During January–February 2009, a salvage excavation was conducted in a private building plot on the hill slope at the eastern edge of Tamra (Zu‘abiyya; Permit No. A-5582; map ref. NIG 23818/72649; OIG 18818/22649), prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and partially financed by the landowner, T. Zu‘abi, was directed by Y. Alexandre, with the assistance of Y. Lavan (administration), A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying), H. Smithline (field photography), E. Belashov (drafting), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), C. Amit (coin photography), E.J. Stern and Y. Arnon (ceramic reading), H. Tahan (pottery drawing), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass finds) and R. Kool (numismatics).
The village of Tamra is located on a low hill at the western edge of Ramat Issachar basalt plateau, about 6 km south of Mount Tabor. The fairly steep eastern slope of the hill leads down to the village spring 'Ein el-Tahta and then, down to the gully of Nahal Shēzafim that flows into Nahal Harod.
Remains of a row of columns on the hill slope above the spring, identified in the late nineteenth century by V. Guerin as an ancient basilica church, were still visible on surface in 2004. A survey of the village in the late 1970s recorded various architectural elements, some of which were discerned in the courtyards of the present-day village (Map of 'En Dor :57*, Site 17). The expansion of the village eastward on the hill slope revealed antiquities that necessitated numerous small-scale excavations (1996–2004). Some limited building remains of Iron II and the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods were uncovered in one of the excavations ('Atiqot 58:47*–56*). Remains of basalt-stone buildings in a fairly good state of preservation, which dated to the Late Byzantine–Early Islamic period on the basis of pottery, were uncovered in most other excavations (HA-ESI 113:30*–33*). Remains of a church were partially excavated in one of the plots, exposing a fine basilica with three building phases that were dated to the Late Byzantine, Umayyad and Abbasid periods (sixth–ninth centuries CE; Liber Annus 54:343–350).
The exposure of basalt-stone walls in backhoe-dug probe trenches, cut in a private plot adjacent to the previous excavations, prompted the present excavation that revealed building remains, dating to the ‘Abbasid period on the basis of pottery.
Two squares were opened and the partial remains of two domestic houses were uncovered, with a possible path between them (Figs. 1, 2).
The southern house
A small part of this house was exposed, since it mainly extended southward beyond the limits of the excavation. Three associated wall segments (W113–W115) were built directly on the uneven basalt bedrock gravel (Fig. 3). The walls, built of large roughly worked stone blocks (height c. 0.4 m), were preserved one or two courses high. Two long rectangular stone blocks, not in situ, were found in conjunction with these walls. One was an ashlar threshold stone with a socket at one end (length 1.15 m, width 0.4 m, height 0.25 m) and the other was a plain ashlar rectangular stone (length 1.36 m, width 0.3 m, height 0.2 m). These two stones were almost certainly the threshold and lintel stones of the entrance into the house through W113 that had fallen out of line. The few retrieved potsherds dated to the Early Islamic period.
A strip of packed earth floor (L110; width c. 2.8 m) between the southern and northern houses was laid on the uneven bedrock (L124). This may have been a pathway leading down the slope (Fig. 4).
The northern house
The more extensive remains of the northern house consisted of a complete room (L125), parts of other connected rooms (L117, L120) and a staircase (L107, L123); the limited excavation area precluded the exposure of the complete house plan (Fig. 5). The southern wall of the house (W103; exposed length 5 m, width 0.6 m), which bordered on the northern edge of the pathway, was built directly on bedrock, using the partially hewn bedrock as its bottom course. The exterior face of the wall was carefully constructed from three courses of large roughly hewn basalt stones, incorporating some small filling stones (Fig. 6). The inner face of W103 consisted of small basalt fieldstones that were pressed against the back of the large stones and must have been originally secured with a layer of mortar or plaster, of which no trace remained (Fig. 7). An entrance in the eastern side of W103 consisted of doorposts built of two courses of large, finely dressed stones, cut to the shape of a door that opened inward (Fig. 8). The upper doorpost stone was black basalt and the lower stone—soft white limestone. The opposite doorpost was mostly hidden in the balk. The threshold was built of a large dressed basalt stone that was overlain with a small soft white limestone, now broken into two. The incorporation of single white limestone blocks in the overwhelmingly black basalt construction repeated itself in another entrance of the building and was certainly an intentional stylistic feature.
