During December 2006–January 2007, a trial excavation was conducted southeast of the Bet She’an old city center (Permit No. A-4975; map ref. NIG 24782/71161; OIG 19782/51161), prior to the construction of a transportation terminal. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Bet She’an Economic Company, was directed by W. Atrash, with the assistance of F. Abu Zidan (area supervision), Y. Lavan and Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), T. Meltsen (surveying), A. Shapiro (GPS), D. Syon (field photography), D. Sandhouse-Re’em (pottery) and D.T. Ariel (numismatics).
The excavation area was located east of Highway 90, northeast of the Saraya building and near to the site of a school from the Ottoman period that stood until after 1948 (Fig. 1). Previous excavations to south and west of the current area had revealed building remains that dated to the Byzantine, Umayyad and Mamluk periods (HA-ESI 116
:12*–16*; HA-ESI 120).
Six excavation squares were opened in two areas (A, B). A layer of debris that dated to the Byzantine period (fifth–sixth centuries CE), residential buildings from the Abbasid period (eighth–ninth centuries CE) and building remains and installations from the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE) were exposed.
Area A. Four squares were excavated and three strata were identified.
Stratum III. A thick layer (L140; depth up to 3 m; Fig. 2) that contained large amounts of potsherds, glass, basalt and bones from the Byzantine period was exposed in the northeastern corner of the area. This was apparently debris, which was discarded into and filled a channel that ran in an east–west direction. The channel was inside the Byzantine city walls and travertine layers that formed on its banks (Fig. 3) indicated that water flowed in it.
Stratum II. Remains of two residential buildings that had two construction phases were uncovered. The two structures were separated by a wall (W105; min. length 8 m, width 0.75 m, preserved height 1.5 m; Fig. 4), oriented north–south and built of basalt fieldstones. The northern part of W105 was founded on Stratum III and its southern part—on travertine.
Adjacent to the western side of W105 were three rectangular rooms of the western building.
The northern room (Room 1; min. length c. 2.5 m, width 3 m) continued northward beyond the limits of the excavation area. The room was delimited by Wall 141 (length 2.4 m, preserved height 1.2 m; Fig. 5) in the west, whose eastern side was only exposed. Wall 141, founded on a layer of debris from the Byzantine period, was well-built of dressed basalt stones arranged in straight courses with wedges between them. The southern wall of the room was buried beneath a wall from Stratum I (W104). Two floors were identified: the earlier floor (L146) of gray soil mixed with small fieldstones and potsherds was founded on fill (L147) that contained potsherds and seven coins from the Byzantine period. The later floor (L114), composed of soil, small fieldstones and potsherds, was founded on a layer of brown earth (L134) that contained potsherds and a broken jar from the Abbasid period (Fig. 6). Floor 114 was covered with a layer of brown soil fill (L111) that contained fragments of pottery vessels from the Abbasid period, including a juglet and an intact bowl (Fig. 7).
The central room (Room 2; min. length 3.5 m, width 2 m) continued westward beyond the limits of the excavation area. It was delineated by Wall 108 (length 2 m, width 0.8 m, preserved height 0.6 m) on the south and the wall on the north, buried beneath W104, was not exposed. A pillar (W125; 0.7 × 1.1 m, preserved height 0.42 m) stood in the western part of the room. An entrance (width 1.1 m; Fig. 8) in the eastern part of W108 led to another room on the south. The room had a tamped-earth floor (L143), founded on fill (L144), which contained potsherds from the Byzantine and Abbasid periods. A ceramic pipe in a channel (L144a; Fig. 9) that sloped to the east passed through this room below the foundation of W105 and continued eastward. The remains of a tabun (L145) were exposed on Floor 143 in the southwestern corner of the room, below a layer of ash. A layer of brown earth (L117) that contained fragments of glass and potsherds from the Abbasid period was deposited on Floor 143 and around Tabun 145.
The southern room (Room 3; 2.5 × 2.5 m; Fig. 10) was delimited by Wall 124 (length 6 m, preserved height 1.5 m) on the south, Wall 137 (length 2.5 m, width 0.9 m, preserved height 0.85 m) on the west and Wall 108 on the north. The walls, built of basalt fieldstones, were founded on travertine. The floor (L136) was composed of beaten earth in the northern part and a travertine surface in its southern part. Layers of collapsed masonry stones and gray soil (L115), which contained potsherds from the Abbasid and Mamluk periods, were discovered on Floor 136.
