The ancient site extends across a low basalt hill at the western end of Ramot Issakhar, in the southern part of the village of Tamra. Much of the site was destroyed by modern development work, with only parts of the ancient remains preserved between the modern houses. Previous surveys of the site documented remains of an ancient settlement, including two churches, lying beneath the houses of Tamra village, around a flowing spring (‘Ein et-Tahta; Guérin 1880:124–125; Conder and Kitchener 1882:87–88, 130; Gal 1998:72). Recent excavations at the site show that it was first settled in the Iron Age and reached its peak during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. Settlement remains from the Early Islamic period include public and residential buildings, alleyways and industrial facilities (Porat 2008; Tepper 2018).
The current excavation (400 sq m; Figs. 2–4) uncovered three strata with architectural remains: two construction phases (b, a) of a residential building from the Umayyad period are attributed to the earliest stratum (III); remains of a residential building from the Abbasid period are attributed to the middle stratum (II); and wall remains that may date from the Ottoman period are attributed to the upper stratum (I).
Stratum IIIb (early Umayyad—late seventh–early eighth centuries CE). Four walls (W126, W160–162; Fig. 5) in the northeastern corner of the excavation area formed three rooms (A–C). The walls of the rooms were built of basalt fieldstones founded on bedrock. The floor (L164) of Room A was composed of lime plaster on a bedding of small fieldstones and gray soil. A pithos and a basalt mortar were embedded in the floor, their rims level with the floor; a pithos sunk in the floor of Room C (L165) was smaller than the one in Room A. The floors of Rooms B and C were probably made of plaster, similar to that of the floor in Room A. The southern part of the excavation area contained three wall sections (W166, W175, W184; Fig. 6) built of basalt fieldstones founded on bedrock. All the walls unearthed in this stratum were probably from a single residential building, most of whose walls were dismantled to the height of the floors during construction work in Stratum IIIa. Early Islamic pottery discovered in the wall foundations includes a casserole (Fig. 7:1), a cooking pot (Fig. 7:2), a pithos (Fig. 7:3) and a jug (Fig. 7:4).
Stratum IIIa (Late Umayyad—mid-eighth century CE). A courtyard-type dwelling was built on the remains of Stratum IIIb. Its façade faced east and included an entrance hall (R17), an L-shaped corridor (R15), a main courtyard (C10, R6) and two wings, north and south, containing halls and rooms. The building’s walls (width 0.75–0.80 m, max. preserved height 2.7 m) were built of two rows of basalt fieldstones of varying sizes, with a core of small stones. The door jambs were built of ashlars. Most of the floors in the building were made of variously sized basalt slabs.
The building’s entrance, set in its eastern wall (W172), led to an entrance room (R17). An arched opening in the western wall (W176) of the entrance hall, opposite the building’s entrance, led to a corridor (R15). A probe beneath the floor in the southern part of the corridor (L159, L169; Fig. 8) revealed a bedding of small and medium-sized fieldstones; this bedding may belong to Stratum IIIb. In the western wall (W140) of the corridor were two openings, northern and southern; the northern opening leads west to the main courtyard, while the southern opening leads to a hall (R11) that was part of the southern wing. In the southern wall (W112) of corridor R15 there is another opening, which leads to a room (R14) in the southeastern corner of the building. The main courtyard continues westward beyond the limits of the excavation. A hewn, bell-shaped cistern (L149; Fig. 9) was unearthed in the northeastern corner of the courtyard, above which a square limestone wellhead was placed, about 0.4 m above floor level. Adjacent to the courtyard’s southern wall (W129) are the remains of a staircase leading to a second floor. A drainage channel (T1) covered with paving stones extends eastward under the courtyard floor to the entrance hall (R17) and beyond the limits of the excavation. A thin layer of gray soil found above the floors of the entrance hall, the corridor and the main courtyard (L133, L140, L148, L150, L158), contained Early Islamic pottery. A layer of rubble (L156) above the floor in Room 14 yielded Umayyad pottery.
