In November–December 2013, a trial excavation was conducted at Tel Shaddud (Permit No. A-6949; map ref. 222189-414/729214-791; Fig. 1), prior to the installation of infrastructure for a natural gas pipeline. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Israel Natural Gas Lines Ltd., was directed by E.C.M. van den Brink and D. Kirzner. Excavations resumed in February 2014 (A-7047) under the direction of R. Beeri and D. Kirzner. Assistance was provided by H.E. Bron (area supervision), Y. Yacobi and Y. Lavan (administration), M. Kunin, A. Hajian, R. Mishayev and M. Kahan (surveying and drawing), Y. Yolowitz (field photography), W. Atrash and Y. Tepper (pottery reading), B. Agami (safety) and Sky View Photography Ltd. (aerial photography).
Two adjoining probes (Sqs A1, A2) were excavated. Square A1, excavated down to sterile soil, was found devoid of archaeological remains, while Sq A2 revealed four strata (4–1). The latest, Stratum 1, comprised a thick accumulation of light brown tell-like topsoil. Stratum 2 included four Late Bronze Age II burial pits in the western part of Sq A2. These pits cut through all of Stratum 3—a layer (thickness 0.3 m) of anthropogenic deposits containing exclusively late Early Bronze Age I potsherds, flints and ground stone tools, as well as several rather amorphous spreads of medium- and small-sized fieldstones. The Stratum 2 pits were dug down into the top of Stratum 4—a compacted, archaeologically sterile clay soil sprinkled with lime concretions.
All the LB II (Stratum 2) burials were oriented east–west, and clearly formed part of a larger burial ground reminiscent of the LB II cemetery exposed at Deir el-Balah, c. 14 km south of Gaza City and c. 200 km south of the Jezreel Valley. Similar clay coffins have also been found in additional places, such as the North cemetery at Tel Bet She’an, 43 km from Tel Shaddud. It is worth noting that Tel Shaddud is situated 43 km from the Late Bronze town of 'Akko. One burial pit contained a complete, cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoid lid, equipped with a molded, naturalistic human face. Inside the coffin were the remains of a single, primary burial of a male individual, extended in a supine position with his head facing west and his feet toward the east (Figs. 3, 4).
The deceased was accompanied by funerary gifts found both inside and outside the coffin. In the coffin were a few small, ceramic vessels and an upside-down intact bronze bowl. A bronze dagger was close to the deceased’s right side, and a gold-folded ring with a scarab was on his left hand. The scarab bears one of the five royal names of the Egyptian ruler Seti I (mn-m3’t-r’; Fig. 5), founder of Dynasty XIX. Surrounding and atop the coffin were food offerings, including several jars for storing liquids and ring-base bowls, some of them containing animal bones. Animal bones were found dispersed around the coffin, and placed on the coffin’s sculpted lid was a complete bovine skull. Threestirrup-jars and a pilgrim’s flask were also among the funerary gifts.
Four fully articulated human skeletons with accompanying funerary gifts were unearthed in three pit graves, located less than 3 m southwest of the coffin, just a few centimeters above the natural limestone bedrock. All were primary burials, the deceased lying in supine, extended positions with arms outstretched alongside their bodies (Fig. 6). The alignment of the three burial pits was identical to that of the anthropoid clay coffin, hinting at a close temporal relationship between them.
The pit graves were covered with dark brown soil fill, probably backfilled with the soil originally dug up while digging the graves. Unworked limestone fieldstones were placed on top of the fill of some of the burials (L127), possibly as a grave marker. Two jars, two chalices, a lamp and a bowl were placed on top of the fill of the three pit graves, and a large mud-brick was placed above the chest area of one of the deceased (L126).
Four adjoining probes (Sqs B1–B4) were excavated, revealing three strata (3–1). The latest, Stratum 1, consisted of building remains from the Middle Roman period (Fig. 7) comprising two distinct building phases. The remains of the later phase (Stratum 1b) belonged to a building, for which some of the building stones were taken from the still-existing walls of the structure of the earlier phase (Stratum 1a). Stratum 1a contained remains of massive foundations forming a rectangular structure and constructed from large and boulder-sized stones. Well-preserved remains of this building were found in Sq B3. They consisted of an associated courtyard with segments of a cobble stone floor, four basalt grinding stones (Fig. 8) and an iron agricultural tool (a pick) were found, indicating that this unit served an agricultural function. Notable are the large numbers of stone vessel fragments, some of them belonging to soft stone cups and tables associated with the laws of Jewish purity, reflecting the ethnicity of the population residing at the site during the second century CE. The pottery finds indicate that the buildings of both phases were erected within the same Middle Roman-period time span—the second–third centuries CE—and that the period of abandonment and resettlement of this area was of short duration, represented by a 10–15 cm thick soil layer between Strata 1b and 1a.
