The aim of the joint University of Tübingen and Tel Aviv University expedition was to explore the structure, the cultural adaptations and the urban–rural relations of the Crusader town of Apollonia/Arsur. The project sought to better understand the European and local cultural influences that dictated the structure and organization of the town and its hinterland. The town’s abandonment following its destruction by the Mamluks provides a unique archaeological setting, in which the Crusader layers were left largely undisturbed by later settlement activities and thus are highly suitable for intense research. These layers were the object of an extensive light-detection and ranging (LIDAR) analysis as well as of geo-magnetic surveys, which detected the layout of structures still hidden below the ground, allowing the reconstruction of the original topography and the design of the entire medieval town (Kenzler and Zeischka-Kenzler 2015; Kenzler 2016).
The expedition chose to open three excavation areas (T, U, W; Fig. 1), where the results of the geo-magnetic surveys showed walls forming small structures and units. Areas T and U were opened in the southwestern part of the site, and Area W was opened in the western part of the site—the center of the walled medieval town. The finds from these areas complete the research by allowing insight into the material culture and daily life activities of the town’s inhabitants.
This project appends the ongoing Apollonia-Arsuf Excavation Project, whose focus is the exploration and publication of all periods recovered during the 25 seasons of excavations undertaken at the site since 1977; it comprised an exploration of the inhabited town (Roll and Tal 1999; 2008; Galor, Roll and Tal 2009; Ayalon, Tal and Yehuda 2013; Tal et al. 2017), the Crusader castle (Tal 2011), the hinterland (Haddad et al. 2015) and of the sea coast (Mirkin, Cvikel and Tal 2016).
Area T (445.5 sq m; Fig. 2), which was excavated in 2012–2016, provided extensive evidence on the development of the medieval town, from the Early Islamic period (ninth–tenth centuries CE) to the Mamluk destruction of the town in March–April 1265 CE.
The excavations in the area partially unearthed three domestic complexes from the Early Islamic period. The most extensive remains were discovered in the northern part of the area: three rooms (F5380, F5405, F5410), two of which had elevated platforms in the corners (I5401, I5411); a kitchen area (F5522, I5570); small plastered pools (I5498, I5520); a vaulted cesspit (I5599); and a well-paved courtyard (F5502). The eastern part of the area was largely damaged, but some architectural remains attest to adjacent dwelling rooms. It seems that this part of the town was densely inhabited in the Early Islamic period.
With the Crusader occupation of the town, early in the twelfth century CE, some architectural changes were made in the complexes. Nevertheless, the Crusaders overtook the former complexes and adopted them to their use. In the southern part of the area, a long east–west sewage channel (I5373) covered by stone slabs was discovered. It bypassed a cesspit (I5581) but cut a screed floor (F5388) and another floor with two large dug-in storage vessels (I5566) of different types, dated to the tenth–eleventh centuries CE (Fig. 3). The domestic complexes exhibit some regularity in relation to the courtyard (CY) to their west, which is adjacent to cooking (K) and storage (S) areas. It seems that also in the Crusader period this part of the town was densely inhabited. The pottery finds recovered from the Crusader phases indicate the use of different wares from the eastern Mediterranean, spanning the Aegean islands, Anatolia, Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt. Archaeozoological remains attest to a significant amount of pig bones.
A destruction layer with some burnt timbers covered the twelfth century CE phase in the area. Several ballista stones found on that layer suggest a violent destruction, apparently during the Ayyubid conquest of 1187 CE. A new complex was built on top of this layer in the western part of the area. Its orientation is similar to that of the previous structure, but the building techniques are different. The new complex consisted of at least two rooms: a large one (L5587, F5573; 22 sq m) with a tanūr-like installation (I5570) and a stand for a vessel (I5665) in the southern corner of the room; and a smaller room, which was only partially excavated, to its west (F5672, F5676), with a blocked entrance (I5664). An elevated platform (I5622; c. 12 sq m) covered with a fine-grained, whitish grey lime-based mortar surface (F5574) was revealed north of the two rooms. An alleyway paved with stone slabs (F5609) led into a small storeroom (I5542). An assemblage of complete and restorable in situ pottery vessels was recovered from this complex (Fig. 4), attesting, together with other finds, to an abandonment, apparently related to the Mamluk siege of 1265 CE.
Area U (214.7 sq m; Fig. 5), opened on a slope descending to the west, was excavated in 2012–2013, yielding evidence of continuous inhabitation from the Byzantine to the Crusader periods. The remains from the Byzantine period include walls of kurkar ashlars (W6353, W6447) and a rudimentary white mosaic with reddish panels (F6326), as well as material finds.
During the Early Islamic period, a rectangular enclosure divided by a few partition walls (W6464, L6349) was built; the finds attest to a domestic character. A vaulted cesspit (I6407) appended by a small built chamber (I6448; Fig. 6) was revealed within this enclosure, near its northeastern corner. Occupation fills in the enclosure contained finds from the ninth–eleventh centuries CE.
