was discovered within an Ottoman-period wall (W101, below), and a Byzantine period coin—a follis (40 nummi) of the Emperor Justin II, which was struck in the mint of Nicomedia in the year 572/573 CE (IAA 148987)—was found on the surface.
The Umayyad Period
Phase 1. Remains of a structure were exposed. These consisted of a section of a stone wall (W120; Figs. 4, 5) and a small segment of pavement (L121) made of small and medium fieldstones, which abutted the wall from the south. The wall (exposed length 2.5 m, width 0.3 m) was constructed of a single row of medium-size stones (c. 0.3 × 0.3 m), some of them fieldstones and some roughly hewn. It seems that the wall was not part of a building, but functioned as a low partition wall or part of an installation. Neither the wall nor the pavement were excavated, but a probe c. 5 m to the north, identified no ancient remains below their level and down to bedrock, so that these remains seem to be of the earliest building on site. The date of construction is uncertain, but should probably be attributed to the end of the Byzantine period. It apparently remained in used until the Umayyad period, because several pottery sherds that date to the period were discovered on the pavement (e.g., a jar; Fig. 6:5). Other finds include fragments of glass vessels that date to the late Byzantine and early Umayyad periods, among them a folded rim of a bowl and a chunk of raw glass (Fig. 7:1, 3). Similar artifacts were recovered in an excavation conducted by Dalali-Amos (2009), and they indicate that a glass workshop was active in the settlement at the time (Gorin-Rosen, below).
Phase 2. Remains of a large stone wall (W114; length 4 m, width 1 m, preserved height 1 m) built of large dressed stones were exposed. The western part of the wall survived to a height of two courses, while its eastern part was mostly robbed, leaving only two stones of the bottom course. This phase of construction cancels the previous one. Wall 114 was set directly on top of W120 in its northern part, and its southern part was founded on a thin layer of fill which covered Pavement 121. A row of dressed stones, probably the western part of another stone wall aligned east–west (W122; length 1.3 m, height 0.3 m) was exposed c. 5 m south of W114, at the same elevation. Despite the limited exposure, and the fact that no connection was discovered between the two walls, the method of their construction indicates that they are from the same stratum and may have formed the northeastern corner of a large building. Wall 114 was destroyed, its stones were robbed, and the remains were eventually covered with a thick layer of brown soil which contained numerous pieces of limestones (L115; Fig. 8). The pottery from this stratum was similar to the pottery that was found above Pavement 121, and included bowls (Fig. 6:1–3) and a jar (Fig. 6:4) from the Umayyad period (seventh–eighth centuries CE).
The Abbasid–Mamluk Periods
A thick layer of gray soil (L110; Fig. 2: Sections 1–1, 2–2), which was exposed above Fill 115, contained sherds dating to the Fatimid period (tenth–eleventh centuries CE), the Crusader period (eleventh–twelfth centuries CE), and mostly to the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE). The earliest vessels are bases of jugs made of buff clay (Fig. 6:6), which were used in the Abbasid and Fatimid periods, and fragments of a zir jar (not illustrated), which dates to the ninth–twelfth centuries CE. The artifacts from the Crusader period include bases of white-slipped glazed bowls (Fig. 6:7, 8), which date to the late eleventh – early twelfth centuries CE and cooking pots (Fig. 6:9, 10). In addition, a fragment of a prunted glass beaker (Fig. 7:2; Gorin-Rosen, below) was found. Numerous Mamluk-period hand-made vessels were found, mainly bowls (Fig. 6:11), but also jugs (Fig. 6:13) and lids (Fig. 6:14). Some of the table wares from this period are adorned with red reticulated decoration. Imported vessels were also found, including glazed monochrome bowls and yellow and green gouged bowls (Fig. 6:12).
