During May–June 2007, the ninth season of excavation at Horbat ‘Omrit in the northern Galilee was conducted (License No. G-64/2007; map ref. NIG 25222/79153 OIG 21222/29153). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by J.A. Overman (Macalester College) and associate directors D. Schowalter (Carthage College; photography) and M.C. Nelson (Macalester College; drafting). Participating in the excavation were N.S. Goldman (Macalester College; educational director), C. Reagan (registration), G. Mazor (project consultation), D. Sandhouse (ceramic consultation), as well as students from Macalester College, Carthage College, St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota. Thanks are extended to G. Avni for his continued and invaluable assistance, as well as to Israel Tourist Corporation and the regional council of northern Galilee for initiating plans to erect a permanent fence around the site to protect it.
The excavation concentrated in four areas (Fig. 1): three squares (A7–A9) to the west of the podium of the later Roman-period temple (Temple II); the entire Spaces 3 and 5 within the interior of the podium of the earlier Roman temple (Temple I); a single square (J8) in the north section of the staircase of Temple II and six squares (M4–M6, N4–N6) in the temenos area, immediately to the east of the temple.
The tightly-packed, tumbled remains of the rear colonnade of Temple II were found in Sqs A8 and A9, which were opened immediately behind the podium of Temple II, c. 2 m below surface (Fig. 2). These two squares were extended eastward to expose the base molding of Temple II’s podium. The fallen architectural elements, most of them very well preserved, consisted of a frieze block, two almost complete, though broken architraves (finished length c. 3 m), 16 column drums and a complete Corinthian capital, which was carved of two pieces and whose bottom piece still retained the incision lines used by the sculptors to layout the capital’s decorative floral elements. Sq A7, to the south, was devoid of elements, except for the broken edge of the temenos’ basalt pavement.
Space 3 (SP3 in Fig. 1) in the northwest corner of the podium of Temple I was initially uncovered in 2004, but not fully cleared until this season (Fig. 3). The excavation was carried down to the underlying basalt bedrock and the fill within the chamber consisted largely of discarded architectural elements from the Early Shrine (see below) and other associated ancillary structures. The blocks were stacked up within the chamber and most, if not all, of them were well preserved, including pilasters, triglyphs, metopes, cornices and merlons. All the merlon blocks were coated with plaster and painted in solid colors of black, red and ochre. The pottery recovered from Space 3 belonged to Early Roman I and II periods.
Excavations continued in Space 5 (SP5 in Fig. 1), also within the podium of Temple I. In 2006, the stylobate surface of the Early Shrine was discovered. This season, the Shrine’s east and north podium walls, which were well preserved and survived from base to crown molding and stylobate, were exposed (Fig. 4). The base, dado and crown were covered with a thin layer of white plaster, which was then molded into raised relief panels over the dado. An Attic-style column base was found, in situ, on the north side of the stylobate, with a Corinthian capital just to the west of it. The capital had been purposely set upside down on the edge of the stylobate sometime in antiquity and probably during the construction of the later Roman-period temples. Both base and capital were removed from the site and placed in storage for safekeeping. Other blocks found in the fill above and around the Shrine’s podium included white plastered wall blocks, cornices, a white-plastered column drum and a Corinthian pilaster capital. At this time, the Early Shrine appears to have been a prostyle building with freestanding Corinthian columns and Corinthian pilasters built into its cella walls. An ashlar-built platform, not yet fully excavated and a staircase consisting of three ashlar steps, abutted the podium’s east wall. Both were well constructed and the spur walls of the staircase still preserved their white plaster coat.
Square J8 revealed the north end of Temple II’s staircase and its relationship to the basalt pavement of the temenos (Fig. 5). Six limestone steps were found, in situ. A shallow drain or libation channel was cut into the third step along its west edge and ran the full breadth of the staircase. The temenos pavement abutted the lowest step of the staircase. The podium’s north wall was extended eastward to form a spur wall; the foundations of the opposite spur wall were revealed in 2002. Two ashlar blocks of the spur wall’s south face still stood, although the upper one was slightly pushed out of position sometime prior to the excavation. Several column drums from Temple II’s front façade lay tumbled on and above the steps.
Most of the Roman-period altar was exposed in the 2006 season. This season, excavations continued down to bedrock in Sq M6. The altar’s west wall was exposed to its preserved height of three courses (Fig. 6). Bedrock had been partially chiseled to provide a leveled surface for the wall’s lowest course. Similar bedrock leveling had been prepared for the construction of the interior cross-wall of Temple I. Foundations of a small structure (Fig. 1: E) were discovered immediately to the west of the altar. It was founded directly on bedrock and only its lowest course of roughly worked slabs remained, in situ. Structure E was probably a statue base or an ancillary altar of some sort.
The squares (M4, N4) opened immediately south of the altar revealed a basalt pavement c. 1 m below surface. The fill in this area contained rubble, broken basalt pavers and limestone architectural fragments. A small chapel (c. 6.56 × 8.22 m) with an exterior apse at its east end was built next to the earlier altar (Fig. 7). The chapel reused the Roman-period basalt pavement as its floor and the lowest courses of the altar’s south wall as the foundation for its north wall. The chapel walls, surviving one or two courses high, were built of reused limestone blocks and block fragments pilfered from earlier structures. A doorway was centered on the chapel’s west wall opposite the apse and its threshold was preserved, in situ. The door, now missing, was double-leaf and opened inward, as indicated by the bolt sockets in the threshold. Two limestone doorjambs were found fallen immediately to the west of the doorway. Another threshold preserved in the south wall near its west end indicated a second doorway; however, this doorway was blocked up in the chapel’s last phase of use. No other architectural features were found within the chapel, except for a few reused elements from previous buildings.
The 2007 excavation season, which helped clarify our understanding of the architecture of the Early Shrine and the date of Temple II, added another complete Corinthian capital to our catalog of architectural elements and provided more data on the Byzantine occupation of Horbat ‘Omrit.