The excavation took place on a topographical saddle, on the margins of Horbat Migdal Afeq, c. 100 m north of the Ottoman-period estate house at the top of the hill. The house was apparently built during the seventeenth century CE by the Rayyān family over remains of a fortress from the Crusader period, identified as the Mirabel fortress; the village of Majdal Yaba surrounded the estate house. Tombs from the Second Temple period, as well as numerous tombs from the Ottoman period and the British Mandate associated with the village of Majdal Yaba, were documented on the hill north of the estate house (Kochavi and Beit Arieh 2013; Shadman 2014). Surveys and excavations at the site have suggested that it was continuously settled from the Iron Age II to the Early Roman period, and again from the Byzantine period to the end of the British Mandate (Tsuk, Bordowicz and Taxel 2016). A past excavation on the fringes of the site revealed remains from the Second Temple period typical of a Jewish population (Tendler 2014).
Two excavation areas were opened, c. 15 m apart, with two squares in each (in the eastern/northern area—Sqs 1, 2; in the western/southern area—Sqs 3, 4). Two settlement strata (II, I) were unearthed, including remains of walls and floors; in each stratum two phases were discerned—late (2) and early (1). Stratum II was dated to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods (fifteenth–eighteenth centuries CE), and Stratum I was dated to the Ottoman period (eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE). Pottery, animal bones and coins were found from the Ottoman and Crusader periods. An Ottoman-period Arabic inscription was also discovered.
Stratum II (Figs. 2, 3)
Phase 2. A plaster floor (L130; Fig. 2: Section 2–2) was unearthed in the southern part of Sq 2. It consisted of a layer of gray plaster (thickness c. 5 cm) set on a bedding of flat, roughly dressed stones. In an accumulation above the floor were sherds dating from the Crusader, Mamluk and early Ottoman periods. These included a fragment of a yellow-glazed Aegean Ware bowl from the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE (Fig. 4:1), and a decorated pumice-stone vessel of unknown use (Fig. 5).
Sqs 3 and 4 yielded an accumulation of black soil with concentrations of stones of various sizes, numerous sherds and animal bones (L118, L121; Fig. 3: Section 3–3). The sherds were dated to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, and included a glazed bowl (Fig. 4:2); a handmade bowl painted with a geometric pattern (Fig. 4:3); glazed slip-painted bowls (Fig. 4:4); a glazed bowl with an incised decoration (Fig. 4:5), possibly imported from Italy and dated to the fifteenth or sixteenth century CE; a frit ware vessel (Soft Paste Ware) imported from Syria (Fig. 4:6); a jar (Fig. 6:1); and an seventeenth century CE coffee cup imported from Kütahya in Turkey (Fig. 6:2).
The animal bones were identified as cattle and deer (Turgeman-Yaffe, below).
Phase 1. A plaster floor was uncovered in Sq 2 (L119; thickness c. 2 cm; Fig. 7). It consisted of a thin layer of yellowish plaster over a layer of soil. The floor abutted a wall (W112); part of its southwestern face had been robbed. Another section of a plaster floor (L113) was found east of W112; in the accumulation below it was a lamp that dates from the fifteenth century CE (Fig. 6:3). The northwestern end of W112 forms a corner with a robber’s trench (L127) of a wall that canceled out Floor 140 from Phase 2 (Fig. 8). Two clay tobacco pipes were found in the accumulation that covered Floor 130 and in the Robber’s Trench 127. One of the pipes (Fig. 6:4) was dated to the sixteenth century CE. The upper part of its shank is decorated with a rouletted herringbone design. The end of the shank is bi-conical and decorated with rouletted vertical lines. The other pipe (Fig. 6:5) was dated to the second half of the eighteenth century CE. It has a short stem decorated on the right-hand side with a semicircular stamp impression with small protrusions. The end of the shank has a reinforcing ring, triangular in profile. The pipe’s bowl is decorated with rouletted lines that form a netting pattern; two of the lines decorate the base of the bowl as they create a V-shaped pattern that represents the keel.
Phase 2. Two wall segments (W120, W125), forming a corner, were unearthed in Sq 1. Wall 120 was built along northwest–southeast axis and comprised two rows of large, roughly dressed stones with a core of small fieldstones; it was preserved to a height of two courses. On both sides of W120 was an accumulation of black soil containing collapsed stones of various sizes. Only a short section of W125 was uncovered; it too was built of two rows of roughly dressed stones. In the corner created by the two walls was a fill of soil containing pottery sherds. These included a glazed bowl (Fig. 9:1) from the ninth–tenth centuries CE and a tobacco pipe (Fig. 9:5) dated to the second half of the eighteenth century CE. The pipe has a short shank bearing a stamped decoration with protrusions. The end of the shank is reinforced with a ring, triangular in profile. The bowl is decorated with vertical rouletted lines emerging from the base and running upward, and has a rim decorated with a horizontal incised line.
