In January 2013, a trial excavation was conducted on the northern fringes of Horbat Migdal Afeq (Permit No. A-6688; map ref. 196030–276/665418–56), after antiquities were damaged during the installation of a water pipeline. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Housing and Construction, was directed by A.S. Tendler, with the assistance of E. Bachar and R. Abu Halaf (administration), M. Kunin (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), H. Torgë and P. Gendelman (ceramics) and M. Shuiskaya (artifacts drawing).
Three excavation squares (4 × 4 m.) were excavated in the northern fringes of Horbat Migdal Afeq, on the saddle between the ruin and the cemetery on the opposite hill, near the path leading to the Rosh Ha-‘Ayin quarries (Figs. 1–3). Architectural remains and fragments of pottery vessels dating from the Iron Age to the Mamluk period were discovered. Most of the finds are from the Second Temple period and include chalk stone vessels, characteristic of a Jewish population. The area of the excavation was limited as a result of the constant truck traffic along the path.
The fortress on the top of Horbat Migdal Afeq is identified as Mirabel, a Crusader fortress which was constructed in the early twelfth century CE and became the center of an independent earldom. The fortress was conquered in 1187 CE by the Ayyubid ruler al-Adil I. It was renovated and enlarged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries CE (Pringle 1997:67). The village of Majdal Yaba was situated close to the fortress from the sixteenth century until 1948.
The fortress was erected above the multi-stratum site of Migdal Afeq. In the survey of the Map of Rosh Ha-‘Ayin, settlement remains of Majdal Yaba were documented in the vicinity as well as numerous tombs, rock-cuttings, rock-hewn installations and pottery sherds from the Early Bronze, Iron II, Persian, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (Kochavi and Beit-Arieh 1994: Sites 132–136). On the hill north of the fortress there are tombs from the Ottoman period and the time of the British Mandate, which are apparently associated with Majdal Yaba. In addition, several Second Temple period tombs were documented on this hill, where fragments of ossuaries, again indicative of a Jewish population, were discovered (Tsuk 1993; Shadman 2014). The excavation area is near a group of tombs dating to the Ottoman period and the time of the British Mandate; the year 1365 AH (1945 CE) is noted on one of the tombstones.
A floor (L101; thickness c. 0.2 m) made of tamped crushed chalk and small fieldstones was exposed in the eastern part of the excavation area. Soil fill (L104; thickness 1 m) mixed with small stones and numerous pottery sherds dating from the Iron Age to the year 70 CE were discovered in a probe excavated in the floor’s northeastern corner. The pottery includes a Samaritan bowl (Fig. 4:1) and a jar (Fig. 4:3) dating to the Iron Age II; a mortarium (Fig. 4:4) and jars (Fig. 4:5, 6) from the Persian and Early Hellenistic periods; and a casserole (Fig. 4:8), cooking pots (Fig. 4:9, 10) and jars (Fig. 4:11–13) from the Early Roman period. The dates of the pottery vessels indicate that Floor 101 is dated later than the year 70 CE. Collapsed stones were exposed below Fill 104 (L106; Fig. 5) above the bedrock.
A wall (W1; Fig. 6) built of two courses of large, roughly hewn stones was uncovered in the western part of the excavation area. It was constructed on accumulated soil (c. 0.8 m thick) above the bedrock. A short partition wall (W2) was exposed east of W1. Pottery sherds ranging in date from the Iron Age to the Crusader period were recovered from the soil fill next to the walls (L102, L103, L109, L110). These included an Iron Age II holemouth jar (Fig. 4:2), a jug from the Persian period (Fig. 4:7), juglets from the Early Roman period (Fig. 4:14, 15), an LRC bowl from the Byzantine period (Fig. 4:16), a yellow glazed sgrafitto bowl from the Crusader period (Fig. 4:17) and two fragments of chalk stone measuring cups (L102), one a base fragment (Fig. 4:18), the other a rim fragment with a square vertical handle with a hole in its center (Fig. 4:19). Two other base fragments of chalk stone measuring cups (Fig. 4:20, 21) were exposed in an excavation conducted c. 1.5 km east of the site, among the collapsed stones that covered a building from the Late Persian period (map ref. 198304/665782; Shadman 2014). These four chalk stone vessel fragments add to the assemblage of such vessels discovered up to date at 251 sites throughout Israel (Adler 2011). Chalk stone vessels were previously found in the Rosh-Ha‘Ayin region at Afeq-Antipatris (Magen 2002:168) and Horbat Zikhrin (Adler 2011:370, Map 10). These vessels are typical of a Jewish population that meticulously adhered to the laws of ritual purity and impurity; they were used from the second half of the first century BCE until the end of the Bar Kochba uprising in 135 CE.
Covering stones of several cist tombs were exposed near the northern balk of the excavation square. It seems that these tombs are part of a cluster of graves dating to the Ottoman and the British Mandate periods, which were documented nearby. Similar tombs were previously discovered on the adjacent hilltop and were dated to the Late Ottoman period and the British Mandat period (Shadman 2014: Area F1).
Migdal Afeq is of strategic importance because it is situated at the high eastern end of the Afeq Pass. The finds from the Second Temple period corroborate the identification of the site as Migdal Afeq, which is mentioned by Josephus, who wrote that in 66 CE “… Cestius removed with his whole army, and marched to Antipatris; and when he was informed that there was a great body of Jewish forces gotten together in a certain tower called Aphek , he sent a party before to fight them” (Josephus, Wars II:19.I ). A. Alt was the first to propose that Afeq-Antipatris should be identified with the large tell adjacent to the Rosh Ha-‘Ayin springs, whereas Migdal Afeq should be identified in the mountains to the east (Frankel and Kochavi 2000:14). The proximity of the site to burial caves of the Second Temple period and the discovery of chalk stone vessels in the current excavation indicate the presence of a Jewish population in the Late Second Temple period.
The finds from the excavation are significant because so few excavations have been conducted at the site. It seems plausible that earlier remains are yet to be exposed at the site.
Adler Y. 2011. The Archaeology of Purity: Archaeological Evidence for the Observance of Ritual Purity in Ereẓ-Israel from the Hasmonean Period until the End of the Talmudic Era (164 BCE–400 CE). Ph.D. diss. Bar Ilan University. Ramat Gan (Hebrew; English abstract).
Frankel R. and Kochavi M. 2000. Identification of the Site. In M. Kochavi, ed. Aphek-Antipatris I: Excavations of Areas A and B, the 1972–1976 Seasons (Tel Aviv University, Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series 19). Tel Aviv. Pp. 67–70.
Josephus, Wars: Flavius Josephus. The Jewish War. The New and Complete Works of Josephus (trans. W. Whiston, Kregel Publications). Grand Rapids, Mich. 1999.
Magen Y. 2002. The Stone Vessel Industry in the Second Temple Period. Jerusalem.
Pringle D. 1997. Secular Building in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge.
Shadman. A. 2014. Rosh Ha-‘Ayin (South). HA-ESI 126.
Tsuk T. 1993. The Jewish Community of Western Samaria in Light of Information from the Burial Caves at Migdal Tsedek. Niqrot Zurim 19:67–76 (Hebrew; English summary p. 141).