Sixteen excavation squares were opened in four areas (A–D; Fig. 1) between the settlements of Haspin and Nov, and Nahal El-‘Al. The excavation areas stretched across a basalt plain on a moderate northerly slope. The excavation uncovered architectural remains from the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic period, a fortified compound built in Middle Bronze IIB that was also used at the end of Iron Age I or the beginning of the Iron Age IIA and architectural remains from the Middle Roman period, as well as a country road, a tower and stone cairns that could not be dated. All the soil from the excavation was thoroughly sifted through a 1 cm mesh apart from soil from above floors, which was sifted through a 0.5 cm mesh.
Excavations conducted in the past at Tel Nov, c. 2.5 km south of the current excavation, uncovered architectural remains dating from the Iron Age and the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods (Weksler-Bdolah 2000; Mamalya 2022; Permit No. A-8774). Document No. 256 of the El-‘Amarna Letters (Cochavi-Rainey 2005: Letter No. 256) sent by Metuba‘al, ruler of Pihil (Pella) to Pharaoh’s administrator in Canaan, mentions cities in the Land of Garu-Geshur, including ‘Enu ‘Anabi. Albright identified ‘Enu ‘Anabi as Tel Nov, but some scholars have questioned this identification (Albright 1943:16; Ma‘oz 1986:148; Weksler-Bdolah 2000:25). As yet, Tel Nov has yielded no remains from the Late Bronze Age II—the El-‘Amarna period. Nov and "Hazpia/Haspia" are also mentioned in a later source: they are listed among "the forbidden towns" within the limits of Susita in Baraita di-Tehumin ('Baraita of the Borders'), which reflects the settlement pattern prior to the second century CE and is preserved in the Tosefta, the Talmud, and the mosaic inscription in the synagogue at Rehov (Sussman 1973–1974:123; Ma‘oz 1986:59–61).
The surrounding region was documented in past surveys. The Golan Survey recorded about eight dolmens in the area, as well as a ruin that extends to the west of the excavation area, on the bank of Nahal El-‘Al. (Hartal and Ben-Ephraim 2012: Sites 7, 8). A development survey conducted prior to the expansion of Haspin (License No. S-912/2019) documented surface remains consisting of several walls; stone heaps, possibly dolmens; an ancient track; and a previously unknown compound extending across a hill overlooking Nahal El-‘Al, in the northern part of the survey area.
Area A. Four excavation squares were opened, revealing part of a small structure (Fig. 2), whose walls were built of large fieldstones; the northern wall was built of exceptionally large stones. An oval installation (diam. 1 m, height 0.4 m) built of medium-sized stones was found adjacent to the outer side of the northern wall; its floor was made of flat stone slabs. Soil accumulations inside and outside the structure yielded several grinding stones and sickle blades that date it to the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic period. Two stone cairns c. 15 m apart were also excavated; one covered one of the structure’s walls and therefore post-dated it. The cairns were excavated down to bedrock without encountering burial cells or diagnostic finds.
Area B. Two excavation squares were opened, revealing a section of an ancient road on a general east–west alignment; bends in the road were probably dictated by the topography (Fig. 3). The road was constructed of a layer of fill of small, flat stones, which leveled natural depressions in the bedrock, and it was flanked by two walls. The northern wall was built of two rows of large fieldstones with a core of small stones, whereas the southern wall was carelessly built of one–two rows of fieldstones of various sizes. Beside the road, to its north, was a small structure built of large stones and preserved to a height of three courses (1 m)—probably part of a tower, possibly a field tower. A substantial stone heap consisting of large fieldstones found beside the road, to its south, may be the remains of either a tower or a dolmen. Worn potsherds and flint tools were found on the bedrock. Based on the fabric and firing of the potsherds, some date from the Roman period, and others are earlier. The road’s date remains unclear.
Area C. Seven excavation squares opened to the southeast of Nahal El-‘Al revealed the remains of a small fortified compound (1.2 dunams; Fig. 4), in which two phases of construction were distinguished: an early phase dated to MB IIB, and a later one dated to the end of Iron Age I or the early Iron Age IIA. Two later stone heaps were also discovered.
A wide wall (width 1.5 m) built of two rows of exceptionally large basalt boulders was attributed to the compound’s early phase. The inner face of the wall was abutted by a floor of flat stones that was probably a courtyard (Fig. 5). A soil accumulation covering the paving yielded many potsherds, mostly cooking pots and jars. An aerial photograph of the site clearly shows that the compound was square in plan during this phase. In the later phase, the line of the wall was slightly altered, and it was rebuilt with an elliptical layout. In the compound’s later phase, a new wall of large and medium-sized basalt stones, some roughly dressed, was built on and beside the earlier wall. A low, narrow corridor (excavated length 4.5 m, width 0.6 m, height 1.0 m; Figs. 5, 6) was built along the inner face of the new wall using the bedrock as a floor; it was roofed with flat dressed stones. Depressions visible on the surface surrounding the compound suggest that the corridor was built around the entire wall. The corridor branched off into several passages leading into the compound (Fig. 7). Soil accumulated on the floor of the corridor yielded Iron Age pottery, mostly cooking pots.