At the beginning of the Crusader occupation, early in the twelfth century CE, several architectural changes were made in the enclosure, especially in its eastern part. Scorch marks and intentional fills of rubble and earth may suggest a destruction by the Ayyubids in 1187 CE. The Crusaders rebuilt the area (W6305, W6306, W6315) in the first half of the thirteenth century CE. The eastern part of the area was levelled, and a retaining wall (W6302) set in opus spicatum was built, clearly differing in its construction method from all the other walls. Occupation fills in the upper level of the area revealed finds dating from the thirteenth century CE. Some World War I militaria were also found in the area, attesting to the historically documented camp for British forces that existed at the site from December 1917 to September 1918.
Area W (16 sq m; Fig. 7), excavated in 2012, was opened where geo-magnetic anomalies indicated the existence of a round structure with burn marks, and indeed a round stone structure (I8202) was revealed just under the surface layer. Its northern part was preserved to a height of three–four courses, whereas its southern part was cut by a robber trench. Only the remains of lime screed survived from its floor (F8210). On the inner face of the structure’s northern wall scorch marks as well as remains of compact mortar with soot marks, were found 0.2–0.5 m above floor 8210. A wall (W8206) running under the structure along a northeast-southwest axis and built of similar building stones was unearthed. The wall dates to an earlier phase of the Byzantine period, as indicated by the latest pottery sherds revealed in its foundation trench. Considerable amounts of pottery sherds were retrieved in this area; the majority date from the Byzantine period and include utensils and storage wares, most notably large sherds of dolia (storage bins). It thus seems that the round structure was originally used as a silo. At some point, probably in the seventh century CE, either still during the Byzantine period or in the Early Islamic period, the structure went out of use. It seems that the structure was converted into a dumpster, and that the scorch marks on the inner face of the wall resulted from the occasional burning of the refuse for hygienic reasons. However, the remains do not allow us to reject with certainty the possibility that this installation served as a furnace or part of a production site.
The Hinterland. The borders of the comparatively small Crusader lordship of Arsur (c. 300 sq km) go back to the Early Islamic period, when the town already served as the center of a district (Amitai-Preiss and Tal 2015). The adoption of the Muslim administrative organization made it possible for the Franks to execute their manorial rights and to collect taxes from harbors, markets and trade routes. The reconstruction of the natural landscape of the Crusader lordship is important for understanding the dramatic changes that occurred since the middle of the twentieth century CE. Large parts of the extensive plain between the coast and the mountain range turned into marshes, as only a few natural drainage outlets served to drain rainwater through the kurkar cliffs of the central coastal plain and into the sea. As a result, large, isolated areas of reddish, sandy, dry soil (hamra) rose, but these were not very productive agriculturally without artificial fertilization. However, alluvial soils at the foothills of the Samaria mountains were very fertile and gave rise to forests that continued to grow there until the end of the nineteenth century CE. These played an important role in the inhabitants’ daily life, as did the few streams that drained the coastal plain, such as Nahal Yarqon, which served to power a series of flourmills.
To understand the settlement development, all available archaeological, historical and geographical sources were collected and processed in a Geographic Information System (GIS). These sources were the published and unpublished data from the Archaeological Survey of Israel (Maps 59, 60, 69, 70, 71, 77, 78) and the West Bank and East Jerusalem Archaeological Database Project. This data was supplemented by surveys undertaken as part of the current project. In total, 233 find-spots from the Early Islamic, Crusader and Mamluk periods were assembled, allowing us to reconstruct the region’s settlement dynamics. The area was drained since the Roman period, and the best soils were used for agriculture. Our results show that the area was densely populated and occupied by small rural settlements until the second half of the tenth century CE. Before the arrival of the Crusaders, the number of settlements decreased, and the population concentrated in fewer places. After the establishment of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, there was a clear increase in the number of settlements. The town and castle at Apollonia formed the sole center in the dominion of Arsur (Fig. 8). The rural environment was characterized by small villages or farmsteads. It seems that the revenues from the flourmills were of special importance. In contrast, the settlement pattern in the mountains continued largely unchanged over centuries.
Following the Mamluk conquest, the coastal plain was abandoned, except for the Yarqon basin. Baybars obviously retained the flourmills, but he made most of the plains home to nomadic tribes. Permanent settlements were moved further eastward to the foot of the mountain range, along the old caravan route from Cairo to Damascus, where the population increased considerably. During this period, central functions of the destroyed coastal towns of Arsur and Caesarea were transferred inland to Caco (Qagun), halfway between the former two regional capitals.
Over the past two decades, the site of Apollonia yielded well-secured and considerably large assemblages of Crusader-period finds, such as pottery (Tal 2011), glass (Jackson-Tal and Tal 2013), metal artillery (Ashkenazi, Golan and Tal 2013), lead tokens (Kool and Tal 2015) and animal bones (Pines, Sapir-Hen and Tal 2017), as well as other unique and exciting finds that enrich our knowledge on the Crusader period in Palestine. This accords with the policy of our on-going Apollonia-Arsuf Excavation Project, which aims at a better understanding of the site’s economic basis and political affinity, as well as its cultural and economic interactions with other Mediterranean centers during periods of successive occupation.