At the outset of the excavation, a layer of modern refuse (thickness c. 1.3 m) was removed from the ground surface of the plot with the aid of a backhoe.
The excavation (c. 54 sq m; Fig. 1) exposed two building strata. Stratum I was part of a building with several rooms whose occupation was dated by the finds to the Early Islamic period (seventh–eighth centuries CE). Stratum II consisted of a wall and very small areas of fills, which contained a few Late Hellenistic, Roman and Late Byzantine potsherds and were exposed beneath the Stratum I floors. The strata are presented from early to late.
Stratum II: A single stone wall (W118) was exposed in the southeastern corner of the excavation. It was oriented northeast-southwest, diagonal to the later Stratum I building. Wall 118 (length 3.8 m, width 0.5 m) overlaid a thin layer of earth (L126; thickness 0.1 m) on the bedrock, and was carefully constructed from integrated large, medium and small stones (Fig. 2). It was preserved one–two courses high (0.3 m) and its upper course was secondarily incorporated in the stone slab paving (L106, L107) of the later Stratum I building. A small patch of a plaster floor (L106A), overlying the earth layer (L126), abutted the southeastern face of W118 and was contemporary with it. Six meters away in the northwestern corner of the excavation, a short row of three flat building stones, oriented northwest-southeast and perpendicular to W118, was incorporated in the Stratum I packed-earth floor (L114). These stones may have survived from a second wall of the Stratum II building, but this could not be ascertained as excavations were not carried out beneath the later floor (L114).
Small areas excavated beneath the Stratum I building exposed accumulation or fill layers (L122, L123, L125, L126; thickness 0.25–0.40 m), overlying the bedrock. Layers 122 and 123 underlay the Stratum I floors (L115, L117), Layer 125 underlay other Stratum I floors (L108, L116) and Layer 126 underlay two additional floors (L102, L106A). These layers contained some potsherds, stone implements, glass fragments and coins. Layer 125 contained a couple of Late Hellenistic buff-ware storage jar rims (Fig. 3:1) and a few Roman and Byzantine potsherds. Layer 126 also included two Late Roman Phocean Red Slip bowls of Hayes' Type 10 (Fig. 3:2, 3), dating to the late sixth–early seventh centuries CE and a Byzantine closed globular cooking pot with an everted rim (Fig. 3:4), dating to the fourth–fifth centuries CE. Four small basalt pestles were found in Layer 122 (Fig. 4:1, 2) and a few fragments of glass vessels dating to the Umayyad period (see Y. Gorin-Rosen, below; Fig. 8:1, 5, 6), were found in Layer 123. Seven of the nine Byzantine coins found in Layers 122, 123 and 126, were conclusively identified; four dating to the mid-fourth–fifth centuries CE and three to the late sixth century CE (see R. Kool below).
Stratum I: A single building, consisting of parts of six rooms delimited by stone walls (W103, W109–111, W113, W119, W121; Figs. 1, 5), was uncovered. Wall 121 (length c. 7 m, width 0.6 m), aligned east–west, was built of a course of dressed, although rather worn, large rectangular soft limestone blocks, which were laid over a layer of small fieldstones and fill (thickness c. 0.2 m), overlying the bedrock (Fig. 6). A wide entrance with a large dressed threshold stone (length 1.45 m) was set in the center of W121. Walls 103, 110, 111, 113 and 124, oriented north–south, abutted W121 at right angles and divided the building into six rooms, three to the north of W121 and three to its south. The bedrock was not reached in most of the excavated area; yet, it was exposed in small areas where the base of the cross walls was about 0.1–0.2 m higher than the base of W121, indicating that the cross walls were built technically after the long wall. The cross walls (width 0.5–0.6 m), were built similarly to W121 of a single course of large stones, some of which were rectangular slabs, overlying a layer of small fieldstones and fill. The stone slabs in W111 were laid lengthwise creating a slightly narrower wall than the others (width 0.4–0.5 m). Most of the walls were preserved a single course high, and only occasional stones of the second courses were extant, for example in W103. No entrances or thresholds were found in the cross walls and no room was completely exposed due to the excavation limits. However, it could be ascertained that the width of three of the rooms was 2.2–2.3 m and their length was at least 4 m.
