During March–May 2007, a trial excavation was conducted south of Hammat Tiberias (Permit No. A-5062; map ref. NIG 25228–56/74076–99; OIG 20228–56/24076–99), in the wake of planning a course for the new saltwater carrier pipe. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by M. Hartal (photography), with the assistance of G. Cinamon, A. Shapiro and Z. Daniel (area supervision), N. Getzov (probe trenches), Y. Lavan (administration), T. Meltsen (surveying), P. Partush and D. Gahali of SkyView Photography Ltd. (balloon aerial photography), Y. Arnon (pottery) and workmen from Tiberias.
The excavation area extends along the saltwater carrier south of Hammat Tiberias. Remains of a pottery workshop from the Early Islamic period had previously been excavated in this area (E.J. Stern, ‘Atiqot 26:57–59). Four areas, described from north to south, were opened in the current excavation. Area 1 consisted of five squares where remains dating to the Early Islamic period were uncovered; Area 2 had three squares, in which remains from Early Bronze I and the Early Islamic period were exposed; Area 3 comprised two squares where finds from the Early Islamic period were discovered and of the two squares in Area 4, one contained remains that dated to the Early Islamic period.
Area 1 (G. Cinamon)
This area extended from the southern end of Hammat Tiberias to the access road of the Ganē Menorah Hotel (Fig. 1). Two alternative courses were investigated for the proposed route of the pipe: one course was west of and adjacent to the existing saltwater carrier tunnel and the other was parallel to Highway 90.
Three squares were excavated along the course parallel to Highway 90.
Square 1A. Three strata were exposed in this northern square (depth 4.1 m; Figs. 2, 3). Stratum 3 yielded a section of a building, in which the remains of a kiln (diam. 0.7 m) were found. Around the kiln was a large quantity of industrial glass debris and it seems that glass vessels were manufactured in the structure. The artifacts from Stratum 3 dated it to the Umayyad period (eighth century CE). A building whose floor covered the kiln of Stratum 3 and its walls were constructed from different size fieldstones was exposed in Stratum 2. A pit (diam. 0.8 m, depth c. 1.2 m; Fig. 4) dug in the floor of the building had penetrated into the Umayyad layer and severed it. The pit contained a rich assemblage of pottery vessels, lamps and fragments of bronze, glass and bones, all from the Abbasid period (eighth–ninth centuries CE). A new structure built of roughly dressed stones was erected in Stratum 1, above the Abbasid building (Fig. 5). Two rooms and a courtyard that belonged to this building were partly exposed. A tabun and a rolling stone nearby were found in one of the rooms. The artifacts recovered from this stratum included numerous fragments of pottery vessels, the latest of which dated to the eleventh century CE. In addition, a large quantity of glass vessels and industrial glass debris was found and it seems that manufacture of glass vessels continued in the Fatimid period as well. The building, abandoned and destroyed in the eleventh century CE, was filled up with the stone collapse of its walls.
Square 1B (35 m south of Square 1A) was located at the top of a modern, artificial slope. About one third of the square was covered with collapse that was partly removed. A single-layered building that dated to the Early Islamic period and its four exterior walls were preserved (max. height 1.4 m; Fig. 6) was exposed. A wall (preserved height c. 0.8 m) that partitioned the building comprised ashlar stones set widthwise at fixed intervals above the bottom courses. These were apparently pillars that enclosed ‘windows’, through which light and air entered the narrow room, as customary in the Hauranian building tradition. The ‘windows’ wall divided the structure into two rooms of unequal size: a wide room in the east and a narrow room in the west. The wide room was meticulously paved with small fieldstones. An arched-shaped installation (length of span c. 2 m; Fig. 7), whose purpose is unclear, was built of a single course of medium-sized fieldstones on this floor. A number of iron horseshoes and tools were discovered on the floor in the installation’s northwestern part, as well as fragments of a lamp and a few fragments of pottery and glass vessels that dated to the eighth–eleventh centuries CE. These finds raise the possibility that this structure was used for shoeing horses or some other work associated with horseshoes. The narrow room probably served as a stable.
Square 1C (30 m south of Square 1B; max. depth 3.5 m) was opened adjacent to the pottery workshop published by E.J. Stern. The bottom stratum, which was excavated in a small part of the square (1.0 × 1.3 m), consisted of alluvium mixed with small stones that contained fragments of eroded glass and pottery vessels from the Late Roman and Early Islamic periods, without any architectural remains. Overlying this stratum were the remains of a building (preserved max. height 2.8 m; Figs. 8, 9) that had no doorway in its exposed walls. Four rooms, a large northern room and three smaller rooms to its south, were discerned. Two floor levels were exposed in the northern room. The beaten earth lower floor was overlain with a considerable amount of potsherds that dated to the ninth–tenth centuries CE, including a glazed bowl fragment with a complete bronze ring inside a repair hole, glass fragments, including two small intact bottles, large iron fragments and a coin. The upper floor was overlain with fragments of pottery and glass vessels that dated to the tenth–eleventh century CE. The three southern rooms were partly excavated (to a depth of 1 m) and contained mixed ceramic material that dated to the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods. The upper part of the structure was blocked with alluvium. It seems that the structure was built in the eighth century CE and remained in use until its abandonment in the eleventh century CE. Since only part of the building was excavated it is not possible to define its nature, purpose or size.