The Ottoman Period
Remains of a large stone wall aligned north–south (W101; length 8 m, width 1.5 m, preserved height 0.7 m; Fig. 9), were exposed above the level of gray soil (L110). The wall has two faces of hard, roughly hewn limestones (0.3 × 0.4 × 0.5 m) and a core of small fieldstones. It was built on an incline so as to conform to the angle of the slope, and slants from south to north, at approximately 15 degrees, for a distance of 5.5 m. It then continues farther north at an even level for another 2.5 m, and along this stretch a massive surface of stone pavement (L119; 1.5 × 2.0 m) built of a single course of large fieldstones abuts it from the west. The incline of the wall, and the pavement adjacent to its lower end, suggest that this was the foundation of an installation that was built to follow the natural slope—maybe the foundation of a channel that conveyed water from the spring for industry or agriculture. East of W101, two rows of fieldstones were found (W104; exposed length 0.6 m, width 0.8 m). This is apparently the western end of the foundation of an east–west wall that abutted W101. A large stone wall, aligned east–west (W117; exposed length 4.3 m, preserved height 0.5 m), was exposed in the western part of the area, at the same elevation as W101. Only its northern face was exposed and most of it is covered by the southern balk; however, the elevation of its foundations and the size of the stones suggest that it is contemporary with W101, and the two may have been in use together. A row of five medium-size fieldstones in the western end of the excavation was probably the eastern face of another wall, oriented southeast–northwest (W103; length 1.4 m, width 0.5 m, preserved height 0.25 m). In its alignment and construction method, W103 is different from the two other walls, and its association with the same construction phase is based solely on its elevation—above W114 and at the same level as the foundation of W101. Wall 101, which was constructed above the gray soil layer (L110) is therefore dated to a later phase in the Mamluk period or, more likely, to the Ottoman period (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries CE). A sequence of ash and soil debris layers sloping west–east (L112; Fig. 2: Section 2–2), was identified east of W101. They were cut by the robber trench of W101 (L113). The debris apparently spilled from the top of the wall to the west, and therefore dates the final use of the wall. The ceramic finds in the debris date to the end of the Ottoman period, and include a nineteenth-century fragment of slipped bowl from Didymoteicho in Thrace, Greece (Fig. 6:15). More Ottoman-period pottery was recovered from the fill that abuts W101 from the west (L100), and from the surface. It consisted
mainly of fragments of jars and jugs (Fig. 6:17, 18), but included also part of another nineteenth-century CE glazed bowl, from Çanakkale in western Asia Minor (Fig. 6:16). Çanakale-ware bowls were very common in the Mediterranean countries, including Ottoman Palestine (Dalali-Amos 2013; Stern 2013). In the nineteenth century CE ‘Illut was nothing more than a small village of less than two hundred residents, and the imported vessels probably arrived there because of its location along the route that led from Haifa Bay to Nazareth (Conder and Kitchener 1881:274, Map, Sheet V).
Four small pieces of glass were found in the excavation, three of them merit publication: two fragments of vessels and a chunk of raw glass with remains of production-waste.
A fragment of a bowl rim, folded-out and hollow, was found in L115. The glass is light blue-green, with no signs of weathering, and is covered with sandy encrustation (Fig. 7:1). The fabric is clear and resembles the glass that was previously discovered at ‘Illut (Gorin-Rosen 2009), as well as in assemblages of the late Byzantine and early Umayyad periods at other sites. Bowls with folded-out hollow rims are characteristic as early as the Roman period, possibly the Late Roman period, but remain in use until the Umayyad period with very small changes in form and in the quality of the fabric.
A small body fragment decorated with a prominent, rounded knob (Fig. 7:2) was found in L100. The glass is colorless, of fine quality and covered with silver weathering. The vessel and the knob are made of an identical shade of glass. Beakers ornamented with knobs of this type are called prunted beakers and are typical of Crusader-period assemblages. Numerous prunted beakers were found in excavations at ‘Akko (Gorin-Rosen 1997:82–84, Fig. 2:20–22; see also the references there to Montfort, Somelria, Giv‘at Yasaf, Yoqne‘am and Bet She’an). Similar beakers were also found in Crusader-period assemblages at Yafo and other sites. The beaker fragment indicates that decorated beakers were in use during the Crusader period—a tradition practiced by the Crusaders during their stay in the East.
A chunk of raw glass with a triangular cross-section was found in L115. It is bluish green, of fine quality, and covered on one side with a thin layer of lime (Fig. 7:3). Glass-production waste was also found in an earlier excavation at ‘Illut (Gorin-Rosen 2009: Fig 15), and it was suggested that it should be dated according to the vessels that were found next to it to the late Byzantine–early Umayyad periods. This date matches that of bowl No. 1, which was found with the chunk of glass. It seems that during the late Byzantine and early Umayyad periods a glass workshop operated in ‘Illut, and its debris was found in two salvage excavations that were conducted in the village. Furthermore, the excavation indicates occupation during the Crusader period.
Despite the limited scope of the excavation, the remains at ‘Illut provide information regarding the settlement over many periods. The early periods—Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine—are represented only by pottery, and it seems that the settlement did not extend as far as the current excavation area at the time, but concentrated in the middle of the spur, around the spring. The finds from the Roman period, which include fragments of Kefar Hananya bowls, substantiate the evidence for the existence of the settlement ‘Ayyatalu, which is mentioned in the Talmud (above). It seems that by the end of the Byzantine period or the beginning of the Umayyad period there was a short-term expansion to the wadi. The finds from the Fatimid, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods indicate renewed building, but apparently only in the vicinity of the spring. From the Ottoman period there are remains of a large agricultural or industrial installation. Its location, near the spring, but further down the slope, in conjunction with what we know about the large reservoirs at the upper part of the wadi above the spring, helps in reconstructing the plan of the site at the time—a settlement that was apparently concentrated on the spur next to the spring, with areas of open farmland around it.
Conder C.R. and Kitchener H.H. 1881. The Survey of Western Palestine I: Galilee. London.
Gorin-Rosen Y. 1997. Excavation of the Courthouse Site at ‘Akko: Medieval Glass Vessels (Area TA). ‘Atiqot 31:75–85.
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2009. Glass Artifacts. In: E. Dalali-Amos. ‘Illut. HA-ESI 121.
Safrai Z. 1981.The Galilee in the Time of the Mishna and Talmud. Tel Aviv (Hebrew).