During May 2005 an excavation was conducted in Ramat Yishay (Permit No. 4471*; map ref. NIG 21621–6/73443–7; OIG 16621–6/23443–7) in the wake of construction work for a private house. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by Yizhaq Koter, was directed by L. Porat, with the assistance of Y. Lavan (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), A. Shapiro (GPS), H. Smithline (photography), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass finds), H. Tahan (pottery and glass drawing), E.J. Stern (pottery reading), L. Kupershmidt (coin cleaning), G. Bijovsky (numismatics) and additional assistance was provided by D. Syon.
The excavation area is located on top of the hill where the older section of the modern town Ramat Yishay was built. Archeological remains and potsherds from the Roman to the Ottoman periods were recorded in A. Raban`s survey (Map of Nahalal , Site 48). Several previous excavations at the site had been conducted between 1992 and 2005 (License No. B-54/1995; Permit Nos. A-2866, A-3229; HA-ESI 117). These excavations exposed remains from the Middle Bronze Age I (a tomb) and the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Crusader and Mamluk periods.
Three squares were opened in the current excavation (Fig.1): A (2.8 × 4.0 m), B (4.0 × 8.2 m) and C (3.35 × 3.50 m). Remains from the Abbasid (Stratum I), Umayyad (Stratum II) and Byzantine (Stratum III) periods were revealed. Mixed pottery without associated structures was found in Sq A.
Stratum III. Remains of a building from the Byzantine period were found in Sqs B and C. Wall 120 (length 2 m) and Wall 116 (length 7.4 m, width 1 m), oriented north–south, were constructed from medium-sized dressed limestone blocks, set directly on bedrock and preserved 1.0–1.6 m high. A white beaten-earth floor (L121) was identified between them and only a small part of it was excavated (Fig. 2). A third wall in Sq B (W127; length 1.5 m, width 1 m), oriented east–west, may have formed a corner with W116. It was later used as a foundation for an Umayyad wall (W126, below). Some glass fragments from L121, L124 and L125 were dated to the seventh and eighth centuries CE. The pottery from this stratum was dated from the fifth to the seventh centuries CE and came mostly from the floor (L121) and from L125 south of W127. It included imported bowls and plates (Cypriot Red Slip Wares; Fig. 3:1, 2) and jars, including Gaza Ware (Fig. 3:3, 4).
Stratum II. Segments of the Byzantine walls were re-used during the Umayyad period or incorporated in new walls. Walls 120 and 116 continued in use without modification in Sq C. A thick, white plaster floor (L119) was set between them. A new wall was built in Sq B (W126; length 7.5 m, width 0.85–1.00 m), using two stems of Byzantine-period walls (W116, W127) as its foundation. Wall 126 was unevenly constructed from large fieldstones (preserved height 1.5 m), its two ends curving eastward (Fig. 4). A layer of brown, burned soil, alternating with ash (L114; thickness 1 m), which contained large quantities of pottery, was to the east of W126 and to its west, no signs of burned soil were identified (L115). No floor that connected to W126 was found. The pottery, dating to the Umayyad period, included imported bowls and plates (Egyptian Red Slip Wares; Fig. 5:1–3), basins (Fig. 5:4–6), cooking pots and pans (Fig. 5:7, 8) and jars (Fig. 5:9–12). Furthermore, large quantities of glass fragments were recovered from L119, including a zoomorphic vessel of a camel or a horse, carrying a basket on its back (Y. Gorin-Rosen, below). The finds were dated to the eighth century CE. Three coins were found in this stratum. Two were recovered from L106 (above W126) and one of them (IAA 99850) was identified as a coin of Antiochus III (223–187 BCE). The third coin (IAA 99851) of Constans II, dating to 642 CE, was retrieved from the burnt layers of L114.
