During October 2002 a small-scale archaeological excavation was conducted in Zefat, on the western slope of Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda (Permit No. A-3748*; map ref. NIG 246490/763915; OIG 196490/263915), in the wake of development work and construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Habad Alta Institute in Zefat, was directed by Y. Stepansky, with the assistance of L. Porat, N. Damoni and Y. Alexandre (antiquities inspection), Y. Ya‘aqoby (administration), H. Tahan (pottery drawing) and Y.T. Sabah (technical assistance on behalf of the Alta Institute).
Development work carried out on Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda and its slopes during the 1970s and 80s revealed potsherds from several periods on the hill itself and at its foot (ESI 5:93–94; IAA Reports 14:39, Site 322; Fig. 1:1). Burial caves, dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (HA 33:12–13; ‘Atiqot 29:1–29) were discovered and excavated in Wadi Hamra, c. 500 m east of the hill. During the 1990s potsherds from the Roman period were found in the excavations at Khan al-Basha, at the foot of Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda (‘Atiqot 46:113–133) and other pottery fragments from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period were discovered on Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda during antiquity inspections, assisted by D. Rothschild (Fig. 1:2–6, 8–11, 16, 20, 21, 25).
The excavation in 2002 was conducted in a large, U-shaped probe trench (10 × 20 m) whose northern and southern walls rose 2.5–4.0 m high. The trench was cut by mechanical equipment on the lower western slope of the hill, next to the Alta Educational Institute (map ref. NIG 24650/76392; OIG 19650/26392). Deposits of stones and soil that contained pottery fragments, sloping at a 30° angle with the gradient of the slope (Fig. 2), were visible in the field. The excavation was focused on the southern wall’s section of the trench (1.0 × 2.5 m), whose southwestern corner was excavated (Fig. 3) and potsherds were collected (Fig. 1:7, 12–15, 17–19, 22–24).
Part of an artificial debris (2.5–3.0 m thick), composed of a soil layer (1.5 m thick) and surmounted by a layer of tiny qirton stones (0.4 m thick), was exposed. Overlaying this layer was another thin layer of tiny qirton stones and crushed qirton stones (0.6 m thick). Building remains were non-existent. Artificial debris (Fig. 4), whose composition was similar to that in the south wall, was discerned in the northern wall of the trench, which was not cleaned.
The pottery fragments recovered from the antiquities inspection and the current excavation attest to the continued occupation of Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda from Middle Bronze Age I until the modern era (see Y. Stepansky, Zefat and the Surrounding Area in Antiquity, in A. Schiller and G. Barkay [eds.], Zefat and its Sites [Ariel 157-158], 2002, pp. 51–58 [Hebrew]). A relatively large number of potsherds, dating to Middle Bronze Age II were found: a bowl (Fig. 1:2), a krater (Fig. 1:3) and a jar (Fig. 1:4), as well as a few potsherds from Middle Bronze Age I, e.g., a cooking pot (Fig. 1:1) and the Late Bronze Age, e.g., a milk bowl (Fig. 1:5). Many pottery fragments from Iron Age I and II were collected, including cooking pots (Fig. 1:6, 8, 9), a pithos (Fig. 1:7) and jars (Fig. 1:10, 11). The potsherds from the Persian–Hellenistic periods, particularly Galilean Coarse Ware, included a pithos (Fig. 1:12), jars (Fig. 1:13, 14), a jar base (Fig. 1:15) and a notched handle (Fig. 1:16) and some fragments from the Hellenistic period, such as a bowl (Fig. 1:17), a cooking bowl (Fig. 1:18) and a jar (Fig. 1:19). A few potsherds from the Late Roman period consisted of a bowl (Fig. 1:20) and other potsherds from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods were bowls (Fig. 1:21–23) and jars (Fig. 1:24, 25). A scant number of potsherds from the Crusader–Ayyubid periods and beginning of the Mamluk period were present, as well as a few animal bones (including pig bones) and remains of iron objects.
The excavation evinced that during the Crusader period or the beginning of the Mamluk period massive earthworks that damaged the ancient strata of the tell were conducted. It is possible that the debris was created in the wake of work on the moat at the top of the hill that was meant to protect the upper part of the Crusader–Mamluk fortress. Another possibility is that the debris was intended to serve as a defensive rampart for the fortress, lining the slope of the hill between the fortification system of the middle Crusader wall (at the level of Yiftah Brigade Street above the debris) and the outer Crusader fortification system that was probably somewhat lower than the debris; a few of its remains were probably found in the trench that was dug during the construction work in 2002 at the foot of Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda (HA-ESI 117).
The historical and archaeological picture indicates an intensive settlement at the top of Giv‘at Ha-Mezuda, which was continually occupied from the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age until the Crusader period.