The eastern building, to the east of W105, consisted of a room and a courtyard (Fig. 11).
The room (Room 4; 4.5 × 10.0 m; only its northwestern part was exposed) was delimited on the north by Walls 120 and 163 (length 10 m, width 1 m, preserved height 0.8 m) that were built of basalt fieldstones and founded on travertine. Two openings in the walls (width of western 0.7 m and eastern 2 m) led to a courtyard on the north. A pillar (W123) stood in the middle of the room, whose tamped-earth floor (L119) contained potsherds from the Byzantine, Umayyad and Abbasid periods. The floor was founded on a layer of soil mixed with ash (L142). A ceramic pipe that ran through a channel, oriented north–south (L142a), was discovered in the floor bedding. On the bottom of the channel was a layer of gray soil (L118) that contained bones and potsherds from the Abbasid and Mamluk periods.
The courtyard was covered with a layer of debris (L138) that contained potsherds from the Byzantine period. A channel in the southeastern corner of the courtyard was hewn in the travertine and a layer of light yellow soil (L139) on its bottom contained potsherds from the Byzantine and Abbasid periods.
The style of construction, the ceramics and the coins indicate that the two structures can be dated to the Abbasid period (eighth–ninth centuries CE).
Stratum I was severely damaged during the construction of the school in the Ottoman period. Remains of a room (2.7 × 2.9 m) that utilized several walls of the Stratum II building were exposed. The walls (W103, W104, W121), built of basalt fieldstones, were preserved a single course high. The partly preserved floor (L113) consisted of basalt flagstones. The room was founded on the remains of walls from Stratum II and on a layer of fill that contained potsherds dating to the Abbasid and Mamluk periods. To the east of the room was a wall (W106; min. length 2 m, width 0.75 m), preserved a single course high and oriented north–south; it extended northward beyond the limits of the excavation area. The wall, built of basalt fieldstones, was founded on fill (L107) that contained potsherds from the Abbasid and Mamluk period. Stratum I should probably be dated to the Mamluk period.
Area B (Fig. 12) was c. 6 m east of Area A; two squares were opened and two strata were identified.
Stratum II. Remains of two parallel walls (W148, W149), oriented north–south, were exposed. The walls, built of basalt and limestone fieldstones in a massive construction, were founded on travertine and extended beyond the excavation area. An opening (width 1.9 m; Fig. 13) was set in the middle of the eastern W148 (min. length 5 m, width 1.3 m, preserved height 1.5 m) and another opening (width 1.1 m; Fig. 14) was in the middle of the western W149 (min. length 5 m, width 1.1 m, preserved height 1 m), which was c. 4.9 m distance from W148. A fragment of a limestone column was incorporated in the foundation course of W149. The ceramic artifacts recovered from the foundation trenches (Loci 160, 161) indicate that the walls date to the Abbasid period. A floor (L155) of mud-brick material, founded on fieldstone fragments and travertine, was discovered between the two walls. The floor was overlain with a layer of ash that contained potsherds from the Abbasid and Mamluk periods.
Stratum I. The openings in Walls 148 and 149 were sealed with rows of fieldstones and the area was converted into a courtyard. A circular tabun (oven; L131; diam. 0.7 m), whose floor of crushed chalk was founded on a layer of basalt stones and on part of W149’s eastern side, was exposed in the southwestern corner of the courtyard. A second tabun (L154; diam. 0.4 m), which had a mud-brick material floor, was exposed in the northeastern corner of the courtyard, next to W148. Above the blocked opening in W148 was a third tabun (L130; diam. c. 0.7 m; Fig. 15) whose floor and sides were of mud-brick material. Above the remains of Floor 155 in the middle of the courtyard was an installation (L153), composed of a broken limestone mortar and a floor of mud-brick material. The installation contained a large quantity of ash and was probably used for cooking. A large amount of ash and potsherds that dated to the Mamluk period was revealed inside the ovens and on Floor 155 in the courtyard.
The western part of the excavation area was severely damaged by a cesspit whose walls were built of basalt. The pit contained a few potsherds that dated it to the Ottoman period and it apparently belonged to the school that had once stood there.
The excavation has contributed to the understanding of the settlement near the Bet She’an’s city walls from the Byzantine period until the end of the Ottoman period. The excavation has shown that the area was vacant during the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, whereas a residential quarter founded on virgin soil, was established during the Abbasid period. Construction in the area was resumed during the Mamluk period.