A narrow opening (Fig. 8) set in the wall near its southeastern corner led to a courtyard paved with stones inside the compound. The courtyard’s paving was laid over the floor of flat stones from the early phase. It was damaged by collapsed stones that tumbled from the wall. The pottery recovered from above this paving was dated to a late phase of Iron Age I–early Iron Age IIA. Adjacent to the southern side of the opening, a rectangular podium (0.6 × 2.0 m, height 0.6 m; Fig. 8) was built of large fieldstones on the outside of the wall. Four dressed flat and elongated stones were placed in the upper part of the podium. The soil accumulated on top of the podium yielded a figurine of a woman holding a musical instrument, probably a drum (cf. Kleiman 2019: Plates 96–97; Saarelainen and Kletter 2020: Fig. 34.1:1–8), a bronze ring, an iron ring and two beads made of limestone and quartz. Beside the southern side of the podium, a large stone stele was incorporated in the wall; it was engraved with two schematic horned figures with downward-stretched arms. The podium and the engraved stele are probably a cultic complex set near the entrance to the compound. To the north of the opening, outside the compound, an oval installation (length 0.5 m, depth 0.3 m) was dug into the ground and lined with small stone slabs. It was filled with soil, on top of which was an in situ broken jar from the Middle Roman period.
Two stone heaps to the southeast of the compound may be agricultural stone-clearance heaps. They yielded worn potsherd and flint tools. Based on the fabric and firing, some potsherds are ancient and others date from the Roman period.
Area D. Two excavation squares were opened c. 50 m apart. A stone heap was uncovered on the bedrock in the southern square; Roman-period pottery was retrieved while excavating around the heap. Following the removal of the stones, several wall tops were revealed beside an accumulation of potsherds from the Middle Roman period. The walls were probably part of a Roman-period building or installation. Also found was a large stone engraved with two parallel rows of depressions, probably a game board. In the northern square were remains of a quarry from the beginning of the twentieth century CE.
The excavation uncovered architectural remains from the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic period, MB IIA, the late Iron Age I or early Iron Age II, and the Roman period. The Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic structure in Area A appears to have been an isolated structure, as no comparable structures have been discovered nearby; nevertheless, nearby stone heaps may cover remains that are not visible on the surface. The date of the ancient road in Area B is not clear, but it may have been associated with the compound excavated in Area C or with the Roman architectural remains in Area D.
The fortified compound uncovered in Area C is an important discovery in the study of the Middle Bronze II and the Iron Age in the Golan Heights. To date, very few sites from these periods have been excavated in the region; these include Tel Nov (2.1 km to the southeast); Tel Abu ez-Zeitun (2.7 km to the southeast), where an elliptical perimeter wall was uncovered; Tel ed-Dhahab (4 km to the east), where Late Bronze Age pottery was identified (Be’eri, pers. comm.); and Tel ‘Ein et-Taruq (4.5 km to the southeast). All these sites are located on the banks of streams and near springs, where there is easy access to water, and they may have been intended to command the water sources. The podium and the stone stele discovered near the entrance to the fortified compound during its later phase resemble the podium and stelae excavated in the gate complex at Tel Bethsaida (Arav 2020:99), indicating an architectural and cultural affinity between these two Iron Age sites. It may have been erected as a monument to a moon or storm deity. To date, only five similar stelae have been discovered (Kleiman 2019:385–386). However, this stele is one of only a few that have been found in situ, and the engraving it bears is unique, depicting two figures instead of one.
Since the excavation concentrated almost exclusively on the fortifications, the function of the compound during both the MB IIB and the Iron Age remains unclear. It may have been an administrative compound related to protecting water sources, established in the early phase following the growth of the city states in Middle Bronze II, and in the later phase following the formation of the Iron Age kingdoms in the southern Levant. The material culture, the podium, the stele and its engravings suggest that there was some affinity between the site and the Aramaean culture. The site may have included an administrative building belonging to one of the ancient Aramaean kingdoms, perhaps the kingdom of Geshur, as some scholars suggest (Kochavi 1996; Arav 2020), although there is no clear evidence to support this claim.
The corridor built along the perimeter wall in the later phase was constructed in a different architectural style from the familiar style of the Iron Age, casting some doubt as to its dating. It may have been built in the Roman period, judging by the remains and finds from this period discovered near the compound, although no Roman finds were recovered from inside the corridor itself. A structure similar in construction style was identified at Tel Bethsaida as a Hellenistic-period basement (Arav 1999:98; Notley 2007:226). This basement is apparently near the estimated course of the Iron Age wall, and it can therefore be suggested that it represents later use of an earlier, Iron Age structure. Several corridors were uncovered at el-Ahwat: one built perpendicular to the wall at the site (Zertal 2001: Figs. 8, 9), and short ones in buildings. Zertal dates the construction of these corridors to the Iron Age, although Finkelstein (2002) proposes dating them to the Roman period, as Roman remains were found at the site. Corridors were found also in the Late Bronze Age wall complexes at the Anatolian site of Hattusa. This may be of relevance, as the stele found in the current excavation may indicate a cultural affinity with either the Hittite or the neo-Hittite Kingdom, as suggested by a probable Iron Age II stele found at Gaziantep in Turkey (Kleiman 2019:385).
The architectural remains in Area D may be associated with a farmhouse from the Roman period, and the stone heaps throughout the excavation areas—some of which yielded Roman pottery—may be clearance heaps related to farming during this period.
The present excavation, along with others conducted in recent years elsewhere in the southern Golan Heights, will serve as a basis for further research and comparison between Middle Bronze II and the Iron Age in the southern Golan, and will add to our understanding of the settlement distribution in the region during other periods.