In March–April 2017, an educational archaeological excavation was conducted at Mount Eldad Fort (Nahal Zin Fort; Permit No. A-7978; map ref. 178153–216/520285–344; Fig. 1), as part of the high school program ‘Exploring the Land’. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Education, was directed by H. Mamalya and T. Erickson-Gini (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Alamor (administration), E. Aladjem (surveying and plans), Y. Abadi-Reiss (scientific guidance), A. Fraiberg, A. Peretz, Y. Haimi, O. Shmueli, A. Rasiuk, O. Aflalo, H. Hamer, A. Levy and D. Eisenberg-Degen (education and training), the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at Oxford University (14C dating), the Curt Engelhorn Archaeometry Center in Germany (thermoluminescence [TL] dating), the Timna Iron Age Research Laboratory at Tel Aviv University (petrographic analysis) and archaeology students from Tel Aviv University led by Prof. E. Ben Yosef (archaeological fieldwork studies). High school students from the Sligsberg school in Jerusalem, from Ort Achva Gilboa and from the Naomi Shemer school in Gan Yavneh participated in the excavation.
The current excavation resumed the exploration in three of the five casement rooms and in the courtyard (Fig. 2). The finds are dated to the Iron Age IIA.
The fill inside the casement rooms (L116 in the west; L117 and L118 in the north) was excavated to a depth of 0.2–0.3 m. Two additional courses of the rooms’ walls (W50–W57) were unearthed; the walls were built of dry construction, consisting of medium-sized limestone blocks with a fill of small stones between them. Some more of the lower parts of the retaining pillars in the center of Room 116 were also exposed (Fig. 3). Room 118 was excavated to beneath the level of a stone threshold that was used in an opening onto the courtyard. Although no floors were identified in the rooms, they yielded habitation levels with pottery sherds dating from the eleventh–tenth centuries BCE. It thus seems that the pottery lay on dirt floors, whose elevation corresponds fits that the habitation levels unearthed in previous excavations.
The fort’s courtyard was fully excavated (L114, L115, L119, L120). A surface of soil mixed with ash (L119, L120; Fig. 4), apparently a habitation level, was uncovered in its northwest part of the courtyard. An intact, red-slipped krater with vertical burnishing, dating from the tenth century BCE, was found in L119 (Fig. 5). Approximately forty grape pips were found near the krater; most of them were scattered beside the krater, and some inside it. A radiometric analysis of a samples of grape pips yielded an eleventh–tenth centuries BCE date. Petrographic tests of pottery retrieved from the courtyard found that it contained copper slag. TL dating of sediments deposited on coarse handmade ‘Negev’ Ware potsherds did not provide conclusive results.
The ceramic finds form the habitation levels in the rooms, the intact krater and the grape pips date the fort’s occupation to the Iron Age IIA (eleventh–tenth centuries BCE).
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