Two openings in the courtyard’s northern wall (W137) led to the building’s northern wing, comprising a hall divided into two spaces (R8, R9) by a row of arches (W142), with two rooms on each side (R7, R18; Fig. 10). The floors of the hall and the rooms were made of tamped earth mixed with crushed chalk. A layer of collapsed wall stones on top of the floor yielded Umayyad and Abbasid pottery.
The southern wing of the building contained six halls (R3–R5, R11–R13; Fig. 11), divided by a wall with arches (W115). Windows (each measuring 0.6 × 0.7 m) were set in the two walls (W108, W112) between the halls. The window frames were made of basalt slabs; the windowsills were c. 0.4 m above the height of the hall floor. The floors of the two central halls (R4, R12) were laid with tamped gray earth mixed with crushed chalk. Although no finds were recovered to indicate the halls’ function, they were probably associated with animal husbandry. Similar windows were found in dwellings at Bet She’an, where they were dated to the Abbasid period and identified as stables (the late Prof. Tsafrir, pers. comm.)
The ceramic finds in the floor bedding are dated to the Umayyad period (seventh–eighth centuries CE), and include three bowls (Fig. 12:1–3), two cooking pots (Fig. 12:4, 5) and a jar (Fig. 12:6).
A few animal bones were found beneath and above the building’s floors. Among the bones, three lower mandibles of pigs slaughtered during the first year of life were identified, as well as cattle and sheep or goat bones. The discovery of pig bones from young animals suggests that the building’s occupants were Christian.
Stratum II (Abbasid Period). After the 749 CE earthquake, the house was rebuilt (Fig. 2); some of the walls from Stratum III continued to be used alongside new walls (max. preserved height 3 m) built of basalt fieldstones. The building was divided into two separate houses, eastern and western, by blocking the arches in W115 in the southern wing (Fig. 13), dividing the main courtyard into two parts and dividing the residential wing to the north of the courtyard into two parts.
The eastern house underwent a fundamental change in plan; it is not clear where the new entrance was, but the original entrance in Wall 172 was blocked. The entrance hall was reduced in size by the construction of a wall (W173) and went out of use. A wall (W178) built in the southern part of the corridor blocked the access to Room 14. The opening in Wall 140 leading to Hall 11 was sealed, the windows in Wall 108 were blocked (Fig. 14) and Hall 11 was converted into residential quarters. The main courtyard also underwent a drastic change. The courtyard’s arched opening was narrowed to approximately 1 m, by building a wall (W181) that also served to support the arch from Stratum IIIa. The courtyard was reduced in size: its western side (R6) now belonged to the western house and the eastern opening in W137 was blocked. In the northwestern corner of the courtyard, a tabun (L139) was installed on top of the basalt paving slabs. The entrance to Room 7 in the northern house was blocked to make the room part of the western house. A small room was formed in the southwestern corner of R8 by the addition of a wall (W141; Fig. 15).
The plan of the western dwelling is unclear, since only its eastern side was excavated. The northern part of the house now included Room 7 and part of the main courtyard (R6). Halls 4 and 5 were adapted for residential use their entrances were from the west. To the west of Room 4 was another room (R2), two of whose walls (W104, W113) were built in this phase. The eastern side of W104 adjoined another wall (W105) at right angles and hall (R3) was reduced in size. To the south of Walls 104 and 105, part of another room (R1) with a tamped earthen floor was excavated.
Halls R3 and R13 and rooms R1 and R14 may have belonged to another residential building in this phase.
The building complex was covered with a destruction layer of collapsed walls and a fill of stones and gray soil. The destruction layer yielded five coins, the most recent of which dates from 775–785 CE, during al-Mahdi’s caliphate. It also yielded a large quantity of mixed pottery from the Umayyad and Abbasid periods. Based on the excavation finds, the houses were abandoned during the Abbasid period, toward the end of the ninth century CE.
Stratum I (Ottoman Period?). Stratum I comprised two walls (W106, W114; Fig. 16) and a pilaster (W130) built of basalt fieldstones and founded on the ruins of the house from Stratum II. These walls were probably part of building complexes from the Ottoman period, but their context is unclear.