In July 2015 and February 2016, excavations were conducted on the northern outskirts of Khirbat ‘Asafna near ‘Amaqim Junction (Permit No. A-7460; map ref. 208820–34/737250–66; Fig. 1), prior to the construction of a drainage channel beside the Haifa–Bet She’an railway line. The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Netivei Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company, were directed by A.S. Sa‘id and Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass industry), with the assistance of Y. Amrani (administration), M. Kahan and R. Liran (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), I. Mizrahi (conservation), P. Gendelman (pottery), M. Shuiskaya (pottery drawing) and C. Amit (studio photography).
Khirbat ‘Asafna, which extends across a hill (42 m asl) on the fringes of the Nah
al Qishon valley, was recorded on the British survey map. Previous surveys and excavations conducted at the site documented settlement remains, burial caves, an oil press, a winepress, a glass-production workshop, and other installations dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods (Olami, Sender and Oren 2004: Site 103)
. Excavations conducted in 1964–1968 and 1971 uncovered the remains of a glassware workshop dating from the second half of the fourth century CE (Weinberg 1988). A salvage excavation conducted at the site in 2009 revealed remains of a settlement from the Roman and Byzantine periods and sparse remains dating from the Abbasid period (Sa‘id 2011
; Fig. 1: A-5614); the excavation yielded abundant glass finds, including glass-production waste (Gorin-Rosen 2011
: Figs. 8, 9). Excavations conducted at the site in 2015 uncovered architectural remains from the Late Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (Talmi 2019
; Fig. 1: A-7500); this excavation also yielded glass-production waste (Gorin-Rosen 2019
: Figs. 7, 8).
Five excavation squares were opened in the current excavation and contained remains of furnaces from a workshop that manufactured raw glass in the Late Roman period.
Under a layer of soil removed with mechanical equipment, the floors of two pairs of furnaces were uncovered (I–IV; L107, L109, L112, L124; c. 1.8 × 3.5 m each; Figs. 2–5). The excavation area had been disturbed by intensive farming and by infrastructure installation. Furnaces I and II were also damaged on their western side by tractor work before the excavation. Furnaces III and IV were better preserved; Furnace III contained a few remains of the firing chamber, mostly burnt bricks and stones. This was the only preserved evidence of the furnaces’ firing chambers. Each pair of furnaces had a shared wall (W105, W116; Fig. 6), and the furnaces were probably fired up together. The furnace walls (W102, W103, W106, W108, W117, W123, W128) were built of a single row of medium-sized, unworked stones interspersed with small stones. The walls, at least in their lower parts, were lined on the inside with rectangular fired bricks; the corners of the furnace were lined with curved bricks. The furnaces’ limestone floors were preserved (L107, L109, L112, L124), and small concentrations of raw glass were found on them (Fig. 7). Red bricks and a large number of glazed bricks from the furnaces’ upper parts were found on the floors of Furnaces III and IV (Fig. 8). The two pairs of furnaces were separated by a passage (L110) that was the same width as that of a single furnace. The passage was probably used to operate the furnaces. To the east of Furnaces III and IV, a solidly built area was preserved (L119; Fig. 5) that may have been the base of a chimney or may belong to earlier furnaces that were razed when Furnaces III and IV were built. Concentrations of glazed and fired bricks, furnace waste and stones were found to the east of the furnaces. Other furnaces may have been destroyed during previous work at the site in the first half of the twentieth century or earlier. The poor preservation of the furnaces shows that they were completely dismantled after the production process, allowing most of the glass manufactured in them to be collected and attests to their subsequent weathering and destruction.
Glass-furnace production waste was discovered throughout the entire excavation area and on the surface; it included floor fragments from the melting chambers, characterized by a layer of clean glass coating a thin layer of sediments mixed with glass; furnace-fired bricks from the lower part of the furnace, some with cracks that molten glass had seeped into; burnt brick fragments, some with a layer of glazing from the walls and roofs of the furnaces; and flakes of clean raw glass and flakes with pieces of the furnace wall or floor attached to them (Figs. 7, 9). Apart from the waste, hardly any other finds were recovered.
At the end of the excavation, the furnaces were conserved and relocated from the site: One pair of furnaces was moved to the Zevulun Regional School, located nearby; the other pair was moved to Ha-Mizgaga Museum at Nahsholim, where it is exhibited.
The Pottery. The excavation yielded a few potsherds dating from the Iron Age to the Abbasid period, including a jar (Fig. 10:1) from the Persian–Hellenistic periods (fifth–third centuries BCE), a second–fourth-century CE Galilean bowl (Fig. 10:2), another Galilean bowl (Fig. 10:3) dating from the third–fourth centuries CE, fourth–sixth-century CE Cypriot bowls (Fig. 10:4–6), a fifth-century CE red-slipped bowl from Asia Minor (Fig. 10:7), a cooking pot (Fig. 10:8) dating from the Byzantine period (fourth–fifth centuries CE), a fifth–sixth-century CE bag-shaped jar (Fig. 10:9), a fifth–sixth-century CE imported amphora (Fig. 10:10) and an Abbasid cooking pot (Fig. 10:11). The pottery was probably swept to the site from Khirbat ‘Asafna, where remains and pottery from all the above periods have been found.
