Tel Zeror is located about 5 km east of Hadera, south of the confluence of the three tributaries of Nahal Hadera: Nahal ‘Iron, Nahal Yizhaq and Nahal Haviva (Fig. 1). Its location, near a convenient river crossing over Nahal Hadera and along the western section of the Via Maris and the Wadi ‘Ara road leading to the northern valley settlements, afforded it strategic importance. The tell has two peaks, a northern and a southern, with a saddle between them (Kochavi 1993:1524). In 1964–1966 and in 1974, four excavation seasons were conducted on the tell on behalf of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (Kochavi 1993; Ohata 1966–1970; Fig. 2: Areas A–E). The site was first occupied during the Middle Bronze Age IIA by a fortified settlement (c. 50 dunams) that continued to be occupied until the eighteenth century BCE. In the fifteenth–fourteenth centuries BCE, there was an unfortified settlement at the site. Meager settlement remains from Iron Age IA were identified on the southern peak and an Iron Age IB fortress built on the northern peak was abandoned following its destruction. In Iron Age IIA, a settlement was established on the northern peak that eventually extended as far as the southern peak. Pits dug into Iron Age strata are attributed to the Persian period. In the Hellenistic period (third–second centuries BCE), a farmstead was built on the northern peak and a watchtower was established there in the Roman period. During the Byzantine period, there was a decrease in activity at the site and the settlement apparently shifted southward to a nearby site (Kochavi 1968:130). A village established on the southern peak in the Mamluk period continued to be occupied in the Ottoman period; the area of the northern peak was used as a burial ground during these periods. About 150 m west of the tell, a cemetery with tombs from the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Hellenistic and Roman periods was found. During 1915–1917, the Lod–Hadera railway line was laid by the Ottoman army adjacent to the western edge of the tell.
The current excavation opened 30 squares in two areas (F, G; Figs. 2, 3): Area F lies at the foot of the southern peak of the tell and Area G is roughly 200 m away from it.
Area F
The area (length c. 130 m, width 5–10 m) is located between the fringes of the tell’s southern peak and the valley of Nahal El‘azar. Prior to the excavation, a layer of modern agricultural topsoil (thickness 0.5–0.8 m) was removed from the surface. The area was divided into two sub-areas: northwest and southeast.
The Northwestern Area (length c. 45 m). The area comprised stratified fills and accumulations on the slope, due to activities on the fringes of the tell and sliding of building materials—mainly mud bricks—down the slope from the tell’s southern peak. Most of the fills and accumulations were stratified corresponding to the tell’s topography; some were stratified on in the opposite direction, suggesting the presence of a moat that had been filled in once it fell into disuse, as that excavated by the Japanese expedition (Area D). The fills and accumulations yielded pottery, most of which dates from the Iron Age IIB and some from the Late Bronze Age. More faunal remains were collected here than in the other excavation areas.
An east–west trench was excavated in the center of the area, along the southern side of two excavation squares (Fig. 4). Four main layers of fill (A–D) characteristic of most of the excavation area were identified in the trench. They are presented here from the bottom of the trench to the surface layer.
(A) Alternating fills and deposits of gray clayey soil and sand, sloping from east to west (thickness 1.2 m). A west–east sloping surface identified at the western end of the trench showed signs of burning. The surface yielded a large quantity of animal bones, including the skulls of horses or donkeys without the remainder of the skeletons. The burnt surface also yielded a few potsherds, including fragments of a storage jar on top of an animal’s jawbone.
(B) Gray clayey soil mixed with sand (thickness 1 m).
(C) Compacted dark brown clayey soil (thickness 1.2 m).
(D) A layer of hamra added to enrich the soil for agricultural purposes (thickness 0.3 m).
The Southeastern Area (length c. 70 m). Several excavation squares contained a lower layer of accumulated hamra soil that yielded a few Iron Age IIB potsherds. The southern end of the area contained sparse architectural remains of buildings dating from the Hellenistic period. They included two sections of wall foundations of a room (W125, W141; length c. 5 m and c. 2 m respectively; Fig. 5), built on a fill of gray-brown soil. The foundations were constructed of two rows of limestone blocks, with a core of soil containing fragments of mud bricks, potsherds and a few pieces of basalt grinding stones; the brick fragments indicate that the upper courses were constructed with mud bricks, which were not preserved. A patch of stone paving (c. 1.0 × 1.8 m) laid on a bedding of tamped gray clayey soil yielded potsherds and fragments of Olynthus millstones and basalt grinding stones incorporated in secondary use. The room contained a well-preserved tabun (diam. c. 0.65 m, preserved height 0.10–0.12 m) made of pink clay, beside which were a few fragments of cooking pots. An iron sword (Fig. 6) was found near the northern face of W125. Short sections of the foundations of additional walls were uncovered to the southeast of the room.
After the buildings were abandoned, they were covered with thick soil fills that contained a variety of local and imported vessels, most of which date from the second century BCE. The repertoire includes storage jars, jugs, juglets, flasks, bottles, cooking pots, bowls—some mold-made (e.g., Fig. 7)—and oil lamps. Metal objects were also found, including tools, weapons and more. The buildings apparently fell into disuse and were covered with during the Hellenistic period. The thick fills from the Hellenistic period were overlain by a layer of the same soil used to enrich the soil in the northwestern area.
Area G (Fig. 8)
A northwest–southeast channel (length 2.8 m, depth 0.3 m) encountered in the southeastern part of the area was dug into the hard clayey soil. The sides of the channel were coated with a thin layer of hamra-based mud plaster. The channel may have been part of an installation, which had either not been preserved or which lay beyond the limits of the excavation. Approximately 10 m southeast of the channel was an irregularly shaped wide, shallow pit that contained limestone and kurkar debris, some of it showing signs of burning. The pit yielded fragments of pottery, mostly jars. The whole of Area G yielded mixed pottery dating from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
A cist grave from the Late Roman period (Fig. 9) lay c. 50 m southeast of the pit. The grave was dug in the clayey soil on a north–south alignment, lined and covered with stone slabs. The grave contained the poorly preserved remains of two individuals placed one on top of the other. The lower individual, whose head faced northward, had been badly disturbed by the upper burial, showing that the two individuals were buried at different times. The upper individual was buried with his head facing southward; three glass bottles were found beside the skeleton. Iron nails recovered from the grave may belong to a coffin that was not preserved. Traces of plaster on some of the grave’s covering slabs suggest that they were incorporated here in secondary use.
The Iron Age finds discovered in Area F appear to be mainly related to post-depositional processes that occurred on the fringes of the tell’s southern peak. Some of the fills and accumulations found in this area may also be related to a massive fill inside the Middle Bronze Age moat, which was found in the previous excavations in the area to the northwest of the current excavation. The excavation finds show that the settlement from the Hellenistic period extended across the tell’s southern slope. The thick fill that covered the architectural remains in Area F indicates that the structures were used for a relatively short time. The grave excavated in Area G suggests that this area was used for burial in the Roman period. The channel and the pit found in the same area can possibly be attributed to some local industry in the Roman and/or Byzantine periods.