During June 1999, a salvage excavation was conducted on the lower eastern slopes of Tel ‘Afula (License No. G-108/1999; map ref. NIG 22757/72353; OIG 17757/22353), prior to construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Zinnman Institute of Archaeology of the University of Haifa and financed by A.M. Sahaf Realty Investments Ltd., was directed and photographed by M. Eisenberg, with the assistance of R. Moas (area supervision), M. Ralbag (surveying and drafting), M. Oren-Pascal (reading classical-period pottery), S. Haad (drawing) and B. Bordman (computerized data).
The excavation was conducted on a fairly leveled area at the edge of the lower eastern slope of Tel ‘Afula, c. 40 m east of a hill where ‘Metzad ‘Afula’, dating to the Crusader period, is located. The area was intensely developed in recent decades (Fig. 1). The construction debris piled on surface and removed by a bulldozer prior to the excavation caused serious damage to the ancient remains.
Eight squares were opened in two areas (A, B; each 10 × 10 m; Figs. 1–3) whose corners were contiguous; Area A was northwest of Area B. Settlement remains from the Roman period and numerous pottery fragments from Early Bronze Age I were discovered (ESI 9:114; HA-ESI 114:27*).
Similar remains, consisting of walls and floors, were discovered in the two excavation areas. The walls were built of various-sized limestone fieldstones without bonding material. They were set on a foundation of fieldstones, which slightly extended beyond the lower courses, placed on hard clay soil devoid of finds. The walls, usually one stone wide (0.65–0.85 m) and preserved to maximum two courses high, were oriented to the cardinal points. Stone and plaster floors abutted the walls. The stone floors consisted of various-sized hard limestone flagstones, placed next to each other to create a uniform surface.
Several poorly preserved sections of walls and floors (Figs. 2, 6) were discovered in Area A. Due to their proximity to the tell, mostly early potsherds were found, mainly from Early Bronze Age I, as well as two fragments from Middle Bronze Age I.
The modern disturbances in Area B were worse and it was also farther away from the tell, yet its architectural complexes were better preserved than those in Area A. The excavation went deeper into a layer of gray-brown friable soil that contained ceramic finds from Early Bronze Age I, as well as architectural remains from the Roman period. Four walls (W29, W43, W44, W66) that probably belonged to a single three-room structure were discovered (Figs. 3–5). The northern W29 was thicker than the others. The western room, delimited by W29 and W43, was bigger than the rest. A stone floor (Loci 70, 73) abutted the walls. A basalt mortar (Figs. 3, 4), incorporated in the northeastern corner of the floor, was discovered in situ. Floors from an earlier phase (Loci 67, 76) that probably abutted the same walls were discovered below Floor 70/73. A thin fill layer sometimes separated between the two floors and was perhaps evidence to the continuity or short gap in the settlement’s existence. Next to W43 and adjacent to the square’s southern balk was the upper part of a basalt millstone (Fig. 3). The rectangular northern room was not well-preserved; the southern room was mostly destroyed due to modern activity. Other segments of pavement were exposed outside the main building in Area B.
The finds from the excavation included several basalt vessels, among them a grinding bowl with three legs that was found in the accumulations. No other small finds, saved the pottery vessels, were discovered.
An analysis of the ceramic finds, including cooking pots (Fig. 7:1–8) and baggy-shaped jars (Fig. 7:9–11), shows that the settlement existed for several hundred years throughout the Roman period (the later part of the first century BCE–beginning of the fourth century CE). The pottery vessels were locally produced and most of them were Galilean cooking pots.
Following the exposure of the complexes, several trial trenches (4 m deep) were dug by a backhoe in the dark clayey soil to check for other ancient remains; none were found (Fig. 8).
The exposed remains confirmed the prior findings regarding the settlement period at the tell. The ceramic finds from Early Bronze Age I had no architectural affiliation, nor clear stratigraphy, but their large number and proximity to the tell support the hypothesis that the tell was inhabited during that period.
Architectural remains of a rural settlement from the Roman period were discovered in both excavation areas. Two phases of this settlement were exposed. A layer, representing a very short gap when the settlement was abandoned, probably separated them. The floors from the second phase abutted the walls from the first phase. The reason behind the abandonment of the settlement is unknown, yet the nature of the finds indicates it was not deserted hastily.