In November 2017, an excavation accompanied by conservation work was conducted at the flour mill in Kibbutz Ha-Gosherim (map ref. 258028/791865; Figs. 1, 2). The project, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by U. Berger and J. Peterson, with the assistance of A. Mashiah (administration), I. Mizrahi, N. Korem and L. Moreno (conservation), M. Tzubari (aerial photography), Y. Shaaltiel (drafting), Y. Porath (frame construction), Y. Sheffer (conservation engineering), H. Tahan-Rosen (finds drawing), A. Freundlich (scientific consultation), E. Stern (pottery), M. Shemer (flint), A. Gyrman Levanon (digital flint documentation) and members of the pre-military preparatory school at Maayan Baruch. Thanks to S. ‘Araf for providing us with his site knowledge and initial research in the field, and to A. Diamond, Z. Lipkin, and members of Kibbutz Ha-Gosherim for their assistance and support of the project.
Previous surveys and excavations conducted on Kibbutz Ha-Gosherim land and at the site of Khisas to the north of the kibbutz discovered settlement remains dating from the Pottery Neolithic to the Chalcolithic periods, rock-hewn burial caves from the Middle Bronze Age and the Hellenistic–Byzantine periods, and architectural remains and finds from the Hellenistic–Ottoman periods and the British Mandate era, when the Arab village of Khisas was located at the site (Syon 2001; Getzov 2011; Bron 2015, and see further references there; Shaked and Shemesh 2016: Sites 54, 55, 67–69).
A flour mill located in the west of the kibbutz, within its cemetery, was fed by an aqueduct running from north to south (over 200 m in length; Figs. 2, 3). The aqueduct channeled water from the eastern tributaries of Nahal Dan to three adjoining milling installations, and hence it was named the ‘Triple Mill’ (el-Muthallata; الطاحون المثلثة). The mill was owned by the family of the al-Fa‘ur emir. The flour mill was used by inhabitants of the Hula Valley throughout the Ottoman period and in the British Mandate era, and the aqueduct continued to provide the kibbutz with irrigation water for its fields until the late 1940s. The flour mill and the aqueduct are marked on a late nineteenth-century Palestine Exploration Fund map. A 1:20,000-scale map from 1950 marks the mill as Tahūnat el-Muthallata, and another mill is marked to its east, Tahūnat el-Halawāt.
A survey of flour mills conducted in the early 1950s documented the abandoned mill a few years after it had ceased operating (Avitzur 1963, see dimensions and elevations there). Over seventy years of weathering, destruction, and lack of maintenance had left their mark on the mill: deep cracks had opened up in it, the mortar had crumbled and been washed away, some of the building stones had disappeared, the walls were about to fall, the mill chambers were filled with soil and refuse, and their vaults had collapsed. Due to the water penetration into the aqueduct's core, vegetation had taken root there, and the walls had become swollen, leading to the danger of immediate collapse, especially in the arch at the aqueduct’s southern end.
The cleaning and preservation work on the flour mill was aimed at preventing it from collapsing and becoming a pile of ruins. The site’s excavation uncovered the milling chambers, remains of the milling installations’ operating mechanisms, abundant millstone fragments—some of which had been used as building blocks and paving—and pottery and metal fragments dating from the late Ottoman period and the British Mandate era.
The aqueduct leading to the flour mill was built on top of a massive wall with a high arched passageway beneath its southern part (Figs. 3, 4). The millrace was channeled between two parallel stone walls coated with concrete and paved with flat basalt stones. One of the paving stones is engraved with a circle with a cross in the center (Fig. 5). Above the arched passageway, the aqueduct fans out and leads to three penstock shafts (height c. 7 m) through which the water cascaded onto three horizontal paddle wheels (Fig. 6) installed in three barrel-vaulted chambers (Fig. 7). Above the vaulted chambers was the milling chamber, in which three pairs of basalt millstones were installed (Fig. 8). The upper (runner) millstones were broken and held together with iron hoops. Fragments of worn millstones incorporated into the chamber’s floor attest to the structure’s renovation and maintenance. When new, the millstones were at least 0.35 m thick. They were discarded after being worn to a thickness of c. 5 cm.
A series of grooves in the mill’s southern front wall were probably used to fix wooden beams for the milling chamber’s roof. A vertical ‘seam’ was also detected in this wall, indicating two phases of construction in the mill (see Fig. 7): in the early phase, the two western vaulted chambers were built for the paddle wheels; in the later phase, the third vaulted chamber was added to their east.
