In 2015, two graves (S1SP6, S1SP8) were excavated in Area 1, three in Area 2 (S2SP3, S2SP8, S2SP15) and three in Area 3 (S3SP5, S3SP17, S3SP18). During this season, several unmarked graves were discovered (S2SP3, S2SP10–S2SP14, S3SP17, S3SP18). In Area 3, the shallow depth of the burial pits testifies to the considerable erosion of the ground level, which seems to have been dug in some places.
In the continued exploration of Area 2 in 2016 and 2017 seasons, eight graves were excavated (S2SP1, S2SP4, S2SP9, S2SP10, S2SP13, S2SP18–S2SP20) and four other burials were partially studied (S2SP22–S2SP24, S2SP28). In this area, numerous overlapping graves allow to establish a relative chronology of the graves.
The archaeothanatological analysis reveals that each body was buried directly in a pit, with a wooden cover placed directly over the pit. Only one nailed coffin and one stone cist were identified. All the excavated graves contained both a skeleton of an individual in primary position (in articulation) and individual bones in secondary position. A large majority of skeletons lay in a supine position (Fig 7). The fills within the graves contained several pottery sherds. Also found were a few iron nails, two coins and one earring. Only one artifact placed with the body was discovered: possibly a metal end preserved from a pilgrim staff (Fig. 8).Several graves overlapped or had been destroyed by newer burials. Overlapping graves are more frequent in Areas 2 and 3; here, the excavation allowed us to identify several graves without surface markers. Preliminary anthropological studies show the presence of adults of both sexes, as well as children. Several skeletons bear marks of violent trauma; in some cases, combat wounds were identified as the cause of death.
The presence of bones in a secondary position and the overlapping of burial pits testify to a considerably intensive use of the burial grounds over a relatively short period of time, as the castle—according to textual sources—functioned for less than 80 years. In light of this new data, Johns’ 1934 estimate of 1900 burials appears too low.
Differences in funerary practices have been identified between the three areas. For example, the graves in area 2 tend to be larger and to contain more male individuals than the other two areas. Bone samples collected for future isotopic and DNA analyses may provide more precise information on the identity of the interred in each area.
The preliminary results of the current excavation project at the ‘Atlit cemetery provide significant new data on the typology of graves and on the use of Christian cemeteries in the Latin East. The first results and the potential that this well-preserved site holds for further exploration point to the importance of renewed archaeological explorations of the ‘Atlit cemetery.