The first two seasons of CCPEP focused on an unexplored area, designated Area J, immediately south of the decumanus maximus, and north of the artificial platform of the temenos of Herod’s Temple of Rome and Augustus. Adjacent areas in the center of the Roman, Islamic and Medieval city have previously been investigated. The temple platform, first recognized in the late nineteenth century (Conder and Kitchener 1882:18), was excavated extensively in the 1960s to early 1970s by A. Negev of the Hebrew University (Negev 1975; 1993), and in 1989–2003 by A. Raban and K. Holum for the Combined Caesarea Expeditions (CCE; Holum, Stabler and Reinhardt 2008). Various structures along the main western façade of the temple platform were excavated on behalf of the IAA between 1992 and 1995 by Y. Porath (2008), and since 2009 by P. Gendelman. In 2015–2017, the northeastern corner of the temple platform and the adjacent district were also excavated by the IAA team (‘Ad et al. 2017). Area J is located between these two excavation areas, at a spot where we conjecture that there may have stood a propylaeum, connecting the city’s main east–west thoroughfare to the higher ground of the temenos. The only previous exploration of this area was undertaken by A. Negev in 1959–1961, but no records or finds are extant. It seems that Negev mechanically flattened an area at the northern edge of the temple platform, uncovering part of its northern retaining wall, exposing structures of Early Islamic–Medieval date and probably removing buildings of the late nineteenth century Bosnian village (Negev 1961:16).
To date, we have opened 13 trenches (J1–J13), exposing a total area of 400 sq m, extending northward from the northern retaining wall of the temple platform (Fig. 1). The excavation proceeded systematically down from the level of Negev’s clearing (9.1–9.6 m asl) to an average depth of 1 m. We immediately reached habitation levels of the late eighth or ninth to eleventh centuries CE, whilst a few trenches and soundings dug to a depth of up to 3 m revealed Herodian construction. We discovered dense construction and artifacts representing major phases in the history of Caesarea, namely the Herodian period (Late Hellenistic–Early Roman transition), when the temple was first erected; the Early–Middle Islamic periods, when a crowded neighborhood stood on the temple platform area; and the Late Ottoman–British Mandate periods, when a small village was located here. Additional occupational periods are represented by residual remains, including pottery and building materials of Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman date. As this multiyear CCPEP project continues, the goals are both to expand the exposure of the Islamic residential district, and to penetrate deeper in order to clarify the urban topography and functional character of this central area of Roman and Byzantine Caesarea.
Herodian Period. The excavation has begun to expose remains of the temenos platform of Herod’s temple. The upper courses of the northern retaining wall, exposed by natural erosion and by Negev’s clearing activities, have stood exposed in poor condition for decades. However, a well-preserved segment was found in Trench J10 (Fig. 2). The masonry of tightly fitting ashlars with clean-drafted edges exposed here resembles other walls from the initial construction phase of the temple, such as those on the western façade of the temple platform. Set against this wall in Trench J10 (top elevation 9.5 m asl), is the same massive construction fill found elsewhere in the Herodian temple platform complex: fine, orange sand with sparse waterworn shells and small pottery sherds, including Late Hellenistic black-slip wares, Eastern Sigillata A and Rhodian and Koan amphoras. A similar disturbed fill was encountered at a higher elevation in Trench J1 (top elevation 8.85–9.14 m asl).
Early–Middle Islamic (Abbasid–Fatimid) Periods. The excavation in Trenches J1–J8 uncovered part of a residential quarter, which may have included industrial activity, dating from the Early Islamic period. The remains include rectilinear walls erected against the extant face of the northern retaining wall of the temple platform, and intervening floors, many of beaten earth or thinly finished with plaster, belonging to at least one large or two adjacent complexes of rooms. Stratigraphic and structural alignments point to at least three distinct phases. The first phase is represented by wells, an oven (tannur), a refuse pit, a bin and possibly a drain (Fig. 3). The second phase is represented by a heavy stone pavement and a courtyard with an opus-sectile mosaic floor (Fig. 4), overlying a large, vaulted cistern for rainwater storage, fed by a clay drainpipe. The third, more obscure, phase is represented by minor renovations to the walls and sequential reflooring. The remains of small-scale domestic or commercial activities, including faunal and plant remains from food production, debitage from fine bone-working and iron flakes from metallurgy activities, were found throughout the area, most clearly associated with the first two phases.
The preliminary research dates this occupation broadly between the mid-eighth and mid-eleventh centuries CE. Finds associated with the first phase, including fine buff ware, Kerbschnitt ware, monochrome glazed bowls, open casseroles, Egyptian coarse basins, mold-made Type MC lamps and glass weights, date from the late eighth to the early tenth centuries CE (Fig. 5). Finds associated with the second phase include color-splashed glazed and Fayyumi-style wares, and a small hoard of Fatimid gold coins (Fig. 6), all dating this phase from the late tenth to the mid-eleventh centuries CE (late Tulunid–Fatimid period). This prosperous district on the northern side of the temple platform thus reflects the growth and zenith of the Early Islamic city. It roughly equates with Strata VII–IV in the areas excavated by the CCE and with the counterpart phases in the areas around the temple platform, explored by IAA in 1992–1995 (cf. Arnon 2008).
Late Ottoman–British Mandate Periods. Excavations in Trenches J9, J11 and J13 uncovered scattered walls and a large, semi-subterranean vaulted cesspit of late Ottoman–British Mandate date. The deep accumulations that filled the cesspit contained rich organic matter and a wide variety of domestic and architectural debris from the first quarter of the twentieth century, including clothing, household furnishings, wine bottles and roof tiles. The cesspit undoubtedly served the Bosnianvillagers, who lived in houses on the long-buried temple platform area, such as those shown in early photographs and plans (e.g., Mesqui 2014:141–143, Figs. 171, 172).
Other Finds. In addition to these main discoveries, Area J yielded other noteworthy residual or recycled material from other periods in the site’s history. Copious sherds of Roman and Byzantine amphoras and jars, particularly the Palestinian Baggy and Gaza jar types (LRA4, LRA5), were present in most levels. A carved bone plaque bearing a heroic image, presumably a Late Antique furniture inlay (Fig. 7), came from a secondary context. A small quantity of significant finds of Umayyad and Early Abbasid date were found in later construction fills in Trenches J1 and J2; these include fragments of several types of mold-made lamps, and carved soapstone (steatite) ware from the southern Arabian Peninsula.
The 2018 and 2019 seasons of the CCPEP in Area J exposed remains predominantly from three occupation periods on the northern side of the temple platform. From the Herodian period, two additional segments of the retaining walls of the temenos of the temple of Augustus and Rome were exposed. From the Abbasid–Fatimid periods, a residential or possibly a mixed-use quarter, including both dwellings and workshops, an inner court and diverse facilities, such as a water cistern, wells, refuse pits and storage bins was uncovered. From the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, walls and a cesspit were excavated on the southern edge of Area J. These findings demonstrate the great potential of the remains uncovered in Area J to significantly contribute to our understanding of the later occupation periods on the northern periphery of the temple platform.