The Acheulian site of Ma‘ayan Barukh, traditionally designated Hamara, or el-Hamari, the Arabic name deriving from the word ‘red’ due to the characteristic red soil (Stekelis and Gilead 1966), is located in the northern Hula Valley between Kibbutz Ma‘ayan Barukh, Moshav Yuval, and the Israel-Lebanon border (Fig. 1). The site is located on a rather flat area that gently slopes down to the south (250–275 m asl). The northern extent of the site is not known, as it continues into Lebanon; the western border is the small channel of Nahal Bet Ahu; the southern border is today within the built-up area of the kibbutz; and the eastern boundary is also undefined, with handaxes documented in the fields sloping down toward Nahal Senir (Hasbani River).
The general geological stratigraphy includes a layer of red soil containing archaeological artifacts, which overlies a thick layer of travertine, designated Kefar Yuval Travertine (Heiman and Saas 1989), which in turn rests on the basalt bedrock, the Hasbani Basalt of the Pleistocene age (Stekelis and Gilead 1966). The few animal bones that have been found here include elephant bones, molars and tusks, identified as belonging to the Asian elephant Elephas cf. hysudricus (Listner et al. 2013).
The site has never been excavated systematically, and all the finds are surface collections. During the 1950s and 1960s, A. Assaf of Kibbutz Ma‘ayan Barukh amassed the main collection of surface finds (Stekelis and Gilead 1966: Map 1), and in the 1970s, a large collection of tools was retrieved from anti-tank trenches dug by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF; Ronen et al. 1980). Thus, tousands of flint artifacts were collected at the site over a century of non-systematic surveys. Most of the collected tools are Acheulian handaxes, but flakes and cores were also reported. Assaf’s collection, housed at the Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory at Kibbutz Ma‘ayan Barukh, contains over 3000 handaxes, which have been studied by researchers, first by Stekelis and Gilead (1966) and later by Ronen et al. (1980), DeBono and Goren-Inbar (2001), Sharon (2007) and Rosenberg et al. (2015), among others.
The chronological sequence of the site is challenging, as the finds are surface finds, and no in-depth geological study has been conducted. Following the generally accepted tool typology, Stekelis and Gilead (1966) attributed the Ma‘ayan Barukh tools to the Late Levantine Acheulian, a definition still accepted today. The only radiometric date determined for a Ma‘ayan Barukh tool was executed by U/Th dating on the tufa (travertine) coat covering of a handaxe, which yielded a date of 500,000 years BP (Sharon 2007).
The aim of the trial excavation, conducted where a concentration of handaxes was demarcated by Stekelis and Gilead (1966), and at the approximate location of the trenches documented by Ronen et al. (1980; Fig. 1), was to identify the site, locate in situ finds and define a specific layer suitable for an archaeological excavation. This area, located adjacent to the Israel-Lebanon border, is the only part of the ancient site that is not cultivated and is therefore accessible for examination.
Eleven trial trenches were dug mechanically down to bedrock or to a depth below which no finds could be uncovered (Fig. 2: Trenches 201–211). The trenches were located to cover a large area and various geological environments. All the trench profiles were measured, drawn and photographed, after which they were backfilled. In addition, an existing IDF military border trench was surveyed (Fig. 2: Trench 1). Several of these trenches are described below.
Trench 201. This trench, located where the highest potential for finds was identified, revealed four layers that characterize several other trenches as well (Fig. 3). The upper topsoil layer contained a mixture of modern soil resulting from recent agriculture work and soil movement by the IDF. Below the topsoil was a layer of small gravels, a layer that was only found in Trench 201 and that did not contain any archaeological implements. Below this layer was laminated hamra soil (c. 1 m thick), below which lay heavily weathered basalt. No travertine was identified in Trench 201, nor in the other trenches dug in the project, except for Trench 1 (see below).
Trench 203. The thin red soil layer in this trench overlay basalt boulders that were probably the upper part of the basalt flow (Fig. 4). A single complete handaxe (Fig. 4: HX; Fig. 5:1) was embedded in a lens of red soil located between the basalt boulders. This handaxe was the only in situ archaeological find uncovered in the entire project. It is suggested that the hamra soil covered over and penetrated the uneven surface of the basalt layer, and that the handaxe was probably protected from the recent activity by the surrounding basalt. The proximity of the basalt to the surface may explain why this specific field remained uncultivated.
Trenches 205–207. These trenches were located at the eastern end of the area to better understand its stratigraphy and lithology. In all three trenches, the entire sequence was of soil, to the maximal depth reached by the tractor’s shovel.
Trench 211. The last trench dug in the survey comprised two adjacent trenches to fully understand the westernmost area (Fig. 6). The lithology comprised mainly limestone and clay, defining the limits of the basalt observed in Trench 203 to the northeast. It seems that changes from basalt to limestone occur within a few meters in each direction, indicating a complicated and fast-changing stratigraphy in this area.
Trench 1 and the IAA Trial Trenches. A long and rather shallow trench (Trench 1; depth c. 0.5 cm, with deeper drilled holes for concrete bases; Fig. 2) was dug prior to constructing a new fence on the eastern perimeter of Moshav Yuval, alongside Nahal Bet Ahu and the western border of the Ma‘ayan Barukh site. The preliminary inspection of Trench 1 revealed a few handaxes in the trench earth piles, and one handaxe in the section of the trench (Fig. 5:2, 3). Unlike the rest of the trenches dug in the excavation, it revealed the travertine bedrock, even though it is located only a few meters to their north; this is an indication of the significant changes in stratigraphy and lithology that typify the area.
The 26 trial trenches which were subsequently dug by the IAA (Fig. 7) exposed the highly disturbed and complex geology of the area, but no in situ archaeological remains.
The trial excavation aim of locating a suitable layer for an archaeological excavation at the Acheulian site of Ma‘ayan Barukh was unfruitful. Trial Trenches 201–211, the examination of Trench 1, and the 26 small IAA trial trenches yielded only a single in situ handaxe and exposed no areas suitable for further excavation. It is consequently concluded that the area that was assumed to have the greatest potential for locating an archaeological layer no longer preserves any remains. All the other parts of the site are cultivated or built over, further limiting the area available for investigation.
The current study demonstrated that the geological sequence of the site is far more complicated than suggested by earlier studies. As it includes basalt flows, gravels, travertines and soils, a full understanding is not possible at the current stage of research. The numerous previously amassed flint tools suggest that the site was close to the surface and that it was exposed by large-scale modern agricultural activity. The area has been cultivated for many decades, and recent agriculture is based on orchards whose cultivation involves significant ground penetration, sometimes to a depth of over one meter. The area which might still be available for study is limited, as the archaeological horizon has probably been completely destroyed. The deep red soil exposed in Trenches 205–207, the easternmost trenches, and in Trench 1 may indicate that this part of the site has better potential for further research, but the area is cultivated, and the survey of the fields did not expose any flint concentrations.