In October–November 2019, a salvage excavation was conducted at Tel Gat Hefer in the town of Mashhad (Permit No. A-8597; map ref. 230120–60/738159–80; Fig. 1), prior to the construction of a residential building. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by T. Lang, with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), M. Peleg (photogrammetry and photography), H. Tahan-Rosen (plans and pottery drawing), A. Shapiro (location map) and laborers from Kafr Manda. Special thanks to K. Covello-Paran and R. Be’eri for their scientific guidance and assistance.
Tel Gat Hefer is located in the Lower Galilee, c. 6 km northeast of Nazareth. The mound is identified with biblical Gat Hefer in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13; Aharoni 1987:206). It was surveyed by Z. Gal in the Har Tavor archaeological survey map (Gal 2013: Site 13) and is reported to comprise settlement remains and finds spanning the Chalcolithic and Byzantine periods. Two excavations conducted on the mound in 1992 and 1995 (Alexander, Covello-Paran and Gal 2003; Covello-Paran 2003;
Fig. 1: A-1915, A-2396) uncovered settlement remains of the EB III, MB IIa–b, Iron Age I–II, and Persian period; the EB III and Iron Age II settlements were fortified. In 2015, excavations on the mound’s eastern fringes uncovered the remains of a broad MB II wall (Feig 2016
; Fig. 1: A-7581), whereas an excavation conducted in 2019 on the mound’s western side (Permit No. A-8493) unearthed sparse wall remains and ceramic finds from the Iron Age and the Persian and Hellenistic periods.
The current excavation comprised five squares (c. 125 sq m; Fig. 2) on the mound’s western fringes, where three main phases of construction (1–3) were identified and dated to the MB II and the Late Bronze. Numerous potsherds from the EB II–III and Iron Age I–II were also recovered but without architectural remains.
Phase 1. The excavation uncovered a north–south oriented wall (W124; Fig. 3) built of large and medium-sized fieldstones and preserved six courses high (c. 1.2 m). It leans to the east, and while it continues beyond the excavation limits, its southern part curves eastward. It may have been a retaining wall or the foundation for a structure that was not preserved. It may have been part of a fortification and the curved section part of a tower that protruded from the wall’s line. Similar walls were found at sites of the Middle Bronze Age, such as Tel Akhziv, Tel Esur and Shekhem, allowing the wall to be dated to this period. The wall’s western face was abutted by collapsed stones (L129; Fig. 4) above a soil accumulation (L139). Most ceramic finds in these deposits date from the EB II–III, and the minority are attributed to later periods.
Phase 2. This phase consists of a wall (W116; Fig. 3) that was constructed at an elevation higher than the top of W124. It comprised two rows of medium-sized stones and stood one course high. The wall was truncated on both ends, probably by construction associated with Phase 3, and only a few loci with no diagnostic finds could be associated with it, precluding a date.
Phase 3. Remains of a building constructed of large–medium-sized fieldstones were found. The building’s central wall (W104; Fig. 5) was oriented northwest–southeast, built of two rows of stones, and preserved four courses high (c. 0.8 m). Two walls (W115, W127) abutted its western face: Wall 115, built of two rows of stones and preserved one course high, and Wall 127, built of three rows of stones and preserved one course high. Stratigraphically, W115 was located above W124 and W116, while W127 cut W116. These walls enclosed a room whose western wall was not preserved, having probably been washed away.
The northern part of W104 produced a corner with another wall (W141) that continued eastward and was built of two rows of stones (Fig. 6). Together, these walls formed the corner of another room whose eastern and southern walls were not excavated. It contained a layer of tamped earth and crushed limestone (L133; Fig. 7) that was probably the room’s floor. Soil accumulations (L105, L110, L123, L128, L130, L135, L138) around and inside the building yielded ceramic finds dating from the Early Bronze Age to Iron Age II but mainly from the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Since most of the pottery was not sealed beneath a floor and derived from fills, the exact date of the structure cannot be determined.
The poorly preserved remains of two decrepit walls (W108, W140; Fig. 8) and a surface of small stones (L113) between them were discovered in the northwest of the excavation area. Soil accumulations above these remains yielded mixed pottery dating from EB II–III to the end of the Iron Age. Given these circumstances, the remains are difficult to date.
The Finds. Most of the pottery from the excavation dates from the Early Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age. The EB II–III finds include a platter (Fig. 9:1), a holemouth jar (Fig. 9:2) and a jar (Fig. 9:3). The MB II finds consist of a bowls (Fig. 9:4, 5), a krater (Fig. 9:6) and jars (Fig. 9:7, 8). The Late Bronze Age finds comprise a carinated bowl (Fig. 10:1), milk bowls (Fig. 10:2, 3), a cooking pot (Fig. 10:4), a dipper juglet (Fig. 10:5) and a pithos (Fig. 10:6). The Iron Age I finds include cooking pots (Fig. 10:7, 8), and the Iron Age II finds include a cooking pot (Fig. 10:9), a jar (Fig. 10:10) and a holemouth jar (Fig. 10:11). Other finds comprise a stamped Rhodian handle, a few flint items and three fragments of basalt grinding stones (not drawn).
The current excavation uncovered architectural remains on the lower western slope of Tel Gat Hefer that probably date from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. The finds augment our understanding of the settlement’s size and extent during these periods. Although this remains to be clarified by further excavations, the relatively large quantity of Early Bronze Age pottery suggests that the settlement of this period extended as far as this area and was not confined to the mound’s northeastern upper part as was previously thought (Covello-Paran 2003).
Aharoni Y. 1987. Eretz Israel in the Biblical Times: A Historical Geography. Jerusalem (Hebrew).
Alexandre Y., Covello-Paran K. and Gal Z. 2003. Excavations at Tel Gat-Hefer in the Lower Galilee, Areas A and B. ‘Atiqot 44:143–170.
Covello-Paran K. 2003. The Early Bronze Age Occupation at Tel Gat-Hefer, Lower Galilee, Areas C and D. ‘Atiqot 44:97–138.