Stratum 2—six Iron IIA pit burials, the deceased oriented in various directions (Figs. 9, 10)—lay directly below the Stratum 1 building remains. Some metal daggers and Phoenician-style pottery found in association with these burials. The graves belong to an extensive burial ground excavated in the 1970s in the very same area by A. Raban. Stratum 3 consisted of a sterile, dark brown soil layer, reached in all four squares at a depth of approximately 2.5 m below topsoil.
Two adjoining squares (C1, C2) were excavated (Fig. 11). Three construction phases were distinguished, two dating to the Roman era (second–third centuries CE), and the earliest, to the Hellenistic period (second century BCE).
Square C1.After removal of large quantities of stone debris, spread over the surface, a segment of a partially collapsed wall was exposed in the western half of the Square. A foundation segment of another, substantial wall was unearthed nearby; this wall, built of large, roughly hewn stones, was preserved up to three courses high and rested on light brown soil, rich in organic material. An entrance oriented east–west with three adjoining thresholds was revealed. These remains seem to have been part of a large courtyard that protruded only slightly from the western balk of the square. Several fragments of basalt grinding stones were found here. These building remains date from the Roman period (second–third centuries CE).
Square C2. Three building phases were exposed in the northern part of the square. Fills associated with one construction phase comprised a grayish brown, tell-like soil, mixed with large quantities of pottery fragments dating exclusively from the Roman period. Another building phase was represented by segments of two major, interlocking walls, which divided the space into two distinct areas that continue beyond the limits of the present excavation. These walls were constructed from large, hewn blocks and were preserved two courses high. A stamped Rhodian amphora handle (Fig. 12) was found in association with these remains. The fills associated with the last construction phase yielded a mixture of potsherds dating from the Roman and Hellenistic periods, as well as from the Iron Age, revealing that there are probably Iron Age architectural remains in this part of the site as well.
Area D (Fig. 13)
Square D1. Excavation of a dense top layer of brown-gray, tell-like soil containing Roman-period pottery revealed a grayish soil layer overlying a reddish brown layer with lenses of black burnt soil (Fig. 14)—the remains of a burnt mud-brick wall. Heavy rains that flooded the area during excavation obliterated a substantial part of this wall, although its presence was still clearly visible in the southern and western balks of the square. At the bottom level of this layer was burnt, brownish black soil containing charcoal. Together, these apparently constituted the remains of an extensive mud-brick building. A probe opened in the southwestern quarter of the square exposed a concentration of large and small fieldstones, possibly remains of the top courses of a wall or walls; these were partially disturbed while cleaning the square after the flooding. The fill from this probe is characterized by light brown, tell-like soil with Iron II and EB I potsherds.
Square D2. Multiple occupation levels (Strata 4–1), which were not continuous throughout the site, were exposed in this square. Dense concentrations of medium-sized and small fieldstones mixed with light brown soil containing potsherds from the Roman and Hellenistic periods were exposed and removed to a depth of 1.5 m below the surface. Below these was Stratum 1—a layer characterized by dense concentrations of small and medium-sized fieldstones and a few burnt mud-bricks embedded in a light brown soil matrix containing Iron IIA–C potsherds. Stratum 2 was exposed 0.4 m beneath Stratum 1; it contained small and medium-sized fieldstones that were apparently part of a wall or the remains of a floor, and a mixture of Iron IIA and Late Bronze Age pottery. Stratum 3 was found 0.4 m beneath Stratum 2 and featured an indistinct but dense concentration of large and medium-sized fieldstones, possibly representing wall collapse, associated with Early Bronze Age pottery. Stratum 4, revealed directly under the Stratum 3 remains, included a dense concentration of small fieldstones, possibly the top face of a floor, and large amounts of potsherds dating exclusively from late EB I. At the end of the excavation, virgin soil had not been reached.
In Area A, remains of an LB IIB burial ground with strong affinities to near-contemporary cemeteries uncovered at Deir el-Balah and Bet She’an were exposed. The importance of this finding and its historical implication—that an Egyptian-style military garrison may have been situated near the site of Tel Shaddud, as seen several other sites that yielded LB II caly coffins with anthropoid Lids (e.g., Deir el-Balah, Bet She’an and Tell Far'ah South)—cannot be overstressed. Area B yielded remains of an Iron Age burial ground, rich in ceramic deposits but lacking small finds such as jewelry, beads or pins. The well-built and substantial Roman structural remains in this area are part of a courtyard building with multiple rooms. Excavation in Area C revealed substantial building remains from the Hellenistic period. The limited area exposed during our excavation preclude reaching specific conclusions about its characteristics. In Area D, the excavation revealed remains of a mud-brick structure, apparently destroyed in a conflagration during Iron Age II, and a floor level dating from late EB I. These remains, together with the Iron Age burial ground in Area B, would seem to indicate the presence of a large, flourishing Iron Age settlement at Tel Shaddud.