The floors were preserved in most of the rooms. The three southern rooms (L104, L106, L107) were paved with carefully laid and large paving stone slabs (height 0.2–0.3 m; see Fig. 6). The slabs varied in size, some were square (0.5 x 0.5 m) and others—slightly smaller. As noted above, W118 of the earlier Stratum II was incorporated in the stone floors of Rooms 106 and 107, and the earlier plastered Floor 106A on the southeastern side of W118 was also reused without being overlain with paving stones. The floor of the three northern rooms (L114, L115/L117 and L116) was not stone-paved, but consisted of packed earth with some small stones. A row of stones (W109) may have been the remains of a bench in Room 114 (Fig. 7), and another row of stones (W119) may have been the remains of a partition wall that divided between the floors of Rooms 115 and 117.
Another row of stones (L108) may have been a bench or alternatively, the remains of a later superimposed floor, lying 0.25 m above Floor 116. A packed-earth floor (L102) was uncovered in patches at a similar level to L108 in the southern half of the excavation. A clay tabun (L101A) in the fill above Floor 117 (see Fig. 1: Section 1-1) also belonged to the final occupation of the building.
Several basalt artifacts and tools for food-processing were found in the rooms, including the upper grinding stone of a manual rotary mill in the fill above Floor 117, two large three-legged grinding basins, a large basalt ring and three pestles (not illustrated). A small basalt cube may have been a weight (Fig. 4:3).
Two broken marble architectural fragments that were uncovered in the building are significant. One is a segment of a fluted column drum found on the row of stones (L108; Fig. 4:4) and the other is a rectangular carved stone fragment of a latticed chancel screen found in fill overlying Floor 102 (Fig. 4:5). These marble architectural fragments are characteristic of Byzantine churches.
The pottery found in the building included many potsherds of buff-ware vessels, mostly bowls, some glazed with yellow, white and green alkali glazes (Fig. 3:5–8) and a few small jugs, some with applied blob decoration (Fig. 3:9). The large open basins included a gray one of hard-fired ware with combed decoration (Fig. 3:10) and another of a hard red ware with a gray core (Fig. 3:11). The cooking ware included dark red open cooking pans with an internal dark brown glaze and thumb-impressed ledge handles or horizontal handles (Fig. 3:12, 13) and a dark red closed pot with a high neck made of cooking ware (Fig. 3:14). A couple of vessels, a bowl and a jar, had red brush-painted geometric designs (Fig. 3:15, 16). A reddish brown storage jar had a high ribbed neck (Fig. 3:17) and a mold-made lamp had a ladder and circle decoration (Fig. 3:18). These pottery forms are characteristic of the seventh and eighth centuries CE—the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, having comparisons at contemporary sites, including Tiberias (Stacey D. 2004. Excavations at Tiberias, 1973–1974, The Early Islamic Periods [IAA Reports 21]. Jerusalem. Pp. 89–166).
The glass fragments found in the building are characteristic of the Umayyad and Ayyubid periods (see Y. Gorin-Rosen below; Fig. 8).
Coins of the Early Islamic seventh or eighth centuries CE were not found in the building, whilst a single coin, dated to the fourth century CE, was found on the paved Floor 107.
The small excavated area prevented a comprehensive understanding of the building plan in Stratum I. Based on the location of the excavated site in the nucleus of ancient Iksal and the finding of the two marble architectural fragments, it is proposed that a church may have been located in the close vicinity and that the present building remains may have been part of an associated monastery or farmhouse. It is possible that the building was constructed in the Late Byzantine period and continued to function in the Early Islamic period. The late sixth century CE coins and the Late Roman Phocean bowls found in the fill under the building may date to the time of construction of the Stratum I building in the Late Byzantine period. The pottery in the building indicates that it was abandoned by the late eighth century CE and no evidence for a violent destruction of the building was noted.
To summarize, the extremely limited remains of the earlier Stratum II permit the tentative suggestion that the occasional potsherds may reflect a Late Hellenistic occupation here. The settlement may have continued into the Roman period and there is evidence for the settlement in the early Byzantine period (late fourth or fifth centuries CE). This may be the village of Xalot that is referred to by Josephus as the southern border of the Lower Galilee in the first century CE. The subsequent Stratum I building was probably constructed in the sixth century Late Byzantine period and may have been part of a church complex, a monastery or a farmhouse that was occupied in the Early Islamic Umayyad-Early Abbasid periods (seventh–eighth centuries CE). The marble architectural fragments and the presence of some rare glass vesssl forms (see below) support the existence of a church in the vicinity.
