In 2013–2020, eight seasons of excavation took place at Tel Zaf (License Nos. G-43/2013, G-8/2014, G-8/2015, G-46/2016, G-39/2017, G-20/2018, G-45/2019, G-43/2020; map ref. 251766–2630/701380–700; Fig. 1), on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and the Eurasia Department at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, and funded by the Israel Science Foundation, the CARE Foundation and the Rust Foundation. The excavations were directed by D. Rosenberg and F. Klimscha, with the assistance of researchers as well as many students and volunteers from Israel and abroad.
Tel Zaf (c. 20 dunams) was first identified in a survey in the Bet She’an Valley in the 1940s–1950s (Tzori 1958). The site is located at c. 280 m below sea level near Kibbutz Tirat Zvi, between the upper terrace of the Jordan River—the Ghor—and the lower step of the Jordan—the Zor. It extends over three separate hills that were once part of one large, low hill, the eastern part of which now slopes down toward the Jordan River. The first excavation at the site began in the late 1970s; it continued for three seasons and extended over c. 100 sq m (Gophna and Sadeh 1988–1989). Four additional excavation seasons (c. 800 sq m) took place at the site in 2004–2007, revealing parts of four courtyard structures built of mud-bricks (Garfinkel et al. 2007; Garfinkel, Ben-Shlomo and Kuperman 2009). The eight excavation seasons conducted so far as part of the renewed project at the site, which is dated to the middle Chalcolithic period (5,300–4,700 BCE), focused on an examination of both the late and earlier strata (Rosenberg et al. 2014; Rosenberg, Garfinkel and Klimscha 2017; Rosenberg et al. 2020). The excavation combined interdisciplinary research and concentrated on the development of complex societies in the southern Levant and the establishment of the Mediterranean diet, including the economic, social and ecological conditions in which it appeared.
During the excavations, all the sediment from the surface was sieved (using a 2 mm sieve) to obtain as much information as possible about the excavated area. Numerous samples underwent flotation (using a 250–400-micron sieve); so far, some 7 tons of soil have been processed, producing thousands of seeds, plant parts and trees, as well as large quantities of remnants of microfauna, mollusks and tiny archaeological finds, such as obsidian objects and beads and their industrial waste. Many studies focusing on reconstructing the economy of the site and its ancient environs have begun to produce results. These include research on pollen, phytoliths and starches; studies focused on extracting ancient organic and inorganic remains from pottery vessels and grinding and crushing tools; and studies on various isotopes and DNA. The main guiding principle of the excavation is that it be slow paced and delimited, while simultaneously extracting the maximum data using the latest archaeological and scientific tools. On the one hand, the slow pace and the selected methodology result in limited exposure, but on the other hand they afford both extensive control over the finds scattered over the area, and in uncovering complex processes of stratification at the site.
The excavation was carried out in units of 1 × 1 m (usually to a depth of 5 cm). It first focused on reaching the base of architectural remains uncovered by Garfinkel in Area C in his Area C on the central hill (Building CI, Room C70) and on reconstructing a detailed stratigraphy while evaluating the context of the architectural finds. It then deepened below Garfinkel’s excavation to understand the early phases of the settlement, which had been uncovered only in a small part of Gophna’s excavation. In addition, new areas of the tell were explored, both in probes and in a geomagnetic survey undertaken throughout the tell and its immediate environs. An examination of one of the areas probed in 2013 and excavated in 2019 (Area E) revealed that another middle Chalcolithic-period settlement extended on the western parts of the central hill.
Area C. The excavation focused on two main areas: Room C70 (Fig. 2) and its surroundings (Building CI) and Sq AR16. Room C70 is a rectangular room in Building CI—a courtyard structure with two main architectural phases. The walls of the building were built of unfired mud-bricks; the inner and outer walls of Room C70 were coated with plaster (thickness 0.2–2.0 cm; Fig. 3), which was renewed from time to time. The structure had beaten-earth floors. In the current excavation it yielded a rich ceramic assemblage, including sherds bearing ‘Ẓafian decoration’ (Fig. 4), as well as flint, stone and obsidian items, beads and a rich collection of animal bones and plants. Radiocarbon samples date the early phases of Room C70 to the late sixth and early fifth millennia BCE. An intentionally broken limestone chalice was interred under the building’s entranceway, in a small, plastered vestibule, as a foundation offering. The chalice bowl was disconnected from its base by a series of blows, set upside down and then sealed with plaster (Fig. 5). A unique silo-shaped pottery vessel (Fig. 6) was found in the fills above one of the early floors of Room C70. Surrounding the room were remnants of several floors and roasting pits, as well as construction remains predating the room. West of the building were several floor levels featuring a bedding of pebbles and a plaster floor with straw impressions, likely the result of padding the floor with straw. Additionally, there were a few pits and an abundance of organic material. A middle Chalcolithic settlement stratum was revealed in five new squares opened immediately to the west of Building CI. It included wall remains (Fig. 7), fragments of pottery bearing ‘Ẓafian decoration’ and other finds representing the latest phases of the tell. In the topsoil layer (thickness c. 0.2 m) above this stratum were early finds and a few remains from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, among them a small tabun containing several Byzantine sherds.
Square AR16 was excavated down to the base of the tell, at a depth of c. 2.5 m below the ancient surface of the site. The goal was to examine the site’s microstratigraphy to understand the complex processes of stratification, and the changes in the organic and material culture finds. Remains of hundreds of charred olive pits (Fig. 8) were found at the very beginning of the square’s excavation. At least five main strata were uncovered, and numerous intermediate phases were identified. Walls, installations and pits full of organic and other refuse were revealed, as well as remains of hearths (Fig. 9). The earliest strata yielded wall remains and a deep pit (excavated depth c. 1.5 m; Fig. 10), which has not yet been fully excavated. The pit is rich in finds, sterile layers of sand, mud-bricks and ash layers. This may have been a well, similar to the one discovered in Area B of Garfinkel’s excavation, c. 150 m away.
Area E was opened on the western limits of the central hill to determine whether the settlement extended over the entire central hill during the site’s activity period and to characterize the material culture in this part of the site. Two excavation squares (32 sq m) that had been opened in the 2013 season revealed remains of a middle Chalcolithic settlement covered by topsoil (thickness 0.1–0.2 m), similar to the remains in the five squares excavated west of Building CI. The 2019 season yielded several mud-bricks, along with material finds and an assemblage of faunal remains which was smaller than the one from Area C.
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Garfinkel Y., Ben-Shlomo D. and Kuperman T. 2009. Large-Scale Storage of Grain Surplus in the Sixth Millennium BC: The Silos of Tel Tsaf. Antiquity 83:309–325.
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Rosenberg D., Garfinkel Y. and Klimscha F. 2017. Large-Scale Storage and Storage Symbolism in the Ancient Near East: A Clay Silo Model from Tel Tsaf. Antiquity 91:885–900.
Rosenberg D., Klimscha F., Graham P., Hill C., Weissbrod L., Katlav I., Love S., Boaretto E., Pinsky S. and Hubbard E. 2014. Back to Tel Tsaf: A Preliminary Report on the 2013 Season of the Renewed Project. JIPS 44:148–179.
Rosenberg D., Love S., Hubbard E. and Klimscha F. 2020. 7,200 Years Old Constructions and Mudbrick Technology: The Evidence from Tel Tsaf, Jordan Valley, Israel. PLoS ONE 15/1.
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