During February–March 2011, a salvage excavation was conducted in Tiberias (Permit No. A-6122; map ref. 251555–71/741053–2009; Fig. 1) along the route of the saltwater carrier, east of the Barco Archaeological Park parking lot and west of Road 90, opposite the Holiday Inn Hotel. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Mekorot Company, was directed by G. Cinnamon, with the assistance of W. Atrash (archaeological consultation), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), R. Mishayev and M. Kahan (surveying), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), H. Tahan (pottery drawing) and laborers from Tiberias and Nazareth.
The excavation was conducted following the exposure of a wall top and pottery sherds during inspection work prior to changing the course of the carrier. The excavation unearthed sections of buildings dating to the Abbasid period. Remains of settlement strata from the Abbasid and Fatimid periods are known in the vicinity of the excavated area, to the east and south of the Roman city gate, and outside of it; an excavation was previously conducted there (Permit No. A-5400).
Four squares (100 sq m; Fig. 2) were excavated. Numerous modern disturbances in the southern and northern parts of the excavation area precluded the possibility of conducting a full archaeological excavation. Sections of two buildings were found in the central part of the area: rooms belonging to a northern building (L105, L108) and a massive wall (W111, exposed length 4 m, width 1.2 m) belonging to a southern building. The latter, which was severely damaged by tree roots and construction, was built of fieldstones and its northern face was coated with a thin layer of white-gray plaster. A basalt column drum was incorporated in secondary use in the wall. At a later stage, the wall was thickened (by 0.4 m) with fieldstones affixed to its face. The wall was probably part of a larger building, which was damaged in the modern era. The pottery found at the bottom of the wall and inside it dates this section of the building to the Abbasid period. The remains unearthed from the northern building (Fig. 3) included the outer wall (W104), built of fieldstones, and a perpendicular wall (W106) that separated Room 105 from Courtyard 108. The courtyard was paved with basalt stones, and included two stone-lined depressions (Fig. 4) that apparently served to stabilize large store jars. A compacted crushed chalk floor was found in Room 105 (Fig. 5). Sherds and fragments of glass vessels from the Abbasid and Fatimid periods were found on the floors in the room and in courtyard (below). During the excavation, the courtyard floor was dismantled, and the small area excavated below it yielded Abbasid-period sherds.
Among the pottery vessels found in the excavation are deep glazed bowls characteristic of the first half of the eleventh century CE (Fig. 6:1–3); the predominance of ‘Tiberias’-type bowls (Fig. 6:3) is notable. Other bowls include bowls with straight sides (Fig. 6:4–6), a larger bowl (Fig. 6:7), and coarse ‘Large Basin’ casseroles (Fig. 6:8–10) that date to the Abbasid period. An unusual find is a hand-made ‘Gerash bowl’ (Fig. 6:11) that dates to the eighth and ninth centuries CE. Other finds are cooking pots characteristic of the Abbasid period (Fig. 6:12, 13); numerous Cream Ware jars, which have several variants of long, straight necks (Fig. 6:14–16); and globular jars, which were found in slightly larger numbers. The latter are either ribbed (Fig. 6:17, 18) or have a ridge where the neck meets the body (Fig. 6:19) – a type that is typical of the first half of the eleventh century CE.
Fragments of an extraordinary glass vessel were found on the courtyard floor: a Sidonian type beaker (Fig. 7: 1) that dates to the first century CE (below). In addition, fragments of glass vessels from the Abbasid–Fatimid periods were found in the courtyard (Fig. 7:2–5).
The pottery sherds and glass fragments found on the floors and in the foundation layer date the complex to the Abbasid–Fatimid period. The fragments of the Roman glass vessel might indicate that this rare artifact was used over a long period of time, or, more likely, that the fragments were washed down the slope along with soil from the area of Roman Tiberias. The remains unearthed in the excavation point to the expansion of Tiberias beyond the Byzantine city walls and to the presence of an Abbasid–Fatimid quarter south of the city wall.
Some fifty fragments of glass vessels were found in the excavation, of which about thirty could be identified and dated. Of these, the most important vessel is a mold-blown beaker from the Early Roman period (L108, Basket 1016/1; Fig. 7:1) made of colorless glass and covered with silverish-black weathering and severe pitting that corroded its wall. The vessel is cylindrical with a slight flaring wall. Fragments of its rim and base and several body fragments were found. The rim is knocked-off (diameter 5.5 cm), and below it is a slightly protruding horizontal stripe. The base (diameter 3.3 cm), which was preserved almost in its entirety, is flat and its circumference bears a short ring. The pattern begins above the base, with a prominent horizontal stripe and a row of spacious knobs above it. Above them are the remains of a pattern: on one side there was probably a floral pattern of a curly branch, and on the other – an indistinct pattern, of which only a small part was preserved. The thickness of the latter is wider than that of the floral design and it therefore seems different. The beaker belongs to a group of mold-blown vessels that are collectively known as Sidonian vessels, dating to the first century CE. This group is very diverse, both in decoration and in form; however, some of the vessels do share common features. The beaker found at Tiberias is somewhat unusual both in its small size and its decoration, yet despite these differences it can be ascribed to the group.
A first-century CE beaker in the
Oppenländer collection in Germany (von Saldern et al. 1974
:166–167, No. 456
) bears a similar configuration of a floral decoration and horizontal stripes above the base and below the rim. The two beakers differ, however, in the knobs on the bottom part and in their size. Another beaker belonging to this group, found in the National Museum collection in Scotland (Lightfoot 2007
:77, Cat. No. 163
), has knobs above the horizontal stripe that are similar to those on the Tiberias beaker, but has a different pattern above them; it dates to the second half of the first century CE.
Most of the vessels that were found in the excavation date to the Abbasid–Fatimid periods and belong to types known from excavations in Tiberias and elsewhere. Four vessels deserve mentioning: three bottles that represent known types, and a fragment that represents a unique combination of known decorative techniques. The first is a plain, undecorated bottle with a cylindrical neck and an everted rim that forms a short shelf (L108, Basket 1020/1; Fig. 7:2). These bottles usually appear in contexts dating to the tenth–eleventh centuries CE. The second is a bottle made of colorless glass covered with silverish-black weathering and pitting. Its wall is thickened, and its neck is carved with facets that form a hexagonal cross-section (L103, Basket 1014/1, Fig. 7:3). The third bottle has a short cylindrical neck and an upright rim. It is decorated from the rim's edge downwards with a wound horizontal dark trail surrounded four times (L103, Basket 1012/1; Fig. 7:4). The fourth vessel is represented by a body fragment made of pale greenish-blue glass covered with white crust and pitting (L108, Basket 1020/2; Fig. 7:5). The vessel is decorated with a wheel-cut pattern of arches of various depths, that is characteristic of the Abbasid period. It is accompanied by shallow incisions that appear in pairs. This is a familiar technique that first appeared in the Umayyad period and was quite common during the Abbasid period. However, the combination of the two techniques on one vessel is rather rare.
Also, three glass tesserae – two in turquoise-green and on in green – were found, as well as three fragments of glass industrial debris: two furnace wasters and one lump of raw glass (L101).
These finds provide a glimpse into Tiberias at the peak of its glory during the Early Roman period, as well as during the Abbasid and Early Fatimid periods.
Lightfoot C.S. 2007. Ancient Glass in National Museums Scotland. Edinburgh.
von Saldern A., Nolte B., La Baume P. and Haevernick T.H. 1974. Gläser der Antike: Sammlung Erwin Oppenländer. Hamburg.