Two squares were excavated along the course, west of and next to the saltwater carrier.
Square 1D (3 × 7 m; c. 20 m west of Square B1; Fig. 10) was opened next to the access road, leading to the Rabbi Me’ir Ba‘al Ha-Nes compound. The digging of the saltwater-carrier trench had severely damaged the remains, yet in the center of the square two walls were discovered (preserved height c. 0.4 m). The walls, built of roughly hewn basalt stones and set on a fieldstone foundation, formed the corner of a building. A layer of hard-packed whitish soil in the building seemed to be a floor; however, it was disturbed and the mixed ceramic material overlaying it dated to the Late Roman and the Early Islamic periods. Another wall, oriented east–west, was uncovered at the northern end of the square, but all that remained of it were the two outer stone faces of the wall without the core. Mostly alluvium that contained mixed ceramic material similar to that on the floor was found in the western part of the square.
Square 1E (c. 50 m west of Square 1A; Fig. 11). Two strata were identified. The square was bisected by a wall, which was built in two phases and extended in a northeast-southwest direction (exposed length 2.65 m, high 0.77 m). In the first phase, another wall, a bedding of small fieldstones and a column base, were joined to its southern side. The other wall was abutted by floors from the west and east, which were overlain with potsherds that dated to the ninth–tenth centuries CE. In the second phase, the wall was made higher and a new floor of flagstones was installed. The finds on this floor were similar to those found on the lower floor. Mixed ceramic material that dated to the ninth–eleventh centuries CE was found in the collapse that filled the structure. Bedrock covered with heavy brown soil, devoid of any finds, was exposed north of the wall that bisected the square. This soil was overlain with a crushed hard-packed chalk floor that incorporated a pavement of flat medium-sized fieldstones. A square installation coated with white plaster was incorporated in this floor. The scant finds recovered from the floor were similar to those found on the southern side of the wall. The limited excavation area precluded the determination of the building’s size or its function.
Area 2 (A. Shapiro)
This area extended south of the access road to the Ganē Menora Hotel and parallel to Highway 90. Three squares (2A–2C) were excavated at 30 m intervals (Fig. 12).
Square 2A revealed a room (Figs. 13, 14) that had a doorway in its southern wall. The walls (preserved height c. 0.7 m) were built of large basalt stones with small limestone and basalt stones filled among them. The room was partly paved with basalt flagstones. The pavement did not abut any of the walls and superposed a surface of small stones that was also discovered outside the room; thus, it seems that the pavement was installed prior to the construction of the building. A number of broken pottery vessels were discovered at the same elevation as the stone pavement in the southeastern corner of the room. Otherwise, a few potsherds, glass fragments and fresh water mollusk shells were recovered from the room. A layer of basalt gravel, devoid of potsherds, which covered basalt boulders that were apparently bedrock, was discovered in a sounding beneath the floor’s foundation. An installation, dug into the gravel layer and lined with small and medium stones, was uncovered east of the room; its purpose is unclear. The scant finds recovered from this square dated the building to the ninth–tenth centuries CE.
Square 2B wasbadly disturbed by modern earth-moving activities. These works severely damaged the buildings in the square, which had survived by meager foundation remains and a segment of a plastered elliptical pool that dated to the Early Islamic period. Two buildings were partly exposed below later fills, removed by mechanical equipment. The buildings, constructed from basalt fieldstones, had a rectangular plan and rounded corners (Figs. 15, 16). They contained a rich pottery assemblage that included vessels decorated with band slip, ‘crackled ware’ bowls, as well as numerous flint implements. The artifacts dated the buildings to the second phase of Early Bronze I. Settlement remains of the same period, in which a basalt tournette was found (Fig. 17), were discovered in a probe trench, cut west of Square 2B and next to the saltwater carrier channel.
Square 2C (Figs. 18–20). After the removal of modern fill (thickness c. 2 m) by mechanical equipment, remains dating to two periods were found. A wall and a floor from Early Bronze I were exposed in the lower stratum. This stratum was only exposed in a small area, which was disturbed by the walls of the upper stratum. An alley, flanked on either side by buildings (preserved height 1.5 m), was revealed in the upper stratum. The buildings’ walls that bordered the alley and small sections of their rooms were exposed. A column and a column base were found parallel to the building that delimited the alley from the south. A system of channels was discovered beneath the floor of the alley. The channels, covered with basalt slabs, had probably functioned as a sewage or drainage system and consisted of a main channel that ran the length of the alley and shorter channels that emerged from the buildings and drained into it. The numerous finds discovered in the alley enabled the dating of its construction to the eighth or ninth centuries CE and its use up to the eleventh century CE.
