In November–December 2019 and in March 2020, an excavation was conducted at Horbat Huqoq (Permit Nos. A-8606, A-8665; map ref. 24530/75455; Fig. 1). The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Heritage and Jerusalem, was directed by O. Zingboym and T. Badichi (digital registration), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), R. Assis (field management), A. Kleiner (surveying and drone photography), Y. Berman (field photography), J. Schaffer (conservation engineering), L. Porat (pottery restoration), H. Tahan-Rosen (pottery drawing), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), Y. Ostrovsky (studio photography), K. Covello-Paran (scientific guidance), E. Ambar-Armon (educational program), Y. Shivtiel (underground exploration consultation) and students from educational institutions in the north, residents and children from Kibbutz Huqoq, Israel Antiquities Authority laborers, and soldiers from the IDF’s Underground Engineering Unit.
Horbat Huqoq (c. 30 dunams) is situated near a flowing spring, on two hills with a view of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley to the southeast (Fig. 2). The site housed a Jewish settlement as early as the Roman period and is mentioned in both the Jerusalem Talmud (Shevi’it 9, 1; Sanhedrin 3, 9) and the Babylonian Talmud (Pessahim 13, a). On the eastern hill is the tomb of Sheikh Nashi. From 2011 onwards, a Byzantine-period synagogue has been under excavation at the top of the northwestern hill dating; it contains magnificent, unique mosaics (Magness et al. 2020, and see references therein). Remains of residential buildings, industrial installations, quarries, burial caves and hiding complexes were also uncovered at the site (Dalali-Amos 2014). The settlement at the site is mentioned in travelers’ accounts from the fourteenth century CE, including Ashtori ha-Parhi (Kaftor Va-Ferach, 57). The site and the surrounding area were surveyed both at the end of the nineteenth century and from the 1950s to the present day (for an overview, see Tepper and Shachar 1987:311–313. See also Cinamon 2013; Shivtiel 2019:133–135).
Since 2017, a community excavation has been taking place to the southeast of the synagogue, in preparation for opening the site to the public. The excavation is uncovering a subterranean hiding complex which was discovered in 1982 by G. Daryn from Kibbutz Huqoq. The hiding complex yielded ceramic finds from the Early Bronze IA–B and the Intermediate Bronze Age and from the second century CE. The Bronze Age pottery probably originated from a shaft grave of that period; The second century CE seems to date the hiding complex to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, although this date is not certain. The surface above the hiding complex yielded remains of buildings and floors, as well as several pottery sherds from the Byzantine period (fourth–fifth centuries CE; Fig. 3); these buildings were probably built above an earlier layer. Following is the description of the hiding complex.
The complex (Figs. 4–7) is hewn into limestone bedrock and has six main chambers (A–F), including a plastered miqveh (ritual bath; A) and two large water cisterns (B, F), apparently for communal use, that predate the hiding complex and were incorporated into it, thus rendering them obsolete. In the complex’s later phase, a rock-hewn staircase led down from the entrance to Miqveh A (Figs. 8, 9). From the miqveh’s northern wall, a rock-hewn passage with steps led to Cistern B (Fig. 10). The steps were carelessly hewn, suggesting that they were hastily prepared. The opening of Cistern B was closed off with a conical ‘plug’ made of stones held together with bonding material when the cistern was incorporated into the hiding complex; during the excavation, the ‘plug’ was pushed down into the cistern to allow light and air to enter (Figs. 11, 12). A passage was hewn from Cistern B to Chamber C; the passage and the chamber are slightly higher than the cistern’s floor. It is evident that passage was originally an independent unit, whose ceiling was chiseled smooth; the hewn ceiling had collapsed, either during or after its use. The passage yielded traces of an occupation level, including potsherds dated to the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages and bones—probably a shaft grave from the Early Bronze Age that was reused in the Intermediate Bronze Age. Three passages were hewn from Chamber C; two of them are low and lead to Chamber D and to Cistern F, and one was mostly blocked. Chamber C contained traces of fire, which may attest to cooking inside the chamber. A passage was hewn from Chamber D into Chamber E, and from there a low passage that could only be accessed by crawling was cut toward Cistern F (Fig. 13). Cistern F, a water cistern whose opening was blocked, was sufficiently high to stand up in. Four passages leading off from the cistern have not yet been excavated.
In addition to the pottery from the Early Bronze Age IA–B and the Intermediate Bronze aGE, which comes mostly from the occupation level in the passage between Cistern B and Chamber C, numerous fragments of Kefar Hananiya ware and some glass shards, all dating from the second century CE, were found. Also found was the head of an iron pickax (Fig. 14). These finds seem to attest to the use of the hiding complex during the first half of the second century CE—around the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
The remains and finds in the hiding complex points to three phases of use. In the earliest phase, the Early Bronze Age, a shaft grave with a smoothed ceiling was hewn. The grave was probably reused in the Intermediate Bronze Age. The ceiling of the grave collapsed in a later period, and it fell into disuse. In the middle phase, probably during the Second Temple period or later, the local residents quarried out a ritual bath and two large cisterns. In the latest phase, either during preparations for the Great Revolt in the mid-first century CE or for the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the mid-second century CE, the settlement’s residents blocked up the cisterns, canceled out the ritual bath and dug a hiding complex beneath the village’s dwellings.
The size of the hiding complex—with at least six chambers and incorporating a ritual bath and two public water cisterns—suggests that it was a public complex and not a family complex. It is now recognized that some of the hiding complexes discovered in or near Jewish settlements in the Galilee and Judea were hewn either during preparations for the Great Revolt in the mid-first century CE or during preparations for the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the mid-second century CE (Zissu 2002; Shivtiel 2019). Josephus records that during the Great Revolt, the Jewish settlements in the Galilee rallied and rebelled against the Romans, suggesting that many of the hiding complexes in the Galilee can be interpreted as evidence of preparations for this revolt. However, since only a few of the Galilean hiding complexes have been systematically excavated and explored, most of them have not been dated.
Magness J., Kisilevitz S., Grey M., Mizzi D., Burney J., Britt K. and Boustan R. 2020. Huqoq – 2019. HA-ESI 132.
Shivtiel Y. 2019. Cliff Shelters and Hiding Complexes: The Jewish Defense Methods in Galilee During the Roman Period. Göttingen.
Tepper Y. and Shachar Y. 1987. Exploration of the Hiding Complexes. In A. Kloner and Y. Tepper eds. The Hiding Complexes in the Judean Shephelah. Tel Aviv. Pp. 49–71 (Hebrew).
Zissu B. 2002. Rural Settlement in the Judean Hills and Foothills from the Late Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Ph.D. Diss. The Hebrew University Jerusalem. Jerusalem (Hebrew).