During October–November 2007, a salvage excavation was conducted in the center of Iksal, near Nazareth (Permit No. A-5272*; map ref. NIG 23075–80/73195–99; OIG 18075–80/23195–99), in the wake of private construction. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and partially financed by the landowners O. and A. Shalabi, was directed by Y. Alexandre, with the assistance of Y. Ya‘aqoby (administration), T. Meltsen and R. Mishayev (surveying), E. Belashov (drafting), R. Vinitsky (metal laboratory) and D.T. Ariel (numismatics).
The Arab village of Iksal was built on the soft chalky rock of the Nazareth hills, where no spring existed and hence, the reliance on water collected in cisterns.
The place name Kisalot Tabor is mentioned in the Old Testament (Joshua 19:12,18) and the name Iksal must derive from the Biblical name, as does the name of the valley, Kisalot, applied to the part south of the village. During the Crusader or Mamluk periods, a castle, which is still visible today, although in a poor state of preservation, was built in Iksal.
Previous excavations in Iksal exposed rock-hewn burial caves that contained sarcophagi and ossuaries, with funerary assemblages of pottery and glass vessels and jewelry from the Roman and Byzantine periods (Permit Nos. A-1832, A-1916, A-2151; HA-ESI 115:27*). In addition, some Byzantine rock-hewn and plastered agricultural installations, including part of a winepress, were found in the close vicinity of the present excavation (ESI 19:17*–18*) and some building remains from the Mamluk period were recently excavated (Permit No. A-5230).
The current excavation was undertaken at the site after the landowner demolished an old stone house and leveled out the area with a backhoe, which scraped much of bedrock. Consequently, the excavation investigated limited building remains in an area of 50 sq m and bedrock was cleaned to the north of the two excavation squares. The archaeological remains consisted of the spaces created by a chalkstone quarry that probably functioned in the Roman period (Stratum II––second–fourth centuries CE) and a secondary squatter occupation in these spaces, dating to the late Mamluk–early Ottoman period (Stratum I––fifteenth–sixteenth centuries CE).
Stratum II, the Roman Period
The earliest activity at the site was the exploitation of bedrock, which naturally sloped down from north to south, for the quarrying and the production of chalk masonry blocks. The regular-shaped negative spaces created by the quarrying indicate that the activity was carried out with a degree of planning and order.
A rock-cut, east–west oriented and scarcely noticeable low step (length over 6 m, height c. 0.3 m) was found in the eastern square. Parallel to and 1 m south of this step were two entirely vertical and deep rock cuttings, an eastern cut (length over 3 m, height over 2 m) that extended beyond the square limits and a western cut (length over 3 m, depth 1.3 m; Figs. 1, 2). The two spaces created by the cuts (L103B, L105B), which were separated by a north–south rock partition, had each a bedrock floor, a northern bedrock wall and another bedrock wall, sloping down. The western space, L103B, incorporated a rock-cut, trough-like cavern (L103) that was secondarily filled with stone blocks, whereas the eastern space, L105B, had no special features. Negative impressions of stones were not visible in either of the two spaces. Several stone blocks that were reused in the second period of occupation (Stratum I) may have been the result of the quarrying. These building blocks had various measurements (0.6 × 0.4 × 0.3; 0.5 × 0.3 × 0.3; 0.40 × 0.30 × 0.25 m) and were fairly well dressed, although weathered.
Bedrock sloping down from north to south, having no deep cuts was exposed in the western square. A row of dressed chalk building blocks (c. 0.50 × 0.30 × 0.25 m) to the north of the square seemed to be still attached to bedrock (W108), providing more unequivocal evidence for a quarry.
The quarrying activity may be loosely dated to the Roman period on the basis of a few worn Roman-period potsherds and the building blocks that are characteristically employed in construction of the Roman period.
A bronze coin (IAA No. 115000) found on bedrock was dated to the Early Islamic period (second half of the seventh century CE) and must be a stray find.
Stratum I, the Late Mamluk–Early Ottoman Periods
The bedrock and the spaces were reused for some squatter occupation. Chalk blocks were laid in a row (W107) to enclose a room, with some plaster patches directly over the bedrock floor (L105). Part of a circular basalt hand-mill was found in the corner of this floor. The trough-like cavern (L103) may have been blocked with stones. A packed-earth floor patch (L104) next to W108 contained some fragmentary remains of a tabun. A flimsy line of worn stones (W110) to the south could hardly be a wall. The potsherds in the accumulated fill of these levels included several hand-painted and green and yellow glazed fragments, dating to the late Mamluk and early Ottoman periods.