In November–December 2005 a trial excavation was conducted at el-Jisr (Permit No. A-4614*; map ref. NIG 17615–30/64800–10, OIG 12615–30/14800–10), after kurkar slabs and an ancient refuse pit containing numerous pottery vessels were discovered during preliminary soundings undertaken prior to the installation of a water pipe. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and with the financial support of the Meqorot Company, was directed by M. Ajami, with the participation of L. Rauchberger (area supervision), E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), C. Amit (studio photography), P. Gendelman (pottery), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), and A. Erlich (figurine).
The site is situated on the northern bank of Nah
al Soreq, c. 200 m north of Tel Mah
oz. In the past, four burial caves of the Intermediate Bronze Age and MB II were exposed in the vicinity (PMJB
12:34–42; 13:75–89). Building remains, a large cave, coins and pottery were documented in a survey (HA-ESI 118
). These are indicative of an established settlement that dates to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods that looked out over a pass in Nah
al Soreq, on the road leading to Yavne-Yam.
Three areas (A–C) comprising six squares were opened along an east-west axis, revealing cist tombs and a refuse pit.
Four tombs were discovered but not excavated. One tomb was found in Area A and three were in Area B to the west, oriented along an east–west axis and spaced 1 m apart.
T118. The tomb was covered with kurkar slabs (Area A, Square A1; 0.50–0.60 × 1.95 m; Fig. 1). Fragments of other slabs and smaller kurkar stones were positioned between and around them.
T116. The tomb was covered with kurkar slabs (Area B, Square B1; 0.5 × 1.1 m; Fig. 2). Smaller kurkar stones were placed between the slabs and next to them. A notch was hewn widthwise across the eastern covering slab. A kurkar slab (0.13 × 0.70 m) that was ex situ, but which seemed to belong to the tomb, was found 1.35 m to the east (L114).
T124. The tomb was covered with kurkar slabs (Area B, the balk between Squares B1, B2; 0.35–0.50 × 1.20 m; Fig. 3). The western covering stone was perpendicular to the eastern one; small stones were exposed along the edges of the tomb that probably served to support and level the kurkar slabs that were set in place above the cist.
T108. The tomb was covered with kurkar slabs (Area B, Square B2; 0.7 × 1.2 m; Fig. 3); protruding from between and below them were different size stones that were probably used to support and level the covering slabs.
Since these cist tombs were not excavated it is not possible to date them with certainty. The jars from the Early Roman period found at their sides (see below) allude to their date. Cist tombs of the same period were exposed at Yavne-Yam, west of el-Jisr, where they were dated to the first century CE (HA-ESI 118
In Area B fragments of six bag-shaped storage jars dated to the first century CE were found. An example from Square B2 was buried upside down, lacking its base (Fig. 3:1). A jar in a similar condition was found 1.25 m north of Square B1 (Fig. 3:2). Fragments of two other jars (Fig. 3:3, 4) were found while excavating the surface level in Square B2. A jar exposed in Square B3 was found in a shattered condition. Another jar was exposed in Square B4; again, it was buried upside down, lacking its base (Fig. 3:5).
The distribution of the jars and the way they were positioned raise questions regarding funerary practices at the site and their connection and function in relation to the tombs. Were they used for delimiting or marking the tombs or to mark the boundaries of the cemeteries? The jars were not found above the tombs but rather nearby. No skeletal remains were found inside them.
West of Square B a refuse pit (Area C, Square C1, L111; diam. 3 m; Fig. 4) was exposed that contained various size kurkar stones, some of which were dressed, and numerous potsherds (to a depth of 2.7 m), including jugs that dated to the first century BCE–first century CE (Fig. 5:1–3). The pit was excavated manually and by mechanical equipment, to a depth of 3.3 m. The eastern side of the pit was probably lined with stones. The source of the vessels that were thrown into the pit and the pit’s connection to the tombs to the east remain unclear.