Phase 1. Two walls (W103, W115), dry-built of roughly dressed stones, and two floors, one of compact earth (L132) and the other of crushed kurkar (L111), were uncovered in the upper part of Sqs 2–4. While preparing the area prior to the excavation, a built cesspit was discerned in Sq 1 (L101; 1.5 × 4.3 m, depth c. 3 m; Fig. 2: Section 1–1). The fill in the pit—soil, stones and modern construction waste—was excavated with a backhoe due to safety concerns. The four walls of the pit were apparently founded on bedrock. The pit seems to have been built in two phases, because the southern part of its eastern and western walls (W133, W135) were built of medium-sized fieldstones bonded with soil, while their northern part was built of dressed stones. Quadrangular openings (0.3 × 0.4 m) were identified in the upper courses of Walls 133 and 135; the upper part of W133 still retains the remains of an arch. The northern and southern walls (W134, W136) were built of dressed stones without bonding material. Similar cesspits have been documented in Jaffa (Jakoel and Marcus 2017). The fill of the pit yielded sherds and a limestone block with an incised Arabic inscription (0.17 × 0.25 × 0.28 m; Amitei-Preiss, below).
The pottery from this phase include cooking pots (Fig. 9:2) bearing a punctured decoration, as well as jars (Fig. 9:3) made of light gray clay and jugs with a spout (Fig. 9:4), both of the Gaza Ware family. Accordingly, Phase 1 was dated to the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE.
A silver billon dinier (Kool 2013:166–167) of the Crusader King Amaury I (1163–1173 CE) or one of his successors (up to 1187 CE) was found above W115. A silver coin dated to the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II (AH 1223–1255/1808–1839 CE) was found in an accumulation excavated in Sq 2 (L104). Unfortunately, both coins were lost, and so did not receive IAA numbers. Their identification is based on photographs taken prior to their cleaning.
Thirty-two animal bones were discovered in the excavation (see Appendix: Table 1). They were attributed to two periods: Mamluk–Ottoman (fifteenth–eighteenth centuries CE) and Ottoman (eighteenth–nineteenth century CE). The bones were identified according to the morphology of their epiphyses and with the aid the comparative collection at the archaeozoological laboratory at the University of Haifa; they were documented according to Davis’s (1992) protocol. The bones were identified to the species level when possible, and otherwise they were identified to the level of size (medium-sized mammal). The presumed ages were determined according to the extent of long-bone fusion (Reitz and Wing 2009) or tooth wear (Grant 1982).
The most common species in the assemblage from the Mamluk–Ottoman periods was cattle (Bos Taurus), and the second most common were gazelle (Gazella), dog (Canis sp.) and a medium-size mammal. No bones of sheep/goats (Capra hircus/Ovis aries) were identified in this assamblage; however, the bone attributed to a medium-size mammal may have belonged to one of these species. The most common species from the Ottoman period is sheep/goat, followed by cattle and gazelle. Three bones were not identified to species level but rather as a medium-size mammal, that is, the size of a goat/sheep.
The assemblage exhibits differences in representation of meat-rich skeletal parts, as opposed to those poor in meat, of all species except dog (Fig. 10). The skeletal parts dated to the Ottoman period were meat rich compared to those from the Mamluk–Ottoman periods. This may indicate a difference in the exploitation of animals.
Of the 32 identified bones, 15 revealed signs attesting to age at death (see Appendix: Table 2): three from the Stratum II dated to the Mamluk–Ottoman periods, and 12 from Stratum I, dated to the Ottoman period. Most of the remains are from adult animals.
The examination of the assemblage revealed that in Stratum II, the most common species was cattle, and meat-poor bones predominated, whereas in Stratum I the most common species was sheep/goat and there were more meat-rich parts. The abondance of meat-rich parts may indicate that the animals were slaughtered elsewhere, and the meat-rich parts were selected and brought to the site, while the large number of meat-poor parts suggests that the animals were slaughtered at the site. In both phases, a preference for the exploitation of adult individuals is evident. This may indicate a husbandry regime based on secondary products, such as wool (sheep), milk (goats) and labor (cattle). Both periods reveal evidence of hunting of wild animals alongside animal husbandry.
A limestone slab (0.17 × 0.25 × 0.38 m; Fig. 11) bearing an Arabic inscription (letter size 3 × 4 cm) was discovered in the built cesspit (L101) from the Ottoman period found in Sq 1 prior the excavation. The inscription consists of six lines; three of the lines extend the full width of the slab, while each of the two last lines consists of a single word at the beginning of the line. These two words are not deeply incised, and it seems that their engraving was not completed. The reason for the line partition is unclear; the inscriber may have not been proficient in planning stone-engraved inscriptions. However, while numerous inscriptions lack diacritic marks, this one is correctly accompanied by such marks both above and below the letters.
