Nimrod Fortress, located on a spur in the foothills of Mount Hermon and above the ancient town of Banias, was first surveyed by Guérin in the nineteenth century CE and subsequently by many other explorers to the region, who were impressed by its imposing presence. The first comprehensive survey of the site was undertaken in the 1930s and it provided the basis for additional studies over the years (Hartal 2017: Site 43). Archaeological excavations at the site in the 1990s explored and documented the various parts of the fortress (Hartal 2001).
The fortress was built by the Ayyubids in 1227/8 CE. The spur was settled in antiquity, in the Early Bronze Age and during the Roman and Byzantine periods. When the fortress was built, the ancient remains were destroyed, although the surface is strewn with abundant pottery from these earlier periods. The fortress was enlarged and renovated by the Mamluk ruler Baybars, who also made it his regional administrative center. Over the years, the fortress served as the residence of the local ruler and as a prison, and after it was abandoned in the seventeenth century CE it became a shelter for shepherds (Hartal 2017: Site 43).
At the foot of the eastern side of the fort is a large reservoir, to the east of which is a small settling pool, both of which were not recorded in past documentation and research. Trial trenches were dug in 2013 and 2016 in an attempt to date the reservoir and prepare a conservation plan, but it is still unclear when it was constructed or who built it. Similar reservoirs have been surveyed at Khirbat Hafur, at the eastern foot of Mount Sena’im, and below the nearby village of Za‘ura, where they are dated to the Roman period. Bones, possibly human, were discovered c. 50 m west of the current excavation area in a section cut through the road leading to the fort while it was under repair in the early 2000s (Assad Da‘abus, National Park director, pers. comm.).
The current excavation area lies at the foot of the eastern side of the fortress, just south of the reservoir, in the center of an old olive grove (Fig. 2).
A single excavation square was opened (Fig. 3), revealing brown agricultural soil that contained two stone clusters (L14, L18) and three concentrations of human bones (L11, L17, L18); Locus 18 comprised a small concentration of bones between the clustered stones. Stone cluster 14 was elongated but had no clearly defined contour (1.5 × 2.5 m; Fig. 4), and it comprised limestone fieldstones of various sizes that were placed directly on the bedrock; it may have contained a burial on a general east–west alignment but if so, this was not preserved. To the north of this stone cluster, two bone fragments belonging to a single adult individual were recovered (L16). To the southeast of Cluster 14 were several limestone slabs (L17), and a few limestone slabs beside Cluster 14 were probably capping stones of a grave. Next to the stone slabs, 0.4 m beneath the surface, were multiple bones belonging to two male individuals: one very old and one aged 20–30 years (L17; Fig. 5). Skull fragments and other bones of an infant were found to their north (L18), along with semi-dressed stones and a metal nail (not drawn). To the north of these remains were the bones of two individuals (L11): an adult male and a younger person, possibly female. The excavation area yielded a few worn potsherds (not drawn), which were dated to the Roman, Byzantine, Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but which cannot be unequivocally associated with the burial remains.
Anthropological Remains. The skeletal remains (L11, L16–L18) are attributed to six individuals: two old males, three other adults and an infant. All the bones were non-articulated, scattered and broken, indicating that the graves had been disturbed in the past. The bones were visually examined to identify them, determine the relevant side of the body and estimate their size based on White and Folkens (2005); those bones that could be measured were documented using Bass’s rules (Bass 1987). The bones were documented during the excavation and reburied at the site.
Locus 11 yielded the remains of two individuals (1, 2): an adult male and a younger person, possibly female. From the adult male (No. 1), a fragment of the frontal cranium (thickness 0.96 mm) was recovered; it had very prominent meningeal grooves, indicating that the individual was old, as well as a completely crushed coccyx and a small fragment of the right mandible in which only one tooth was preserved (Rm1). The dental abrasion suggests that the individual was aged 45–50 at death, corresponding to the pattern of the grooves on the cranium. From individual No. 2, the head of the left femur was preserved (vertical diam. 40.2 mm); the trochanter was markedly elongated, attesting to well-developed leg muscles; the left humerus was broken and there was a fragment of the right tibia. These remains belong to a young adult of indeterminate gender, probably female.
Locus 16 yielded two bone fragments—a right femur and a left tibia—that belong to an adult of indeterminate gender.
Locus 17 yielded the remains of two male adults (1, 2). The well-preserved remains of No. 1 consist of two femur bones, right and left (vertical diam. 46.2 and 44.9 mm, respectively), a left radial, a right ulna, fibulae, ribs, metatarsals, a proximal falange and a fragment of the mandible with a pronounced chin and the right ramus. The bones belong to an individual aged 20–30 at death. The remains of No. 2 consist of the left part of the maxilla, which retained a single worn tooth (ML3); part of the mandible, where it is evident that all the teeth fell out before death; and a well-developed mastoid projection (thickness 1.6 cm) characteristic of a male individual. The level of tooth erosion shows that this individual was older than 50 at death.
Locus 18 yielded the bones of an infant: a clavicle, rib sections, a broken humerus, remnants of the cranium and part of the mandible in which the permanent teeth as well as two primary teeth (Rdi1, Rdi2) had not yet erupted. The remains show that the infant died between the ages of one-and-a-half and two years; its gender is not known.
Since the ceramic finds are non-diagnostic, the burials are undated; it is also impossible to determine their alignment. The burial remains were evidently damaged over the years, probably due to farming activity. However, the burials are clearly part of a larger cemetery, as evidenced by the previously discovered skeletal remains to the west of the excavation area. The proximity of the burials to the large reservoir, which may date from the Roman period, permits us only to determine that they postdate the period of the reservoir’s use. The cemetery may be associated with a population that lived near the fortress or within it; possible evidence of the latter possibility is that most of those buried in this small complex are men, and that the east–west alignment of graves is characteristic of a Muslim population.