Bagatti (2001:215) also saw column bases and shafts in the mosque square in the center of the village that he evaluated as originating from a Byzantine church. He also noted that Parthenius, bishop of a village named Exalus that is identified with Iksal, took part in the Council of Jerusalem in 536 CE. Bagatti considered that the diocese of Exalus/Iksal could not have been established much before this date as it did not appear in earlier official lists, nor could it have remained an Episcopal see for long because the village became Muslim with the Arab occupation.
On the basis of the archaeological data it seems that the excavated building was abandoned within the Abbasid period and that this specific area was not resettled.
The Glass Finds
Sixty-three glass fragments were found in the excavation, of which 36 can be identified and dated (Fig. 8). These vessels mostly date to the end of the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods.
The glass assemblage includes both simple known types of the period alongside others, which are adorned in various techniques and some of them are rare. Glass assemblages from this period are known mostly from cities, such as Tiberias, Bet She’an, Hamat Gader, Caesarea and Ramla, and are far less familiar in rural regions of the Galilee. Hence, the importance of this assemblage that comes from a rural settlement in the Lower Galilee.
The most typical vessels of the Umayyad period are the beaker/bowl type, having a rounded rim, somewhat inverted and a cylindrical or barrel-shaped body (L105; not illustrated). These vessels were adorned with trails in various ways, on the edge of the rim or in horizontal pinching and provided with additions, among them miniature loop handles, as seen on the fragments in Fig. 8:6, 7. Other vessels from the period are wine goblets with a thickened base and lamps of various shapes. One such lamp rim was found (L123; Fig. 8:1); it is inverted and folded out. The remains of a handle are visible on the edge of the rim. Lamps with a folded-out rim and three handles are common to the Byzantine period, although the rim is usually upright or slightly everted. The change in the rim's direction toward the interior characterizes lamps of the Early Islamic period. A bowl that had survived by a small rim fragment (L107; Fig. 8:2) is adorned with a pinched dual tonged decoration that has begun to appear in the Umayyad period and was prevalent during the Abbasid period. Another vessel was adorned with mold blowing in a pattern of two circles around the center of the base, from which a radiating rib pattern comes out. The shape, the technique, the quality of glass and the manner of working the glass point to the assignment of this fragment to the Abbasid period (L108; Fig. 8:3).
The typical bottles of the period have a folded-in rim, a short neck and a spherical or barrel-shaped body. The bottle in Fig. 8:4 (L105) represents one of the variations. It was found together with rims of beaker/bowl-type vessels, dating to the Umayyad period. So does the bottle fragment in Fig. 8:5 (L123), which has a wide wavy trail on the neck or the funnel mouth. More fragments of such bottles were found in other loci (L108, L121) and they are usually dated to the seventh–eighth centuries CE.
One fragment was adorned with a different pinched decoration (L123; Fig. 8:6). It probably belongs to a beaker/bowl type, made of bottle-green glass, which functioned as a lamp. A dominant knob on the body of the vessel resembles a degenerated handle. A very small handle (L116; Fig. 8:7) also belongs to this group. Similar handles were found in the Bet She’an excavations, in contexts dating to the Umayyad and Abbasid-Fatimid periods (Haddad S. Islamic Glass Vessels from the Hebrew University Excavations at Bet Shean [Qedem Reports 8]. Jerusalem. Pls. 21:394–396, 44:934–936). The phenomenon of adding small wide loop handles or knobs to small bowls is known in the Early Islamic period and it is plausible that these vessels served as lamps.
In addition to the vessels, a small bracelet fragment was found (L102; Fig. 8:8). It is made of dark glass whose hue can not be identified and it has a pattern of dense crescents on the outer face and a wide delicate ridge on the inside face. This bracelet was ascribed to a group defined as Type B2d: “Tooled monochrome bracelet with vertical ribbing and with bulging inside section”, which was dated to the Late Roman–Byzantine periods and even later (Spaer M. 1988. The Pre-Islamic Glass Bracelets of Palestine. JGS 30:55–56); such a bracelet was recovered from an Umayyad context in Bet She’an (Haddad 2005: Pl. 23:460).
Eleven coins were found during the excavations, seven of which were conclusively identified. Without exception, all the coins belong to the Byzantine period. These include four small copper coins dating to the fourth–fifth centuries CE (IAA 138939, 138941, 138942, 138945) and three sixth century CE coppers (IAA 138940, 138943), the latest of which is a large follis of Maurice struck at the imperial mint of Antioch in the thirteenth year of his reign (594/5 CE; IAA 138944; Fig. 9).