Area 2000 (Squares SE 6/7; 7/6; 7/7;Figs. 1, 2)
The two new squares opened in Area 2000 were meant to help in better understanding the layout of the structure (see HA-ESI 124). Square SE 7/6 was opened with the goal of excavating the room to the west of W205 in Sq SE 7/7; Sq SE 6/7 was opened to the north of Sq SE 7/7 with the aim to excavate the room to the north of the doorway in W207 and the continuation of the room between W205 and W206. The two new squares were excavated down to the collapse levels in Sq SE 7/7, at which point excavations were renewed in Sq SE 7/7.
Part of a structure consisting of several rooms with floors that were covered with layers of collapse and fill was exposed in Sqs SE 6/7, 7/6, and 7/7. Most of the surfaces were plastered, and some were laid over stone foundations. A large room was identified east of W205/W212; it is bounded by W206 on the east, W209 on the south, and W214 on the north. A single floor was identified in this room (L2074, L2080, L2083).
Most of the walls in this structure were constructed from large, well-cut stones on one face, and small and medium-sized stones on the other face.
A second room is bounded by W210 in the west, W208 in the south, W205 in the east, and W217/W207 in the north. The main entrance to the room was through a doorway in W208, in the south balk. On the north side, a threshold at the eastern end of W217/W207, with a monolithic pillar (height 1.15 m) at the western end of W217 serving as the doorpost, gave access to other rooms. Another threshold was discovered at the same level in W207. Wall 207 and W217 are probably two sections of the same wall, with possibly two entrances/thresholds. The original floor of this room was plastered (L2092, L2076/L2077). In a later phase, the entrance in W207 was blocked, whereas the status of the entrance in W217 is unclear; a row of stones (L2096), oriented north–south, was installed along the eastern side of the room, perhaps creating a trough for a stable (Fig. 3). A third room, bounded by W210 on the east and W211 on the south, has a floor layer (L2063); the northern and western walls of this room have not yet been exposed and its full extent was not determined. A fourth room is bound by W207 on the south, W212 on the east, and W213 on the north; the western wall of the room is still unknown. Although no floor was identified during the excavation, the balk shows a possible surface (elevation 26.54 m). A fifth room is bounded by W213 in the south and W215 in the east; its northern and western boundaries are unknown. The bottom part of a reused column in the western balk was resting on the plastered floor of this room (L2059).
The pottery found on, in, and under the floors in these rooms and in the foundation trench of W211 (L2090) suggests a Byzantine (fifth–sixth centuries CE) date for this structure. In addition to coins, animal bones, glass, and large quantities of pottery, with imported Late Roman Red Wares, were discovered. The finds included grinding stones, loom weights, press weights, a roof roller, worked stone and bone, and an Olynthus-type millstone in secondary use, suggesting agricultural or industrial activity (Fig. 4). Paleobotanical analysis of soil samples from these rooms indicates the presence of large quantities of crushed olive pits. The fills below the floors and walls of these rooms contained Hellenistic and pre-Hellenistic (Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian period) pottery and other finds, including a fragmentary Early Bronze Age white stone mace head found in the make-up of Floor 2076. The only architectural feature uncovered at this level before the end of the season was W216, whose northeast-southwest orientation differed from the walls above.
Area 3000 (Sq SW 2/7; Figs. 5, 6)
Work in the modern village of Yakuk focused on Sq SW 2/7, to the north of Sq SW 4/7, which was excavated down to the 1948 floor in 2011 (HA-ESI 124). It turned out that the eastern wall (W302) in Sq SW 4/7 was not aligned with the eastern wall (W308) of the structure in Sq SW 2/7, suggesting that the latter belonged to a separate building.
The room in Square SW 2/7 is bounded on the south by the presumed extension of W301, on the east by W308, and by W317 in the north balk. These walls (width 0.70–0.75 m) are constructed from two rows of medium-sized fieldstones. The surface was covered by stone collapse and layers of plaster from the roof and the fill below this collapse contained burnt timbers from the roof (L3056, L3054). The room was bisected by a north–south arch that consisted of three courses of well-cut stones and was supported on a pilaster (L3105) abutting the north wall. Some of the burnt timbers in L3056 and L3054 were under the arch. The accumulation of fill under the arch and above the burnt layer covering the floor (see below) indicates that the arch collapsed some time after the room and the roofing system burned down (Fig. 7).