The inscription consists of two stanzas of a poem (qaṣīdah) of the Abbasid poet and philosopher Abū al-ʿAlāʾ Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sulaymān al-Tanūkhī al-Maʿarrī
(أبو العلاء أحمد بن عبد الله بن سليمان التنوخي المعري), who was born in the city of Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘man in northwestern Syria (973–1054 CE; Smoor 2012). The quoted qaṣīdah is T`abu Kulihā al-Khayāt (تعب كلها الحياة; “All of [this] life is a burden”; my thanks go to Annan ‘Azab for his advice in identifying this source).
The original qaṣīdah comprises 126 lines, constituting 63 stanzas of two lines each. According to the typical rhyme scheme of a qaṣīdah, the second line in each stanza always ends with the same phoneme (Sumi 2004:1). The word at the end of each stanza in this qaṣīdah ends with the letters alif and dal (‘a’ and ‘d’), creating the phoneme ad.
وشبيه صوت النعيؔ إذا قيس بصوت
البشير في كل ناد
صاح هذه قبورنا تملٵ الرحب
فاين القبور من [عهد عاد]
wa-shabīhun ṣawtu n-na`i idhā qīsa fī- ṣawti
l-Bashīri fī kul nād
ṣāḥi hadhihī qubūrunā tamla'u al-ruḥba
fa-ayna l-qubūr min [‘ahdi ‘aād]
If the tiding of death be measured, it would be equal to the tidings in the whole world [nad]
Look, these are our graves that fill the earth, so where are the graves from the days of ‘Aād.
The inscription includes the second stanza and the first part of the fourth stanza. The lines in the inscription do not follow the line division in the qaṣīdah; the last two words in the first line belong to the second line of the stanza.
It seems that the choice of two, nonsequential stanzas was intentional, as both discuss death and graves, although the poem they belong to is a discourse about life. The direct mention of death and graves, the theme of death is reinforced by the mention of the name ‘Aād, which appears in the last line. This is a reference to the tribe of ‘Aād which is mentioned in the Quran as one of the peoples, like the Thamud and the Madyan, to whom messengers (prophets) were sent before Mohammed, but they did not heed them and were therefore lost, and their burial place is unknown. This story appears for example in “the declaration” (Sura 9, verse 70): “Have they not heard the stories of those before them? The people of Noah, and ‘Aād, and Thamood; and the people of Abraham, and the inhabitants of Median, and the Overturned Cities? Their messengers came to them with the clear proofs. God never wronged them, but they used to wrong their own selves.” Hence, the last line of the fourth stanza of the qaṣīdah asks where are the ancient graves from the “days of ‘Aād.”
It thus seems that the stone slab is a tombstone from the nearby Ottoman-period cemetery. As the inscription does not include the name of the deceased individual or individuals, it is possible that the names appeared in another part of the stone that did not survive. The slab is broken on the right side, perhaps where it was incorporated into the grave or into a tomb structure or a central structure in the cemetery. This may have been the tomb of al-Sadiq, the patriarch of the Rayyān family and one of the headmen of the village of Majdal Yᾱbᾱ in the nineteenth century CE (Khalidi 1992:39; Taxel 2017:49–50).
It is unclear whether it was customary to use various stanzas of the poem “All [this] life is a burden” or only the stanzas appearing in this inscription, as this is the only tombstone bearing a quote from this qaṣīdah.
The limited excavation uncovered two settlement strata, dated to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods (II; the fifteenth–eighteenth centuries CE) and to the Ottoman period (I; the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE). Each stratum comprised two phases of construction, but they exhibited continuity and minor changes.
According to the historical sources, the settlement was declining in the late sixteenth century CE, and had only 44 inhabitants. It than flourished again in the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries CE, following the arrival of the Rayyān family, who built an estate near the fortress; its remains can be seen to this day.
The archaeoozoological finds retrieved during the excavation point to changes in consumption patterns or socioeconomic status of the inhabitants between the first period and the second. However, it seems that the small sample size precludes unequivocal conclusions.
The cesspit discovered in Sq 1 is typical of homes of the wealthy in rural settlements that developed around administrative structures or estate houses that served as administrative centers (Tsuk, Bordowicz and Taxel 2016:80). The inhabitants of the house apparently belonged to one of the important families in the village at that time. The inscription in Arabic found in the fills removed from the cesspit shows the high educational level of the inhabitants and their acquaintance with the works of an Abbasid-era poet.
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