An agricultural terrace wall was excavated on the southern, terraced slope of the hill of the ancient settlement, above Nahal Meron and within the farmland of the village during the Ottoman and British Mandate periods. A photograph of the tomb of Rabbi Shimʻon bar Yochai in the first third of the twentieth century (American Colony [Jerusalem], Photo Dept. photographer 1920–1933) reveals clear evidence of farming activity. The photo shows trees in the nearby Arab village, in contrast with the surrounding stony landscape. Another photograph, taken in 1958 (Government Press Office 1958), shows trees growing on farming terraces on the slope where the excavation was conducted. Since the terrace wall is still standing, flanked by cactuses attesting to its use until modern times, the excavation set out to date the time of its construction and the extent of its use.
The agricultural terrace wall (W101; Figs. 2, 3) was founded on bedrock and built of fieldstones (max. dimensions 0.2 × 0.3 × 0.4 m); it was well preserved to a maximum height of nine courses. The surface alongside the wall yielded a coin of Alexander Jannaeus, dated to 79/80 BCE at the earliest (IAA 152787); a Mamluk fulus (IAA 152788); a tobacco-pipe fragment from the latter half of the nineteenth century (Rauchberger 2017: No. 67; Fig. 4); fragments of vessels from the Rashaya el-Fukhar pottery workshop in southern Lebanon dating from the Ottoman period and the British Mandate (Berger 2015; Smithline 2015); a 1941 British Mandate mil; and five spent cartridges stamped with 1930s and 1940s manufacturing dates (Glick, below). The soil deposit at the base of the wall (L102), which was excavated down to bedrock, yielded potsherds that had been swept there in various periods, comprising mainly Roman-period ribbed pottery vessels from the Shihin and Kefar Hananya workshops. The most recent potsherds found in soil deposits on a level with the wall’s top three courses (L103) dated from the Mamluk period. Potsherds recovered between this level and bedrock were identified as earlier than the Late Roman peirod, mainly Kefar Hananya cooking ware. A few flint items were found in the surface layer and in the excavated loci (Shemer, below).
The historical photographs and surface finds show that the agricultural terrace wall was still in use during the British Mandate. The finds suggest that the wall was built in the Late Roman period at the earliest and was repaired during or after the Mamluk period. However, following Gibson (2015), who points out the considerable difficulties facing any attempt to ascertain the date of agriculture-terrace walls, we must be cautious in determining the date of the wall’s construction or the length of its use. The flint assemblages from previous excavations at Meron have not yet been fully published yet; when we better understand them, they may allow us to identify the earliest phases of the site’s settlement, and possibly even the origins of the site’s sacred tradition.
Alexander Glick
Five spent cartridges were recovered during the excavation. They belong to two type:
Mauser 7.92 × 57 mm cartridge (Fig. 5:1). The cartridge was found in excellent condition. Based on the firing marks, it was probably fired from a machine gun. The cartridge was manufactured by the Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN) in Herstal, Belgium in 1948 (Huntington 1978:138).
This type ammunition for rifles and machine guns was used by both Jewish and Arab armed forces from World War I onward, despite confiscation attempts by the British Mandate authorities (Glick, In press). Such ammunition was used during the War of Independence; it probably came from World War II battlefields as well as via purchases from Czechoslovakia by the Israeli forces (Ilan 2004).
MAS 7.5 × 54 mm cartridges (Fig. 5:2–5). The cartridge in Fig. 5:2 was found in excellent condition. It was manufactured at the Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin factory in Bourtzwiller in the French town of Mulhouse during the second quarter of the 1930 (Conklin 2007:7); the metal supplier was the Société Electro-Métallurgique de Dives (White and Munhall 1963:146, Pic. 1241). The cartridge in Fig. 5:3was well preserved. It was manufactured at the Société Française des Munitions in Issy-Les-Moulineaux in Paris, France—which also supplied the metal—during the fourth quarter of the 1930 (Conklin 2007:7). The two cartridges in Fig. 5:4, 5 were found in excellent condition. They were manufactured at the Cartoucherie de Valence factory in the city of Valence, France, during the first quarter of 1939; the metal supplier was the Société des Tréfileries et laminoirs de Biache-Saint Waast. A similar cartridge was found at an excavation in Lod (Glick, forthcoming).
The French MAS 7.5 × 54 mm-type ammunition was developed in 1929 by the Manufacture d’Armes de Saint Étienne and it became the French army’s most commonly used ammunition prior to World War II. At first, it was used with machine guns, and subsequently the Lebel 07/15 rifle was adapted for its use. From 1936 onward, the French army used a MAS-36 rifle that was fited for this type of ammunition (Ustinov and Bloom 1982:98). It was the most commonly used ammunition among the Syrians, the Lebanese and Qa’uqji’s Liberation Army, the majority of whose weapons were French. The Jewish forces and the IDF owned very few such weapons until Operation Hiram, in October 1948, when large numbers of such weapons were captured in battle (Sela 2004:248).
In 1948, two battles were fought at Meron, both between the Second Yarmuk Brigade of Qa’uqji’s Liberation Army and Israeli forces: the Yiftah Brigade on May 28–29 (Lorch 1989:262) and the 72th Battalion of the 7th Brigade on October 28–31 (Luria 1963:8–9). The French ammunition was probably not fired from the Israeli side but from a defensive position of Qa’uqji’s Liberation Army, which was apparently sheltered behind the terrace wall. The Mauser 7.92 × 57 mm cartridge was probably fired in the latter battle, judging by the time it would have taken it to reach be shipped from the the factory in Belgium to the battlefield.
Flint finds
Mayan Shemer
The flint assemblage from Meron contains five items: a Levallois core (Fig. 6:1), a sickle blade (Fig. 6:2), a backed flake (Fig. 6:3), core debitage (Fig. 6:4) and a chip (less than 20 mm; Fig. 6:5).
The two diagnostic items—the Levallois core (Fig. 6:1) and the sickle blade (Fig. 6:2)—were surface finds, and they are slightly abraded and bear yellowish patina. The Levallois core (c. 3.3 × 3.9 cm, c. 2 cm thick) is thoroughly depleted and bears a pattern of bipolar scars. The last knapping round was used to remove one primary flake (2.5 × 2.5 cm). The Levalloisian technique is found in the Middle Paleolithic period (250–40 millennia BP), and the surface find of a core may attest to the existence of an archaeological site from this period in the vicinity. The sickle blade was made on a blade that retained its cortex. The blade has two parallel ridges on its dorsal side, and its distal end is truncated. The working edge, indicated by the characteristic sickle sheen, is on the item’s left side. Some of the sickle sheen was removed by retouching the working edge at a later stage; the percussion bulb was apparently trimmed down at the same time. Sickle blades of this type are very characteristic of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age industries. Such industries appeared in the Levant in the seventh–fifth millennium BCE.
The debitage (Fig. 6:4) comes from a blade core and is the result of renewing the angle between the striking platform and the detachment plane.
The flint assemblage provides no evidence of a flint industry in the excavation area. However, the diagnostic surface finds attest to human activity at the site in the Middle Palaeolithic, as well as the Chalcolithic periods or the Bronze Age. These finds and the finds identified by Stepansky (2003) and Tepper (2016) corroborate the understanding that human settlement and activity at Meron goes back to these very early periods.