The removal of arch and the roofing/ceiling collapse layers revealed an ash layer (L3080) over the entire square. The ash layer covered a plaster floor (L3092, L3093). Two installations were associated with this floor: A semi-circular mound of organic material (L3086), leaning against the south balk, and a semi-circular installation built of a single course of stones (L3087), abutting the north wall and the east side of Pilaster 3105.
Several centimeters beneath Floor 3092/3093 was a second lower floor (L3100, L3101). Two bricks were found on this floor, in the fill (L3093) beneath Stone Installation 3087. Also found on the lower floor were a flattened metal canister and a palm-sized metal object.
The small number of finds from this square date to the 20th century.
Area 3000 (Squares SW 3/8, SW 3/5, SW 4/5; see Figs. 5, 6)
Three squares (SW 3/8, SW 3/5—continued from 2011, SW 4/5—new) were excavated in the area of the synagogue.
Square SW 3/8 (the western side of the synagogue; Fig. 8)
This square was reopened in an attempt to locate the western wall of the synagogue, on the assumption that the massive paving stones and threshold blocks, which had previously been exposed, although clearly not in-situ, were not far from their original position.
However, excavation revealed that the modern fill and collapse continued to a level lower than the adjacent ancient paving stones, at which point the square was closed (L3058). The excavation also exposed the foundations of W301 (elevation 29.05 m) and W304 (elevation 28.86 m), which had no associated floors.
Square SW 3/5 (the east wall, foundations, and interior of the synagogue; Fig. 9)
Excavation continued on both sides of W310, the east wall of the synagogue, with the goal of reaching the wall’s foundations on the east and the building’s original floor on the west. On the east side of W310, a layer of building chips (L3048; thickness 0.4 m; Fig. 6: Section 2–2) belonging to the synagogue’s foundations was found under the modern fill. This layer was hard, compact, and undisturbed, despite being unsealed, and it contained tesserae, small pieces of red painted plaster, coins, and Late Roman-Byzantine pottery including a Cypriot Red Slip Ware Form 1 bowl rim (Hayes 1972:372–374), dating to the late fourth– third quarter of the fifth centuries CE. Below the building chips were layers of soil and plaster patches (L3072, L3075, L3077, L3079), which contained some tesserae and local pottery (no imports), including fragments of Galilean bowls of Kefar Hananya Ware, Form 1E, dating from the mid-third to fifth centuries CE (Adan-Bayewitz 1993:103–9)
Visible among a layer of stones, plaster patches, and soil (L3083; see Fig. 6: Section 2–2), wherein a coin was found in situ, at the bottom of L3075 and L3079 was the top of a column base and an architectural block. Below this, a layer of plaster patches and soil (L3091) was excavated down to the bottom of the column base. This layer exposed the last course of building stones in W310 with chink stones under the wall. It is clear that this is the bottom of the synagogue’s east wall (elevation 27.12 m). The pottery from Layers 3083 and 3091 consisted of local types, including a Galilean bowl Form 1E fragment (Adan-Bayewitz 1993: 103–9). Work in the synagogue’s foundations ceased at this point.
To the west of W310, the season began with the excavation of the nineteenth–twentieth centuries cobble and plaster surface, which covered W311 and extended into the west balk. Locus 3034 (see Fig. 6: Section 3–3) was a continuation of the cobble and plaster surface (L3026), north of W309 (see HA-ESI 124: Fig. 3), and L3035 was a continuation of the cobble and plaster surface (L3027) south of W309. Below the cobble and plaster surface was a layer of soft brown fill (L3036, north of W309; L3037, south of W309), containing pottery of the nineteenth–twentieth centuries, tesserae, roof tiles, small pieces of painted plaster, and the stem of a Byzantine glass goblet. Below the fill was a plastered cobblestone floor of the Mamluk period (L3044).
Wall 309 and W311 were removed after it became clear that they rested on the Mamluk floor. This floor was contemporary with W311 and did not continue all the way to W310. Floor 3044 was composed of small, flat, often triangular cobblestones covered with an even layer of plaster, and its make-up contained tesserae, small pieces of painted plaster, coins, and Crusader/Mamluk potsherds.
Below Floor 3044 was a deep fill of alternating layers of dark brown soil and yellow building chips (L3057, L3061, L3073, L3074; Fig. 6: Section 3–3). Most of the pottery from this fill is Late Roman and Byzantine, but there is a small number of Islamic and Crusader/Mamluk potsherds. The layer of fill (L3078) immediately above the mosaic floor of the synagogue consisted of loose brown soil, and the latest potsherds dated to the Abbasid period. All of the loci between the mosaic floor (L3102, L3103; see below) and the Mamluk floor (L3044) contained large numbers of tesserae, some still adhering to chunks of bedding, small pieces of painted plaster, and coins.
