In October–November 2010 and July–August 2011, excavations were conducted at Horbat Tarbenet in the Jezreel Valley, c. 3 km to the northwest of ‘Afula (Permit Nos. A-6001, A-6229; map ref. 223384–4111/725809–6293), prior to the renovation the Jezreel Valley railway (Rakevet Ha-‘Emeq). The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company, Ltd., were directed by A. Mokary (field photography), with the assistance of O. Zidan (area supervision), M. Kunin and A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), D. Syon (metal detection and numismatics), M. Hartal (scientific guidance) and C. Amit (statue photograph).
The excavation area (400 sq m) extended across the southern fringes of Horbat Tarbenet. Architectural remains from the fourth–sixth centuries CE (Figs. 1, 2) were exposed beneath a layer of alluvium (thickness 1.8 m), which was removed by mechanical equipment. The site is the location of a third-century CE a Jewish settlement, trknt (טרכנת), which is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Megilla 4, 5).
Remains of a dwelling that included four walls (W37, W53, W91, W98) that delimited three spaces were exposed in the western part of the area. The middle space was paved with small stones (Fig. 3), whereas the two adjacent spaces had tamped-earthen floors. A round saqiye well (L50; diam. 2.9 m, more than 4 m deep; Fig. 4), built of dressed limestone blocks, was exposed south of W37. A surrounding work surface was partially uncovered; an animal would have walked on it as it turned the wheel for raising water from the well. Collapsed building stones, possibly remains of a pool that was filled with water from the well, was found east of the well, in an area that was previously disturbed. In the eastern part of the excavation area were the remains of a well-built and plastered channel (length 5 m, width c. 0.3 m, preserved height c. 0.3 m; Fig. 5), which was constructed of stone. Sections of a mosaic were discovered above its southern wall. The channel might have emanated from a pool near the well and conveyed water to a large rectangular pool in the eastern part of the area (L30; 4.0 × 4.7 m; Fig. 6). Benches were built near the eastern and southern walls of the pool. After the pool was no longer in use, it was filled with soil mixed with fragments of pottery vessels, pieces of square, perforated terra-cotta pipes, numerous pieces of glass vessels and fragments of a meticulously sculpted statue of Heracles made of smooth, white marble (overall height 0.5 m; Fig. 7). The remains of the pool and the artifacts in it suggest that a bathhouse operated there in the Roman period.
It seems that the marble Heracles statue stood in a niche and was part of the décor in the bathhouse pool. It depicts an extremely muscular, naked Heracles standing on a base, which did not survive, and leaning on a club. On the upper part of the club hangs the skin of the monstrous Nemean lion, which according to Greek mythology he killed on his first labor. West of the pool extended a stone pavement (L24; Fig. 8); its eastern part had settled. The surface was severed by a terra-cotta pipe that conveyed water from east to west. The function of the surface remains unclear; it either continued the mosaic sections that above the wall of the channel or belonged to a later phase.
The ceramic and glass artifacts together with the numismatic finds discovered in the excavation date the architectural remains from the mid-fourth century CE to the end of the sixth century CE.