During August 2007, a trial excavation was conducted on the upper portion of the steep southeastern slope of Mi‘ilya in the western Galilee (Permit No. A-5215*; map ref. NIG 224771–94/769854–68; OIG 174771–94/269854–68), prior to the construction of a new approach road and entrance to the village. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and partly financed by the Ministry of Transportation, was directed by H. Smithline (photography), with the assistance of V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying) and workers from Kafr Manda.
The village of Mi‘ilya (Fig. 1) is strategically situated on a tell, commanding the valley to its south and east and the important road leading from the sea to the mountains. The northern and western sides of the tell slope down much more gradually. A partially preserved Crusader castle, Chateau de Roi, dating to the twelfth century CE, is on top of the tell, which had been surveyed in the past (IAA Reports 14). Ceramic finds from Middle Bronze II, the Late Bronze Age, Iron I and the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader/Mamluk and Ottoman periods were registered in the survey.
A number of small excavations had been carried out on the site, yielding finds from several periods. A burial cave to the north (HA-ESI 117) revealed the earliest finds, dating to the IBA. A Byzantine-period mosaic floor (ESI 7-8:133) was uncovered and a recent excavation (Permit No. A-5202) exposed strata from the Late Bronze Age, Iron I and II and the Crusader period.
The present excavation was carried out after severe damage was caused to the site by operating bulldozers and building an 11 m high concrete wall that supported the upper portion of the village and the underlying tell. Four squares were excavated along a narrow strip that skirted the edge of the tell. The squares (western [1, 2] – 4.0 × 4.5 m; eastern [3, 4] – 3.0 × 3.5 m) were bounded on the north by the support wall and on the south by a drainage channel, thereby limiting the size of the excavated area.
The western squares yielded no in situ antiquities. Excavation of Square 1 ended upon reaching bedrock, 2.0–2.5 m below surface. Square 2 was closed at 2.5 m below surface with the uncovering of a thick cement platform that appears to be a supporting anchor for the cement wall. Fill material recently spilled down the slope after the construction of the support wall was found in the two squares. The fill contained stones, boulders and potsherds dating to Iron I and II and the Persian, Hellenistic, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods, along with modern finds, such as rubber, plastic and glass.
Squares 3 and 4 (Fig. 2) yielded similar material. The excavation was suspended at a depth of 2.5 m due to the precarious and unstable nature of the excavation balks and the topography that precluded any possibility of widening the excavated area. At this depth the matrix was still that of recently spilled fill. A small probe was undertaken by a backhoe, revealing bedrock at 4 m below surface. It would appear that in situ Iron Age material was present adjacent to bedrock.
The sole noteworthy find from the fill was the molded head of a bovine that apparently belonged to an Iron I kernos. The hollow neck and the well-formed head end with a perforated muzzle. The two horns and ears are broken but their scars are clearly evident. The eyes are unusually carved unlike the more common portrayal of the eyes as small clay pellets. The presence of bull heads as elements of Iron Age kernoi is not rare (‘Atiqot 22:121–124).
Although nearly all the finds from the excavation originated from recently spilled material, the majority of potsherds may be dated to Iron I and II and the Hellenistic and the Byzantine periods. This possibly reflects periods of increased activity in the northeast quadrant of the site, but certainly does not suggest that the occupation of the site in general was less intensive during other periods. An excavation in a more stable and expansive area of the site would greatly enhance our knowledge and fill in many of the lacunae.