The removal of W311 and the excavation of the fill below Floor 3044 exposed a layer of plaster that survived on the inner western face of W310. The plaster turned out to be plain white with no traces of decoration. The excavation of Fill 3078 revealed three sections of intact mosaics (Fig. 10), separated by areas where the bedding is preserved without mosaics (L3102, L3103; see Figs 5, 6: Section 3–3). The first section of mosaics, located in the northwest corner of the square, consists of very small tesserae (430 tesserae/dm²). This section has a westward orientation and depicts two female faces flanking a Hebrew or Aramaic inscription (Fig. 11). The face to the north is well-preserved and portrays a female with wavy red hair and a white earring in her left ear. The inscription originally contained at least five lines, referring to rewards for those who perform mitzvot. Portions of the first two and last two lines have survived, with only the third line fully preserved. The south side of the medallion is flanked by a fragmentary female face, whose hair is pulled up in a top-knot and she wears a tiara with three green glass stones in the center. Above both faces are depictions of floral motifs which continue into the west balk.
Another section of mosaic runs north–south along W310 (see Fig. 10). This mosaic has larger tessarae than the one in the northwestern corner and contains no figured decoration. The white tesserae run up to W310, and in places the plaster on the wall covers the mosaic, indicating that the mosaic floor is contemporary with the synagogue wall and the plaster was applied after the mosaic was laid. Closest to the wall is a white band with a black border along its west side. Immediately to the west of the black border is a beautiful three-strand guilloche. A few rows of much smaller tesserae to the west of the guilloche pattern preserve the beginning of black and red frames, a feline ear in the northernmost black frame, and the top of a donkey (?) in the southernmost black frame.
The final section of mosaic is located in the southwestern corner of the square. It depicts the middle section of a large male figure, whose head (not preserved) is oriented to the east (Fig. 12). The surviving portion of this figure, from the abdomen to the thighs, is clothed in a tunic with an orbiculum—a circular emblem worn by soldiers in the Later Roman army—cinched by a thick decorated red belt around the waist, and a red cloak behind. To the left of this figure are two pairs of foxes, one above the other; most of the lower pair survived whereas only the lowest part of the upper pair is preserved. The foxes face outward, with their tails tied together around a lighted torch. This is a depiction of the episode related in Judges 15:4, in which Samson takes revenge on the Philistines by tying together the tails of three hundred foxes, placing lighted torches between them, and releasing them to burn the agricultural fields. Although the tesserae are small (ranging from 149 tesserae/dm² in Samson’s cloak to 179 tesserae/dm² in his belt to 239 dm² in the foxes), the artistic quality is not as fine as the female faces and the inscription in the medallion, which are composed of smaller tesserae.
At the end of this season, the square was backfilled with dirt and stones.
Square SW 4/5 (the continuation of W310 to the south of SW 3/5)
Immediately below the ground level, evidence of successive ovens (tabuns) appeared, one of which was nearly intact and still had a lid over the opening (L3089; Fig. 13). The entire square seems to have been a courtyard/food preparation area near the cistern during the nineteenth–twentieth centuries. A cobble and plaster floor covered W311 and extended westward (L3097; see Fig. 6: Section 3–3; the same floor was excavated in Sq SW 3/5 as L3024, L3034, L3035).
Tabun 3089 rested on Floor 3097. Close to the middle of the square, the continuation of W311 from Sq SW 3/5 appeared; it consisted of two ashlars in secondary use.
The removal of Floor 3097 on the western side of the square revealed that it rested directly on top of a plastered cobblestone Mamluk floor (L3106), which corresponds to Floor 3044 in Sq SW 3/5. The season ended with the Mamluk cobblestone floor exposed in its entirety but not excavated.
By the end of the 2012 season, the southern continuation of W310 had been discovered, exposing the tops of four ashlar blocks, aligned north–south. The tops of these stones are at a lower elevation than the highest course in Sq SW 3/5, due to the robbing out of the wall. The top of W310 is covered with a layer of plaster or mortar, and the upper edge of the plaster adhering to the inner face of the wall is visible. Wall 310 continues southward through most of the square but ends just before it reaches the south balk and W315.