During November 2002 and January 2003 a trial excavation was conducted in the western hall of the Saraya basement at Shefar‘am, in the wake of conservation and development work on behalf of the Shefar‘am municipality (Permit Nos. A-3777*, A-3826*; map ref. NIG 21000/75400; OIG 16000/25400). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by D. Syon, with the assistance of A. Hillman, as well as Y. Dangor (administration), D. Avshalom-Gorni (Byzantine pottery), E.J. Stern (pottery from the Middle Ages), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), H. Tahan (pottery drawing), the Regem Company Ltd. (general surveying) and V. Pirsky (drafting).
The Ottoman Period (Fig. 1)
Area A. The entrance passage into the hall was blocked with refuse, soil and stones to a height of c. 1.5 m above its foundations. On the inside of the entrance passage were several flagstones that probably belonged to the entrance’s original pavement (L101). At the inner end of the entrance passage was a meager wall (W115), probably a later addition to the original entrance. The stump of a retaining wall (W114) and another wall stump above it (W108) were also found. The retaining walls indicate that during the Ottoman period, and perhaps even later, a substantial difference in the elevations of the eastern and western sides of the hall occurred. Some 30 cm north of the flagstones in the entrance a section of a well-built wall (W105) was exposed. The wall was originally built in the Byzantine period (below; Fig. 2) and its top was probably used as a step during the Ottoman period and later. The foundation of the hall’s eastern wall, set on bedrock (L111), was discerned. The foundation trench, clearly visible in the section, was dug into the accumulation, 1.2 m above bedrock surface, which was the difference in elevations between the entrance and the interior of the hall at the time of its construction.
Area B. Fragmentary remains of a stone pavement were visible on surface, overlying the top of a very thick lime and/or plaster layer that abutted W112. This was probably part of the habitation level from the Ottoman period, although it is 0.7–1.2 m higher than the elevation of the entrance. Wall 112 consisted of a single course of very large ashlar stones and was c. 0.5 m distant from W123. The area between the two walls (L119) was leveled with small stones and may have been used as a manger. Wall 113 also comprised a single course of very large stones, but its purpose is unclear. An accumulation (0.8 m thick; Loci 116, 118, 120, 121, 122, 124) and/or soil fill mixed with a few small stones was spread on bedrock throughout Area B. The section of the accumulation contained fragments of pottery vessels dating to the following periods: A cooking pot from the Persian period (Fig. 4:1); a seal handle from the Hellenistic period (below; Fig. 5); jars (Fig. 4:9–11) from the Byzantine period; bowl (Fig. 4:13), cups (Fig. 4:14, 15) and a jar (Fig. 4:16) from the Early Islamic period, and a pipe (Fig. 4:17) from the Ottoman period. The handle of a Hellenistic Rhodian amphora was discovered, bearing a seal dating to Period IIIa, c. 191 BCE (Fig. 5).
The Byzantine Period (Fig. 2)
Areas A, B. A wall (W105) built of soft limestone ashlars on the bedrock was exposed; it traversed the hall diagonally, as far as W123, which severed it. Wall 105 was preserved a single course high and had a smooth side facing the northeast. On either side of the wall (Loci 101, 107), above bedrock, was a large deposit of baggy jar sherds, in situ, dating to the Byzantine period (seventh century CE). The uniform level of the top of the wall indicates that in the Byzantine period there was no difference in the elevations between the eastern and western parts of the space, which today is delimited by the hall. Another wall section (W128), built of soft limestone ashlars and survived by three stones, was discovered north of W105. It seems that its continuation was perpendicular to W105. A limestone fragment of a church’s chancel screen, bearing traces of red paint (Fig. 6), and a Byzantine gold solidus coin (IAA 102865; Figs. 7, 8) were recovered from the soil that accumulated above the Byzantine walls.
Area C. The top of a wall built of large nari blocks (W110) on surface, c. 15 m north of Area A, had traversed the hall diagonally and parallel to W105 in Area A. The southeastern end of the wall was exposed to a depth of two courses (L109). The ceramic finds recovered from the top of the wall down to the bottom of the excavation were from the Byzantine period.
Area D. Two circular rock-hewn storage installations were excavated. The eastern one (L100; c. 0.8 m deep) was entirely coated with a thick layer of hydraulic plaster embedded with potsherds. Fragments of pottery vessels from the Byzantine period were collected from the installation, including bowls (Fig. 4:2–4), cooking pots (Fig. 4:5, 7, 8), a lid (Fig. 4:6), and an intact oil lamp (Fig. 4:12). The western pit (L104; 1.12 m deep) was entirely plastered and had a settling pit in its floor. A natural depression (L103) in bedrock was slightly north of the two pits; the bedrock was leveled and the depression was delimited by a wall built of two nari ashlar stones, secured to bedrock by bonding material (W116). North of the depression was another wall (W117) built of a single course of masonry stones, without bonding material. It was constructed inside a bedrock cavity and was probably intended to level the area. Some 3.5 m northeast of Installation 100 was a square hewn pit, located mostly below the hall’s eastern wall. The installations were probably used in some industrial process.
Wall 123. This wall was exposed for a length of c. 30 m, adjoining the inside of the hall’s western wall, which was actually built on top of W123. This wall, oriented north–south, was founded on bedrock and had a narrow foundation built of small stones joined together with bonding material. One side of the wall consisted of large ashlar stones and behind it––a fill of fieldstones and bonding material. The plaster remains indicate that the wall was meticulously plastered. Wall 123 severed W105 of the Byzantine period, while the southern wall of the hall was built over it (L129). It can therefore be determined that W123 was built after the Byzantine period and prior to the Ottoman building. It may have been part of the Templar fortress, which according to historical sources, stood in Shefar‘am in the twelfth century CE.