During November 2008, a trial excavation was conducted along the northeastern fringes of Tel Esur (Tell Asawir; Permit No. A-5545; map ref. 202314–441/709647–867), following the discovery of ancient remains during the installation of a drainage pipeline. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Menashe Regional Council, was directed by A. a-Salam Sa‘id, with the assistance of S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), A. Hajian (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), E. Yannai and P. Gendelman (pottery reading), M. Shuiskaya (pottery drawing) and Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass).
Tel Esur is located c. 1 km northeast of Qibbuz Barkai and west of the ‘Iron Junction (HA 65-66:14–15 [Hebrew]; ESI 16:75–77; 18:48–49; HA-ESI 113:36*–38*). Three adjacent squares were opened along the eastern fringes of the tell, in the area slated for the installation of the pipe. The foundations of a large orthogonal building, generally oriented northwest-southeast, were exposed (Fig. 1). It was constructed on top of alluvium that had apparently eroded from the tell. The structure is dated to the Byzantine period and finds ascribed to four periods: Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age II, Roman and Byzantine, were discovered inside and beneath it. The remains from the two most ancient periods should be attributed to activity that occurred on the tell. It should also be noted that natural soil was not exposed in any of the squares.
A wide wall (W110), oriented southeast-northwest, was exposed in Square 1. It was built of dressed limestone and founded on top of an alluvial accumulation. Its southwestern side was exposed to the level of its foundation (Fig. 2). Remains of a threshold (width c. 1 m; Fig. 3) were uncovered at the southeastern end of the wall. Fragments of pottery vessels from the end of the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), including a cooking krater and a baggy-shaped jar (Fig. 4:1, 3) were discovered in the fill near the bottom of the wall (L117). The accumulation northeast of the threshold (L120) contained a fragment of a cooking krater, dating to the sixth–seventh centuries CE (Fig. 4:2). A layer of pink-colored intentional fill (L104) that extended until the bottom level of W110’s foundation was exposed southwest of the wall. The fill contained a multitude of potsherds from the Byzantine period, particularly baggy-shaped jars and Gaza jars (Fig. 4: 4, 5), as well as a few jar sherds from the Early Roman period (Fig. 5:5, 6) and fragments of glass vessels from the Late Roman period. It seems that this fill was part of a refuse pit.
A wall (W111; Fig. 6) that seemed to form a corner with the northern end of W110 was discovered in Square 2. Wall 111 was built of different size dressed limestone, including small fieldstones bonded with mud. Another wall (W112) that adjoined the southeastern end of W111 was discovered in the northern part of the square; the northwestern end of W112 abutted a wall (W114) that was discovered in Squares 2 and 3. Walls 111 and 114 survived three courses high and could have been meant to delimit interior spaces. The artifacts recovered from the soil accumulation adjacent to the bottoms of the walls (L103) included body fragments of baggy-shaped jars and fragments of roof tiles from the Late Byzantine period (Fig. 4:8). The finds from the fill beneath the foundation level (L106) included holemouth fragments dating to Early Bronze Age IIB (Fig. 5:3) and it seems that they have originated in the erosion from nearby Tel Esur.
A wall (W113) was discovered in Square 3. It formed a corner with W114 (Fig. 7) and with another wall that was discovered at the northern end of the excavation (W115). The foundations of Walls 113 and 115 were built of fieldstones and roughly worked stones, including small fieldstones bonded with mud. These walls, like the walls in the southern part of the excavation, were built without foundation trenches on top of eroded soil that was swept from the nearby tell. The finds from the accumulation close to the walls (L105) included fragments of baggy-shaped jars (Fig. 4:6, 7) from the Late Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE). The finds from the fill or accumulations next to Walls 113 and 114 and below their bottom level (L118) included fragments of a cooking pot (Fig. 5:2) and a jar (Fig. 5:4) from Middle Bronze Age IIA. The finds from the accumulations northeast of W113, below its base level, are from the Bronze Age; they included a metallic platter fragment imported from Lebanon that is dated to Early Bronze Age II (Fig. 5:1).
The remains discovered in the excavation were part of a large building whose walls were orthogonal; it is difficult to assess its nature as no finds were discovered above the floor level. Despite the absence of sealed loci, the building can be dated to the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), based on the pottery vessels and fragments of glass vessels found next to the wall foundations. It should be noted that east of and next to the excavation area, potsherds, roof tiles, tesserae and a few glass vessels were discovered on the surface, dating to the Byzantine period and corroborating the ascription of the building to the same period.
The finds from the excavation join other finds from the Byzantine period that were discovered at Tel Esur and attest to the presence of a permanent settlement at the site. The size of the building and its precise plan suggest a high standard of living; its location shows that the settlement in the Byzantine period extended east of the tell and northeast of the spring to the south of the tell.