In May 2020, an excavation was conducted on the grounds of Mizpe Golan School in Bene Yehuda, the Golan Heights (Permit No. A-8743; map ref. 264805–15/744942–55; Fig. 1), prior to construction work. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by R. Assis (photography), with the assistance of A. Kleiner (photogrammetry), H. Tahan-Rosen (finds drawing and plans), U. Berger (studio photography) and students.
The Golan Survey and prior surveys identified in the vicinity of the excavation area the remains of an ancient settlement from the Roman–Ottoman periods (c. 30 dunams). They extend across a hilltop, superimposed by the remains of the Syrian village of Seqūpiyye, including many ancient architectural features in secondary use (Hartal and Ben Efraim 2012: Site 61). In recent years, three excavations were conducted in the site: the excavation of a burial cave in 1996 revealed engraved crosses in the niches, and the cave was dated to the Byzantine period (Kalmachter 1999; Fig. 1: A-2527); an excavation in 2004 revealed architectural remains from the Byzantine, Abbasid, Mamluk and modern periods (Zingboym 2009; Fig. 1: A-4141); and an excavation in 2007 uncovered the remains of a building and a rock-hewn cistern (Zingboym 2008; Fig 1: A-5043). The current excavation juxtaposes the previously excavated areas within the school’s compound built after them.
An excavation square was opened, but, due to disturbances, most of the work concentrated on its western half (Figs. 2, 3). Meager remains of a wall, dated to the Fatimid period, and pottery sherds of Byzantine, Early Islamic, Mamluk and Ottoman periods were found.
Upon removing a layer of modern asphalt and bedding, a layer of compact earth and numerous stones was uncovered (L102). The stones derive from a wall (W106) that was leveled to lay the asphalt. Wall 106 (width 0.6 m) was built of basalt and limestone stones, some of which were dressed as ashlars, characteristic of the Roman and Byzantine periods in the Golan; here, they are in secondary use and do not seem to have been arranged in any particular order. The southern part of the wall was built of large, elongated stones set across its width and interspersed with small stones. Its northern part was built of two rows of limestone and basalt stones with a debesh core of stones, light-colored clay and potsherds (Fig. 4). One of the stones in secondary use—a large basalt ashlar, as wide as the wall—was removed by a backhoe as it hit the wall (L101; Fig. 5). Wall 106 was built on a foundation (W108) that consisted of small and medium-sized basalt stones packed together; the foundation was wider than the wall and protruded 0.1 m beyond the wall’s eastern face. A collapsed stone layer (L102) directly superimposed a surface of reddish tamped and leveled earth (L105) that served as a construction fill and a foundation for W108. It was deposited directly on top of the natural, unleveled basalt bedrock. A small section of another wall (W107; Fig. 5) was found in the northeast of the area. It, too, was damaged by the backhoe.
The excavation of W106 yielded Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid pottery. Above the top of the wall and the rubble, several Mamluk, Ottoman potsherds were found, alongside some ceramics of the Syrian village. The finds from the Early Islamic period include bowls (Fig. 6:1–11), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:12), a lid (Fig. 6:13), jars (Fig. 6:14–18)—one of which (Fig. 6:14) dates from the Fatimid period—and a jug (Fig. 6:19). The Mamluk finds include a bowl (Fig. 6:20) from the thirteenth–sixteenth centuries CE and the base of another bowl (Fig. 6:21). Thus, the W106 was dated to the Fatimid period (ninth–eleventh centuries CE). The pottery from other periods attests to human activity at the site at other times as well.
The bedrock contained natural depressions, and one of these, beside W106, yielded a conical upper stone of a potter’s wheel (Figs. 7). It is smooth and lustrous from use and thus differs from millstones for grinding grains (Amiran 1956:48). This type of upper potter’s wheel became widespread in the Byzantine period, and it was designed to be used on a lower stone with a conical, flowerpot-shaped socket (Avitsur 1976:137, and see further discussion there). Both upper and lower components of this type were found in situ in an Umayyad pottery workshop at Bet She’an (Bar-Nathan and Atrash 2011:189–202, Fig. 8.4). An excavation at Giv‘ati Junction yielded two broken conical upper potter’s wheel components, one in a Byzantine layer and another in a layer dated to the eighth–ninth centuries CE (Shmueli 2013). In another excavation at Giv‘ati Junction, a Byzantine pottery workshop kiln was uncovered (Baumgarten 2001); perhaps the potter wheels belong to it.
The upper component of the potter’s wheel found in the current excavation may attest to a Byzantine potter’s workshop at the site destroyed due to construction in the Early Islamic period, as was the case at Givʻati Junction. Alternatively, its remains may have not yet been found.
Amiran R. 1956. The Millstones and the Potter’s Wheel. Eretz-Israel 4: 46–49 (Hebrew).
Avitsur S. 1976. Man and His Work: Historical Atlas of Tools and Workshops in the Holy Land. Jerusalem (Hebrew).
Bar-Nathan R. and Atrash W. 2011. Bet Sheʼan II. Baysān: The Theater Pottery Workshop (IAA Reports 48). Jerusalem.
Baumgarten Y. 2001. A Pottery Kiln near the Giv‘ati Junction. ‘Atiqot 42:43*–50* (Hebrew; English summary, pp. 323–324).
Kalmachter E. 1999. Bene Yehuda. HA-ESI 109:20–21.