The head of a figurine (see discussion below) and two coins of Antiochus III (223–187 BCE) were found, one on the surface in the northern part of Square B4 (IAA No. 102359), minted at Tyre, and the other in the alluvium above the refuse pit (L110; IAA No. 102360) that was minted at Antioch
Several trenches were excavated by mechanical means in the area to the south of the excavation. Four meters south of the southeastern corner of Square B1, at a depth of 0.5 m below the surface, two kurkar stones were exposed that were aligned along an east–west axis (0.17 × 0.38, 0.20 × 0.25 m). Buried horizontally beneath them was a jar.
Remains of a shattered jar were exposed 25 m southwest of the southwestern corner of Square B4, at a depth of 1 m below the surface.
Seven meters south of the southwestern corner of Square B4, a cist tomb built of kurkar stones was discovered. It was aligned along an east–west axis without covering slabs (0.65 x 1.45 m; depth 1.70 below the surface). A few small potsherds were discovered in the vicinity of the tomb.
In Square B4 the head of a figurine was discovered alongside a jar that was buried upside down next to a tomb.
The figurine (height 3.8 cm, width 4.2 cm; Fig. 6) is made of light brown, almost orange color clay that is very soft, porous and crumbly. The front of the figurine is mold-made and the back is smoothed flat.
The head, probably that of a woman, is round and protrudes from a frame consisting of a schematic hairdo that ends at the level of the neck. The head is convex; the two eyes are obscured, almond shaped and the right one is positioned slightly higher than the left. The nose and lips are worn, being almost imperceptible. The figurine has a wide neck that is broken.
The design of the head is unusual. The technique of its production, its character, the condition of the clay and the style of the face are consistent with the dating of the jars in the excavation; however, the hair style and the frame of the head are atypical. The schematic facial features are similar to those of the Tel Ashdod figurines of the seventh century BCE, but the similarity ends there. The roundish shape of the face, and especially the frame of the head, distinguishes it from Iron Age figurines of the southern coast. The figurine was made in an extremely worn mold. The use of such a mold, the shade of the clay and its soft and crumbly nature are characteristics of Early Roman figurines, such as those found at Bet She’an; the outline of the face is also similar to these. The worn mold and the soft clay caused the facial features to be vague and the shape of the face to be schematic. A similar outline of a face that has large almond-shaped eyes and worn, indistinct facial features is found on figurines from the first century CE, both in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, such as Cyprus, and in the western provinces. A stylized and schematic depiction also occurs on the Nabatean figurines of the Roman period but they are designed differently than this figurine and without a head frame. The schematic hair that encircles the head in an arch is arranged in a hairstyle that is uncharacteristic of figurines of this period. The women’s hairstyle that reaches the neck is characteristic of later female figurines, which are designed in detail and in a different style, like the figurines from the pits at the Bet Natif pottery workshop, which date to the third–fourth centuries CE. The worn mold in which the figurine was made and its partial preservation therefore make it difficult to identify and date precisely.
The archaeological context of the figurine is unclear; however, if it is in keeping with the pottery assemblage and cist tombs that are scattered around the site, and if it belonged to one of these burials, it should be dated to the first century CE. Figurines of the Hellenistic and Roman periods are mostly found in contexts involving residential dwellings and temple favissae and not from tombs, but we do know that in the coastal region it was customary to place figurines in tombs. Figurines were found in a cist tomb from ‘Akko that dates to the Hellenistic period and in burial caves of the Roman and Byzantine periods at H. Castra.
If the figurine under discussion is indeed associated with the burial field, that should be enough to explain its schematic design. In a discussion about terracotta figurines from Hellenistic tombs at Samothrace, it was claimed that the worn, schematic and stylized characteristic of the figurines, a result of poor workmanship, is not necessarily indicative of the dating or style, but rather of their use (E.B. Dusenbery 1998. Samothrace 11: The Nekropokleis. Princeton).
The figurines that were used as transition offerings in funerary ceremonies had a greater symbolic value than aesthetic value and therefore there was no need to soften the features or for great detail in their design. If this is the case then this single figurine was used in the burial ceremony or was someway related to someone who died and was therefore found in this context.
The source of the Hellenistic and Early Roman period finds that were discovered in the excavation is probably a nearby contemporary settlement that was surveyed in the past but remains unexcavated, or the adjacent settlement of Tel Mahoz.