The western wall of the complete room (W104; length over 7 m, width 0.6 m) was perpendicular to and contemporaneous with W103; it was also built in the same technique as W103 and was set directly on a base course cut out of the jagged bedrock. A slight shift was evident in the upper courses of W104, possibly reflecting a rebuild or a repair in the course of its use. The entryway in W104 (width 1 m) was flanked by doorposts constructed from two courses of large dressed stones and the threshold consisted of a white limestone block, which was broken and eroded, but still in situ, on top of a larger basalt block with a socket (Fig. 9). This entryway led into the western room (L117), whose floor was at a slightly higher level, thus accommodating bedrock’s natural incline.
The northern wall of Room 125 (W111; length over 4 m, width 0.6 m) was contemporary with W103 and W104 and showed clear evidence of two construction phases. The wall had probably adjoined W104 originally and the entryway, which was further to the east, was found blocked (Fig. 10). It seems that when it was blocked, another entrance was created in W111, at the juncture with W104, which now had a slightly higher threshold level. The blocked entry could be the result of some collapse that was visible in the incline of the three courses of the doorpost, but it could also be related to more extensive alterations that were carried out in the building (see below). Room 125 was carefully paved with large flagstones (average size 0.4 × 0.5 m), whose upper surfaces were cut flat and were well-smoothed from use. The removal of some of these stones in the middle of the room revealed a lower layer of similar paving stones on bedrock (L127; Fig. 11). However, this layer only existed in the center of the room and on its eastern side, whereas on the western side of the room, the upper layer of stones lay directly on bedrock. At the extreme western edge, the bedrock itself was exposed as part of the floor surface. Hence, it seems that the lower stone layer, L127, was a technical feature intended to level out the west to east sloping bedrock. Room 125 was a large room in the original stage of the building, or probably an inner paved courtyard (3 × at least 4 m) whose original eastern closing wall lay somewhere beyond the eastern boundary of the excavation. This is evident as the same stone slab floor of Room 125 clearly extended below and beyond the extant Wall 112 and into the adjoining space (L126), where an exceptionally long stone block (length 1.27 m, width 0.38 m) was found incorporated in the floor. This may have been originally a lintel that had fallen or was laid in the flooring. In addition, a large threshold stone was found at the floor level of L126, close to the entrance in W103. Wall 112 was built in the second building phase directly over the floor stone slabs, extending at a skew angle between W103 and W111. It was constructed in a less regular fashion from mostly smaller stones (Fig. 12), compared to the other three walls and it created a smaller room (2.0–2.5 × 3.0 m). It is evident that the changes in the doorway of W111 took place at this time. A packed earth floor (L116), lying c. 0.2 m above the flagstones, was leveled with the threshold of the later entrance in W111 and thus, belonged to the second phase. A circular basalt pressing stone was found on Floor 116 (see Fig. 5).
To the north of W111, a staircase in a good state of preservation (L107, L123) was discovered. It occupied the space between W104, W121 and Wall 109, which was just exposed in the northern balk. The staircase consisted of two blocks, each of three steps. It was accessed from the lower northeastern room (L120), which was only partially excavated due to the danger of stone collapse, through a carefully built entrance in W121. This wall, built askew between W109 and W111, clearly belonged to the second building phase as it entailed the blocking of the original entrance in W111 (Fig. 13). The lower group of stairs (L123; Fig. 14) was built of three treads of long basalt slabs laid on the sloping bedrock, with some smaller stones laid between them. After reaching a stone slab landing (L106), it was possible to either enter straight opposite into Room 117, or to make a 90 degrees turn to the right and ascend another three steps (L107) that also had long basalt slab treads (Fig. 15). Staircase 107 was founded on a stone-filled platform that was supported by a small retaining wall (W122). It seems that additional stairs, no longer extant, would have continued up to the top of W109, giving access to an upper storey or to the roof.
The western Room117 was only partially exposed, but exhibited a stone-paved floor directly on bedrock as well. An upright white limestone block in W104 bordered the entryway into Room 117 and another large white soft limestone slab was partially exposed on top of the floor in Room 117. An additional entryway into another room was just evident in the northwestern corner and in the western balk.
