During June–July 1997 a salvage excavation was conducted at H
, next to the Kefar Tabor cemetery (A-2682; Khirbat Mas-h
a; map ref. NIG 2403/7326; OIG 1903/2326), after antiquities were damaged when the Meqorot Water Company installed a water pipe. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by D. Syon, with the assistance of Y. Alexandre (field supervision), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), L. Porat (pottery restoration), H. Tahan (drawing), E. Altmark (metallurgical laboratory), H. Smithline (small finds photography), N. Getzov (reading Chalcolithic pottery and identifying flint implements) and E.J. Stern (reading Medieval pottery).
Part of a large, well-constructed building (Fig. 1) that consisted of at least seven rooms (Loci 103, 104, 110–113, 306, 307) and two smaller rooms (Loci 307, 315) that adjoined it on the east, which may have served as auxiliary or storerooms, was exposed below a heavy layer of alluvium. The building was erected during the Byzantine period and appears to have been modified in the Crusader or Mamluk periods. A large amount of ceramic finds, dating to the Early Islamic period was discovered in the excavation. Finds from the Chalcolithic period were recovered from the lowest strata.
The building’s floors, wall foundations and some of the entrances were preserved. The walls, in as far as it was possible to reconstruct them, were built of basalt foundation courses, while the upper structure was of limestone. The floors in some of the rooms were paved with limestone slabs and in others, with basalt slabs; both kinds of pavement were in Room 306. The building was extremely well constructed, especially the corners and doorjambs, which consisted mainly of ashlar masonry. Judging by the short pillars that were positioned next to some of the building’s walls (Loci 103, 112, 113, 306) and the large number of fallen voussoirs in Room 104, it seems that arches were used to partition some of the rooms into smaller spaces. An olive press equipped with a large crushing basin (Fig. 2) was discerned in the western Room 103; it lacked other elements that are usually associated with olive presses. The floor of the olive press was primarily beaten earth; it was some 0.45 m lower than the stone floors in the other rooms. In the northeastern corner of Room 103 was a small segment of a stone pavement (L117), delineated by a low stone wall. This space was probably used for storing the olives before they were crushed. The threshold of the entrance that connected Rooms 103 and 104, to its east, was as much as 0.75 m higher than the floor of the olive press. Poor partitions, using a single stone course that was set atop the slab paving, were uncovered in Room 104. An installation in Room 112 was composed of three standing stones arranged in a U-shape. A stone-circled hearth (Fig. 3) in Room 306 was placed on the stone pavement. The partitions, installation and hearth were attributed to the building’s later phase.
A small trial pit (L311; Fig. 3) was excavated below the stone pavement in the center of Room 306, revealing two plaster floors, c. 0.1 m above each other. The floors were only partially preserved and it was impossible to separate the finds above and below them. Owing to time constraints no similar probes were conducted in the other rooms.
Rooms 307 and 315, next to the eastern side of the structure, were built of fieldstones and had beaten-earth floors; their entrances were not traced. They contained many large tesserae that were apparently swept away from the floor of an industrial installation. While removing the excavation debris to the east of the excavated area, a mosaic floor that comprised similar tesserae was uncovered by chance, at an elevation that was some 2 m higher than the floor of the building.
Few potsherds were discovered in the excavation and most of them could not be clearly attributed to phases when the building was in use. The deeper levels of Room 307 and the trial pit (L311) revealed fragments of pottery vessels and several flint implements from the Chalcolithic period, along with a large quantity of flint cores and flakes that probably attest to the production of implements during this period. A few pottery fragments dating to the Byzantine, Crusader and Mamluk periods and many others dating to the Early Islamic period were retrieved from the surface down to the elevation of the floors, inside the rooms and east of the building (L305). Two complete vessels from the excavation were a carinated bowl from the 12th century CE that was found in the olive press, at the bottom level of the crushing basin, and a buff-ware type juglet from the Abbasid period (750 CE and onward) that came from the northern entrance of Room 306. Pottery fragments, mainly from the Early Islamic period (until the 10th century) were found in the trial pit (L311).
Fragments of glass vessels from the excavation included several fragments from the Byzantine period, among them wineglass stems, as well as lamp stems, several of which are dated to the Early Islamic period.
Four coins were discovered in the excavation, three of which were identified; the first the reign of Ptolemy II (275–246 BCE; IAA 102520), the second from the reign of Constans II (655 CE; IAA 102521) and the third from the time of Sal
ah al-Din (1174–1193 CE; IAA 102522). The Ptolemaic coin was probably swept into the excavation area from elsewhere.
Other small finds included a limestone colonnette fragment with a carved relief of a cross (Fig. 4), a marble slab fragment adorned with the remains of a decorative relief, a small bronze clasp for a box, engraved with a cross and an iron drill.
The artifacts from the Chalcolithic period indicate that the site was first occupied in this period. After a prolonged hiatus, the settlement was renewed in the Byzantine period. The colonnette and box clasp decorated with crosses and possibly the marble slab may imply that the building was first established as a monastery in the Byzantine period. The plan of the structure, including a row of well-built rooms, some of which have arches, and the olive press, are often indicative of monasteries. The glass lamp and cup stems are also rather frequent in assemblages of this kind. No assemblage dating unequivocally to the Byzantine period was exposed in the building, probably due to later activity.
The finds recovered from the excavation were mostly mixed and the sole chronological anchor that can be used to determine the phases during which the building was in use is the trial pit (L311) that was excavated below the stone pavement in Room 306. The latest find from this pit was a glazed bowl from the 9th–10th century CE. No Early Islamic building remains were detected, except perhaps for the plaster floors in the trial pit, but the many pottery fragments from this period are evidence for activity that took place at that time. The complete bowl from the olive press that is dated to the 12th century CE indicates that the phase of the major modifications to the building, including the laying of stone floors in the rooms and the raising of the threshold at the entrance between the olive press and Room 104, should be dated to the Crusader period. The scant ceramic finds from the Mamluk period may suggest that the building’s last phase of use occurred at this time, to which the poor partitions in Room 104, the hearth in Room 306 and the installation in Room 112, are ascribed.