In February 2013, a salvage excavation was conducted in the village of ‘Illut, in the Lower Galilee (Permit No. A-6678; map ref. 224615/735759), prior to the construction of a kindergarten. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by E. Dalali-Amos (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Tepper and W. Atrash (scientific guidance), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), R. Liron (surveying and drafting), H. Tahan-Rosen (pottery drawing) and laborers from Nazareth.
The excavation (110 sq m) took place near the spring house in the center of the village, where water flows year-long. An old building that stood in the excavation area was removed to make room for the construction of a new building; the foundations of the building and the earthmoving conducted there caused severe damage to the ancient remains at the site. A single structure consisting of two built and plastered pools was revealed by the excavation. No other buildings were discovered near this structure. Based on the ceramic artifacts, it was erected in the Roman period and continued to be used, with changes and additions, until the late Byzantine period. Flint tools were also found scattered in the excavation area; they included a bipolar sickle blade characteristic of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, an extremely worn Levallois core that was probably ex situ, flint items and debitage. In previous surveys and excavations conducted in the village, architectural remains and pottery sherds dating to the Middle Bronze Age II, the Iron Age, the Hellenistic period and the Roman through the Ottoman periods were found.
Three building phases were discerned in the structure. In the early phase, the structure was comprised of two plastered pools (A and B; Fig. 1) separated by a partition wall. In the intermediate phase, changes were made; the partition wall was widened and another wall that served as a walkway along the edge of Pool B was built to its east. Eight antilia jars and a terra cotta pipe were incorporated in secondary use in the northwestern wall of Pool B. These were placed on their sides and their openings faced the pool (Figs. 2, 3), forming small cavities. The incorporation of the antilia jars and the pipe in the wall of the pool indicate that the structure was used for breeding fish (piscina) during this phase.
In the late phase, the openings of the antilia jars and the pipe in Pool B were sealed with a layer of plaster, and a new plaster floor was installed in the pool. Although fish were no longer raised in Pool B during this phase, the pool continued to be used. Pool A was divided into two small pools by the construction of a partition wall in the middle (Fig. 4). A channel (L19) built of medium-sized fieldstones was constructed in the pools; it led to a circular installation (L7) made of building stones in secondary use, located southeast of the partition walls between Pool A and Pool B. Burnt remains were found on the walls of the channel and in the installation.
Fragments of pottery vessels dating from the Roman to the end of the Byzantine periods were discovered in the soil accumulations above the intermediate and late phases of the structure and in disturbed loci on the surface. The eight antilia jars and terra cotta pipe integrated in secondary use in the wall of the pool in its intermediate phase date to the end of the Roman and the Byzantine periods. It seems that the antilia jars, which were originally used for drawing water from a well, were readily available nearby. They were suitable for use as cavities in the wall of the pool because their opening was narrow while their body was long and they formed deep cavities in the walls.
Raising fish in ponds was very common in the Roman world; the phenomenon first appeared in the last days of the Republic and during the early Roman Empire. Fish-breeding ponds were discovered in Italy and elsewhere throughout the Roman world. In Israel, they were found alongside aqueducts or near abundant sources of water, for example, near the aqueduct north of Caesarea’s city wall, next to the aqueduct in Nahal Tanninim, next to the Berenice aqueduct south of Tiberias, at ‘En Bikkura in Sataf and at Khirbat Sabiya in Samaria. Jars and amphorae were incorporated in the walls of these pools, except for the pool south of Tiberias, where small niches were built in the walls. The vessels integrated in the pool walls and the built niches were spaces that the fish could use for hiding and to protect themselves from the sun.
The fish breeding pond discovered in the excavation is located near a perennial water source, indicating that the local residents possessed a high degree of technical skill, which allowed them to engage in this branch of agriculture. Judging by the dimensions of the antilia vessels and the terra cotta pipe, it seems that their volume was suitable for raising St. Peter’s fish, which probably constituted part of the residents’ diet.