The house was abandoned some time in its later phase and a layer of accumulated fill (thickness c. 0.3–0.5 m) covered all the floors. Above the fill was a layer of stone collapse (thickness c. 1.0–1.5 m) that included numerous large stones and boulders that must have fallen in after the final abandonment of the building.
It is evident that the house owners left with their belongings since relatively few and fragmentary finds were recovered from the house. The finds in the rooms consisted of some basalt millstones and grinding bowls, potsherds, a few animal bones, small fragments of glass and a few metal finds; a single coin was found on Floor 116.
Pottery and small finds
The pottery of both occupational phases in the northern house consisted of domestic vessels. The bowls included a few Byzantine Fine Ware samples (Fig. 16:1), a delicate bowl of semi-fine buff ware (Fig. 16:2) and a few Cut-Ware (kerbschnitt) bowls (Fig. 16:3, 4). More common were heavy large gray bowls or basins, some with applied and incised decoration (Fig. 16:5, 6). The cooking vessels were open bowl-shaped (Fig. 16:7), deeper closed casserole (Fig. 16:8) and a single large deep bowl of cooking ware that had signs of burning (Fig. 16:9). The storage jars were mostly the characteristic gray, high necked bag-shaped Palestinian jars (Fig. 16:10), with a few semi-fine buff storage jars (Fig. 16:11, 12), a ridged jar rim covered with some slovenly reddish brown slip (Fig. 16:13) and a single reddish jar with a simple short neck (Fig. 16:14). An unusual gray pithos rim was similar in ware, concept and the applied decoration to the heavy gray basins (Fig. 16:15). Fairly common to both phases were potsherds of semi-fine, buff ware small jugs, mostly with simple necks and rims; the handle that extended from rim to shoulder sometimes exhibited an applied blob on its top (Fig. 16:16–19). Several potsherds of this ware were found on the original paved stone floor in Room 125. A few potsherds of the earliest glazed semi-fine buff ware bowls with ring bases (Fig. 16:20) were also found. One of the lamps was of white ware with a circular design (Fig. 16:21) and the other was reddish brown with a vestigial handle (Fig. 16:22). This pottery, and specifically the earliest glazed semi-fine buff ware bowls, is dated to the Early Abbasid period—the late eighth and early ninth centuries CE. Accordingly, both construction phases of the northern house should be dated to this period.
The few metal finds were iron nails, including a bent nail in the doorway in W103, a couple of small bronze rings, and a short segment of a chain. The glass remains were extremely fragmentary and spanned the Late Byzantine–Early Islamic periods, including some fragments that pinpoint the assemblage specifically to the Abbasid period.
The single coin (IAA No. 119535; Fig. 17), found on the later Floor 116, is well preserved and belongs to a series of rare Umayyad coins that date to the last twenty-five years of Umayyad rule. These coins depict on the obverse the usual phrase declaring the ‘Kalima’, central creed of Islam:“ā ilaha illa al-Lāh”—There is no God but Allah; on the reverse, an assortment of animals and plants is depicted, surrounded by the continuation of the ‘Kalima’ and related to the prophetic mission: “Muhammad rasul allah”—Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
This coin shows a scorpion with its tail curling upward to the right. The scorpion appears in Muslim folklore as protector against evil. This coin is a graphic example of the syncretic nature of early Umayyad Islam, prior to the iconoclasm of the Abbasids that had set in after 750 CE, when coins became completely dominated by inscriptions.
Remains postdating the Abbasid building included only a tabun that had survived by its circular clay bottom and lower part of walls; it overlaid the stone collapse layer, some of whose stones supported the walls of the tabun, which was devoid of any finds.
The excavation exposed part of a domestic area from the Early Islamic-period village of Tamra. It can be stated that on the basis of pottery, the northern house was first built directly on bedrock after the earthquake of 749 CE and remained in use, with some changes, for no longer than a century. It was abandoned by the mid-ninth century CE when the owners left, taking with them all their portable possessions.
On the basis of the evidence from the previous and present excavations, it is fair to conclude that the Byzantine and Early Islamic village of Tamra was settled by Christians and the abandonment of the village may be attributed to the hassling of the Christian population by the Moslems in the mid-ninth century CE.