Area 3 (Z. Daniel)
Two squares were excavated in this area, southeast of the Ganē Menora Hotel.
Square 3A (Fig. 21). A rectangular installation was found directly below surface. The installation was enclosed within stone walls and atop it was a small fieldstone floor, overlain with a limestone slab that was surrounded by roughly hewn stones. The southern wall of the installation continued eastward and was intersected by a channel (Fig. 22), which sloped from north to south and was built of flat basalt stones. Several pieces of ceramic water pipes were found in the continuation of the channel northward. Perpendicular to the northern side of the southern wall was a wall with an opening set in it (width 0.5 m). The foundation of a wall, oriented southeast-northwest, was in the southeastern corner of the square. It was poorly preserved and only a short section of it was exposed. This wall was abutted by floors that were overlain with a few artifacts that dated to the ninth–tenth centuries CE. It seems that the complex was industrial, rather than residential. The soil into which the wall foundations were dug contained a few worn potsherds, dating to the Roman period and the Early Bronze Age; however, these were insufficient to date the complex.
Square 3B. A basalt wall, oriented north–south (length 5.1 m, preserved height 0.6 m; Fig. 23), was found. Gray soil to the east of the wall contained a few potsherds from the Abbasid period. Parallel to the wall was a stone collapse mixed with some potsherds dating to the Abbasid period. A thick accumulation of alluvium was found below the collapse. The purpose of the wall is unclear, but it may be connected to the road leading to Tiberias from the south. Backhoe probes conducted south of Square 3B did not reveal any other settlement remains.
Area 4 (Z. Daniel)
This area (c. 100 m south of Area 3) was located on a low hill opposite the Sycamore Beach. A gorge and an area devoid of any settlement remains are located between these two excavation areas. Potsherds that dated to the Early Islamic period were gathered in a survey conducted at the site. A strip of boulders (width c. 5 m) was discerned in backhoe-dug trial trenches and potsherds from the Early Islamic period were noted nearby. Two squares (40 sq m) were opened.
Square 4A. A floor of stones with plaster was exposed directly below surface. It was delineated by walls to the north and west (Fig. 24). The southwestern corner of the floor was severed by a pit and near it was a plastered installation. The floor was set on a layer of soil, which contained a few potsherds that dated to the Roman period; these probably do not attest to an ancient settlement here. A few potsherds from the tenth–eleventh centuries CE were found above the floor, which was probably used as a treading floor of a winepress from the Early Islamic period.
Square 4B, south of the floor, yielded only potsherds without architectural remains.
The trial excavations south of Hammat Tiberias have contributed important data to the history of the site. The first settlement was established in the second phase of Early Bronze I. Nothing was known about this EB I site until the current excavation because it was covered with accumulations of buildings from later periods and a layer of modern debris. These settlement remains were only excavated in Area 2 but they continued eastward and were also identified to its west. The exposed tournette indicates that pottery vessels were produced at the site during this period.
Following the abandonment of the EB I settlement, the area south of Hammat Tiberias remained unoccupied for thousands of years until the Islamic period. Remains from the Umayyad period were found mostly in Square 1A, closest to Hammat Tiberias, while in the rest of the squares remains from the Abbasid and Fatimid periods were discovered. During these periods Hammat Tiberias expanded southward in a narrow strip, parallel to the Sea of Galilee. The finds indicate that the area was mainly used as an industrial zone. The production of glass vessels was evidenced in Square 1A and remains of a pottery workshop had previously been found next to Square 1C. Large quantities of ceramic cones that were used to separate the vessels during firing were found in Areas 1 and 2. All these notwithstanding, residential buildings were probably also in the area, such as those on both sides of the alley in Square 2C. It seems that the southern border of Tiberias and Hammat in the Early Islamic period was located in Area 3, because no settlement remains were detected in the trial trenches to its south. The floor in Area 4 probably belonged to an agricultural installation that was not part of the city.
The southern border of the tenth and eleventh centuries CE city has been identified in the current excavation, c. 200 m south of Hammat Tiberias. The northern border of this city was identified in the municipal park, in the center of modern Tiberias (HA-ESI 120
). These excavations and others that were conducted in the southern part of Tiberias revealed no buildings from the end of the eleventh century CE. Hence, it seems that Tiberias reached its peak in the tenth and eleventh centuries CE, whereas at the end of the eleventh century CE, the city substantially diminished in size and was limited to the precincts of today’s Old City.