Stratum I. Remains of an Abbasid building with four rooms were identified in Sqs B and C. Wall 103 (length 5.2 m, width 0.4 m) and Walls 104 (length 3.47 m, width 0.4 m) and 108 were constructed from medium-sized dressed stones, one stone wide and preserved c. 1 m high. Wall 103 and W104 were partly built atop the earlier W116 and the western part of W104 superposed W120 from Stratum III. Two pairs of stones tentatively identified as W113 and W122, probably divided the space between W104 and W103, which was covered with a hard earthen floor (L111). A tabun (diam. 0.65 m), preserved 0.2 m high and surrounded by a circle of medium-sized stones was set on this floor. A small segment of a hard earthen floor (L109) was excavated west of W108, while east of this wall was a round silo (L117; diam. 1.6 m, depth 1.4 m), dug into a hard earthen floor (L107). The silo, next to W104 and over the Byzantine W116 from Stratum III, was built of roughly hewn, medium-sized stones, which were larger toward the bottom that was heavily plastered, with pieces of charcoal applied to it. The pottery from this stratum, dating to the Abbasid period (ninth century CE), included bowls, among them Splash Glazed Ware (Figs. 6:1–4; 7), basins (Fig. 6:5), cooking pots (Fig. 6:6) and jars (Fig. 6:7–9), one of which came from the silo (Fig. 6:7). A few pieces of glass were found, as well as a coin of Constans II dated 640–642 CE (IAA 99852) and a large quantity of apparently bovine bones, both recovered from the silo.
The scant glass finds from this excavation included a distinct artifact. It is a zoomorphic vessel, showing an animal that carries a vase on its back (Fig. 8). It could be a camel that carries a vase on its hump, but it may as well be a donkey or a horse. The vessel was produced in two stages. Initially, the artist blew and shaped the vessel and later, added strips of hot glass to form the animal shape, the legs and the decoration. The vessel was shaped on the pontil (glass rod), which left a scar on its base. Tooling marks are visible on the edge of the feet. It is made of colorless glass with yellowish pinge, severely corroded by patches of black and white enamel-like crust.
Zoomorphic vessels are mostly found in collections, such as the Corning Museum of Glass, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the British Museum and the Israel Museum, without an exact provenance. These animal-shaped vessels carry the load on their back in a container wrapped in basketry of glass trails. Their small volume indicates that they were cosmetic jars. Not two vessels are the same, since they are freely created as individual vessels rather than standard ones.
The original provenance of these vessels is unclear; Syria, the eastern Mediterranean littoral, or Egypt, are suggested as possible sources. To date, only a few fragments of such vessels were recovered from legitimate excavations and most are not published; one fragment from the Byzantine cemetery church at Horbat Karkor ‘Illit in the northern Negev was recently published by N. Katsnelson (P. Figueras, ed. Horvat Karkur ‘Illit [Beer-Sheva Archaeological Monographs Vol. 1]. 2004. Pp. 265–290).
Similar vessels that derived from IAA excavations were dated to the Early Islamic period, particularly to the Umayyad period. The fragment from Ramat Yishay is also dated to this period, based on the other glass fragments found in the excavation (Fig. 9). These include a rim of a beaker/bowl/wineglass/oil lamp, upright and rounded by fire, made of very bubbly brown glass of inferior quality (Fig. 9:1); a delicate wineglass rim of greenish blue glass, slanting somewhat outward and rounded by fire to create an in-curving edge (Fig. 9:2). Two types of wineglass bases occur; tubular of bluish green glass (Fig. 9:3) and two solid bases of light bluish glass and of bluish green glass, which are familiar in Umayyad assemblages (Fig. 9:4, 5). The rims of bottles are also of two types, common to this period. The first is a small bottle, made of light blue and clear glass, whose rim is folded inward and flattened and its body is globular or squat (Fig. 9:6). A very similar fragment was found in the same locus as the zoomorphic vessel. The second greenish glass bottle, which is decorated with multiple turquoise glass trails wound around the neck (Fig. 9:7), first appeared in the Byzantine period and became very popular in the Umayyad period. Another fragment belongs to a solid beaded stem of an oil lamp (Fig. 9:8) that is prevalent in this period. The glass of the lamp is of a special dark yellowish-green hue, which like the brown hue of the rim in Fig. 9:1, are characteristic of the Umayyad period. It should be mentioned that the greenish-bluish hue, which is dominant in vessels of this period, exists in our assemblage and is noted for its clarity and translucence that distinguish it from vessels of earlier periods. Therefore, the quality of the fabric is another denominator that assists in dating this assemblage to, and not later than, the Umayyad period.
Consequently, the special glass vessel from Ramat Yishay is very important, as it comes from a licensed archaeological excavation, together with additional finds that allow for a close-range chronology. Furthermore, the existence of such an item in a small community, within an assemblage that denotes local manufacture, demonstrates that zoomorphic vessels were probably produced in local workshops during the Umayyad period and were not imported from production centers afar, in Egypt or Syria.