In the western vaulted chamber, a wooden leverage beam and a wooden drive shaft were found next to the iron paddle wheel (see Fig. 6), as well as several iron parts used in the wheel’s propulsion mechanisms, including part of the rind crossbar, or ‘scorpion’ (Fig. 9:1), the end of the pivot pin (Fig. 9:2) and the upper part of the main post (Fig. 9:3; for further details of flour-mill components and mechanisms, see Freundlich 2016). The ruined vaulted chambers also yielded a horseshoe (Fig. 9:4), two rusty pocketknives (Fig. 9:5, 6), a five-mil coin from 1927 (Fig. 10), and a few fragments of Rashaya el-Fukhar ware, including bowls (Fig. 11:1, 2) and jars (Fig. 11:3–5). The vaulted chambers and the surrounding surface area contained fragments of Marseille tiles (Fig. 11:6), which were probably used for roofing the milling chamber. Roofing with Marseille tiles, like the fragment mentioned above, was common in Upper Galilee in the late Ottoman period and during the British Mandate (Gordon 2006; Stern 2016). Along with other millstone fragments found on the surface around the mill, a few flint tools from the Early Bronze Age were also found (Shemer, below).
Except for the flint tools, all the other finds discovered in the area of the mill date from no earlier than the Ottoman period, showing that the mill was constructed and in operation during this period at the earliest.
The conservation work at the site involved removing vegetation that had accumulated on the aqueduct, treating roots with an herbicide, replacing crumbling and broken stones, filling cracks between the stones with lime-based mortar, inserting stone wedges, and installing supports and tensioners. Once the foundations of the ruined vaulted chambers were stabilized, they were restored with stones found in the collapsed rubble. The floor of the milling chamber was renovated, and holes were filled in. Fragments of millstones found in the rubble and on the surface were joined together to form complete millstones that were restored to their former location.
Four flint items typical of Early Bronze flint industries were recovered. The working edges of the items are worn, with varying degrees of abrasion. Three of the four items are coated with white or yellow patina. One item is identified as a chunk since it is broken and cannot be assigned to any specific category, although it was evidently produced by flint knapping. The three other items (Fig. 12:1–3) are products of the Canaanite blade industry, characteristic of assemblages from this period. Blade 1 is extremely abraded and was clearly exposed to the elements for a long time. Blade 2 is moderately abraded, broken, and coated with yellowish patina; some of the patina on about a third to half the width of the blade’s ventral side was removed by retouching, evidently made in a late stage of the blade’s production. Blade 3 is not worn, and delicate retouching (nibbling) on both edges of the blade's ventral side may result from use.
The preservation of the flour mill at Kibbutz Ha-Gosherim is part of a series of recent IAA projects designed to save flour mills in Upper Galilee, including the mills at Nahal ‘Amud (Freundlich and Fuhrmann-Naaman 2015) and the Ridwan Gardens near ‘Akko (Freundlich 2016). These mills are remnants of premodern agriculture in the region, where traditional, centuries-old crafts and industries have disappeared. The flour mill at Kibbutz Ha-Gosherim plays a key role in the landscape; among other things, it illustrates how water sources were harnessed for use in agriculture and energy production.
We hope that the adoption of the mill by the local community and its integration into the regional tourism route will serve as inspiration for other projects conserving heritage assets in Upper Galilee.
Avitzur S. 1963. Survey of the Water Powered Installations in Israel. Tel Aviv (Hebrew).
Freundlich A. 2016. Architectural Analysis of the Flour-Mill Compound in the Ridwan Gardens, ‘Akko. ‘Atiqot 87:141*–157* (Hebrew; English summary, pp. 116–118).
Freundlich A. and Fuhrmann-Naaman Y. 2015. Stabilization of the Flour Mills in Nahal ‘Amud. In Y. Fuhrmann-Naaman ed. Projects in the Conservation of Archaeological Heritage 2013–2015. Jerusalem. Pp. 45–46 (Hebrew).
Getzov N. 2011. Seals and Figurines from the Beginning of the Early Chalcolithic Period at Ha-Gosherim. ‘Atiqot 67:1–26 (Hebrew; English summary, pp. 81*–83*).
Gordon G. 2006. ‘Roofs Flying in the Wind’: The Introduction of Roof Tiles and the Brick Industry in Palestine in the Late 19th Century. Zmanim 96:58–67 (Hebrew).
Shaked I. and Shemesh N. 2016. Map of Metulla (7)
(Archaeological Survey of Israel) (Hebrew).
Stern E.J. 2016. The Ceramic Finds from the Ottoman Flour Mills in the Ridwan Gardens,
‘Akko. ‘Atiqot 87:83–96.
Syon D. 2001. Khisas. HA-ESI 112:3–10 (Hebrew; English summary, pp. 2*–7*).