During June 2004, a second season of excavations was conducted in the Late Roman fort at Yotvata (License No. G-15/04; map ref. NIG 2043/4217; OIG 1543/9217). The excavation, on behalf of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Florida International University, was directed by U. Avner, G. Davies and J. Magness. The staff included T. Levine (registration and pottery restoration), N. Bierling (photography), J. S. Bucko (surveying and drafting), B. McCane (field supervision), and E. Stegmaier (artist). The excavation was funded by the Elot Regional Council, the Toronto Jewish Community, and the Foundation for Biblical Archaeology (North Carolina).
The fort is a standard quadriburgium, with four projecting corner towers oriented toward the cardinal points (Fig. 1). However, for the sake of clarity, we refer to the south corner tower as the southeast corner tower, the southeast wall of the fort as the east wall, the southwest wall as the south wall, and so on. All site plans show true orientation to the cardinal points. In 2003, work had focused on the southeast corner of the fort, revealing two main occupation levels: an upper level (1) at c. 77.5 m asl, dating to the Early Islamic period (seventh century-first half of the eighth century CE), and a lower occupation level (2) at c. 76.5 m. At the end of the 2003 season, it was thought that Level 2 represented the original occupation of the fort. However, the 2004 discoveries disproved it.
Southeast Corner of the Fort
At the end of 2003, two rooms in the southeast corner of the fort and along its south wall (W501) had been exposed, revealing four steps of a stone staircase that abutted the inside of W501 at a right angle. In 2004, U. Avner supervised the excavation of the room to the west of the staircase (L2028) and will publish his results separately. Excavations east of the staircase uncovered an open courtyard (L2030; Fig. 1) in front of the entrance to the southeast corner tower. Two additional stone steps were discovered at the base of the staircase, turning at a right angle into the courtyard. The stratigraphic sequence in this area indicated that after the initial construction of the fort and the laying of the original floor (Level 5 at c. 76.1 m), cobblestones were placed alongside the base of the staircase, perhaps to remedy some structural instability. A burnt lens on top of the cobblestones was associated with the burning attested in other rooms along the south side of the fort. Immediately following this destruction event a new floor was laid (Level 4 at c. 76.3 m). Additional new floors were laid above this, ending with level 2, the last in the series (Level 2 was the lower occupation level in 2003).
The excavation of the entrance to the southeast corner tower, which in 2003 cleared part of it down to Level 2, was extended eastward in 2004, revealing the full length of the entrance corridor (L2026). Several large stones and animal bones were found in the center of the corridor at c. 76.25 m. It is our opinion that the large stones belonged to the foundations of a step, which was associated with the Level 4 floor, and the animal bones may represent a foundation deposit.
At the end of the 2004 season excavations by U. Avner immediately outside and to the east of the tower brought to light a folded lead sheet that formed part of a decorated Roman sarcophagus, intended for secondary use or recycling. It is not yet clear whether this lead sheet had originally been placed inside the tower before it collapsed or was deposited in a trench outside the tower.
Newly-Opened Areas in 2004
A new area (7.5 × 7.5 m) to the north of the 2003 areas and bordering the inner face of the fort’s east wall (W510) was opened (Fig. 2). The uppermost levels yielded ephemeral Bedouin occupation, consisting mainly of scattered hearths. A row of bricks, running east–west through the center of the area, was exposed at elevation 77.18 m. These were associated with a modern grounding cable, for which a meter-wide balk was created, dividing this area into a northern and southern halves. A mud-brick wall (W512) was oriented east–west under the balk. Another wall (W513), constructed from mud bricks on a stone foundation, bisected the southern half from north to south. The areas west of W513 (L3009, L3006) were completely sterile. To the east of W513, a large pit that was the latrine of the British Mandatory police station immediately to the north was uncovered (in L3004). Excavations under the pit revealed a circular stone installation (L3026; diam. c. 1.1 m; Fig. 3) of unknown function, which was associated with the earliest floor (Level 5) in this area (L3010). Around the base of the installation were layers of ash and animal bones. An open courtyard (L3007) to the south of W512 and to the east of W513 yielded a deposit of large camel bones that was associated with a dirt floor (Level 4 at c. 76.15 m).
Toward the end of this season, a new area (L5001) was opened east of the police station and in front of its entrance (Fig. 1). Four supports, lined up in a north–south row and constructed from fieldstones bound in mortar, appeared almost immediately. These were the foundations for the wooden posts of the police station’s front porch, as indicated by the timbers still embedded in two of them. Work in this area stopped soon afterward at the end of the season.