The Glass Industry. The furnaces found in the current excavation resemble the raw glass-production furnaces found at Bet Eli‘ezer and Apollonia (Gorin-Rosen 2000:49–56; Tal, Jackson-Tal and Freestone 2004). The waste found throughout the entire excavation area is identical to the waste known from primary (raw glass) production furnaces and differs from the type found in secondary workshops: no glassware at all was discovered, only waste from the manufacture of raw material. The furnaces at Apollonia date from the Byzantine period, and those at Bet Eli‘ezer, east of Hadera, are dated to the Late Byzantine and Umayyad periods. At nearby Bet She‘arim, there is a large block of glass, the result of failed production, dated by its composition to the late eighth or early ninth century CE (Freestone and Gorin-Rosen 1999), which is an example of glass made in furnaces like those found at Khirbat ‘Asafna. Furnace waste similar to that found in the excavation is also known from Bet Eli‘ezer and Apollonia, as well as from many other sites that have only yielded waste and where furnaces have not been found in situ (Gorin-Rosen 2015).
To the southeast of the site, at Jalame, a workshop excavated in the past was attributed to glassware production, based on the waste found in all the excavation areas and the accompanying vessels. The workshop was dated to the second half of the fourth century CE (Weinberg 1988). A reappraisal of the glass debris from past excavations shows that the structure identified as a glassware furnace was actually a furnace for raw-glass production, and that a furnace for manufacturing glass vessels also operated beside it or in the vicinity (Gorin-Rosen 2015:181–193; 2021:113–117); the waste from the vessel-production stage confirms the assumption that a secondary workshop operated there, and that glassware was blown. The mistaken identification of the furnaces resulted from the limited information available to the excavators at the time regarding primary production furnaces. The waste from these furnaces shows that a large amount of raw glass was produced at the site. The room's plan at Jalame is consistent with that of a primary production furnace, but it is larger than that of a secondary production furnace (Weinberg 1988: Fig. 3:3).
The furnaces found in the current excavations confirm that raw glass was produced at the site (Gorin-Rosen 2021:113–114). The chunks of waste found in them are identical to those found in previous excavations, which at the time were mistakenly attributed to secondary glass production.
The furnaces discovered at the site served for raw-glass production. In them, a mixture of sand and natron was melted at a temperature of c. 1100 degrees Celsius until the liquid glass was formed. Following a cooling process, the liquid solidified into glass chunks, which were then marketed to workshops that manufactured vessels and other glass artifacts. Glass industry requires large quantities of fuel, which could be found in the Carmel forests or as seasonal vegetation in the region of the Zevulun valley. The glass makers at the site probably also used extraction waste from local olive presses. The main component in glass production is sand. Written sources from the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods mention the high quality of the sand in the ‘Akko Valley and its suitability for glass production (Gorin-Rosen 2000:49–56; 2021:109). Khirbat ‘Asafna lies in the southern distribution region of the ‘Akko Valley sands, and hauling sand to the site over a short distance would not have presented any problem. The second ingredient required for glass making is natron, which was used to lower the melting point of the silica and the calcium in the sand. The closest source of natron suitable for glass production is in Wadi Natrun in Egypt. From there, the natron was exported by sea to the Mediterranean and traded along with other Egyptian exports. The natron may have been unloaded on the coast and brought several kilometers by land to Khirbat ‘Asafna, but it may also have been transported from the coast in small boats via the Qishon River to just below the site. Via the same route, raw glass could have been transported from the production site to seafaring ships for export. As the estimated quantity of glass produced in these furnaces was large, far beyond local consumption, most of the raw glass was probably destined for export. The importance of the country as a glass-production center in the Roman period is evident from Diocletian’s price edict, which lists two types of glass: Judaean and Alexandrian glass, each with three products—raw glass, glassware and window glass; the Egyptian brand was more expensive in all three categories (Stern 2007:374–378; Gorin-Rosen 2021:110–111). It is therefore clear that, at least during the third and early fourth centuries CE, raw glass was being produced in the Judaean and Alexandrian regions. Is the site at Khirbat ‘Asafna an example of a production center in Provincia Palaestina, formerly named Judaea? If so, it is one of the missing links in the history of glass production in Israel.
Freestone I.C. and Gorin-Rosen Y. 1999. The Great Glass Slab at Bet She‘arim, Israel: An Early Islamic Glassmaking Experiment? JGS 41:105–116.
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2000. The Ancient Glass Industry in Israel: Summary of the Finds and New Discoveries. In M.-D. Nenna ed. La route du verre: Ateliers primaires et secondaires du second millénaire av. J.C. au Moyen Âge (TMO 33). Lyon. Pp. 49–63.
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2011. Glass Finds. In A.S. Sa‘id. Khirbat ‘Asafna. HA-ESI 123
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2015. Ancient Raw Glass Production in Israel: First Century BCE to Eighth Century CE. Ph.D. diss. University of Haifa. Haifa.
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2019. Glass Finds. In L. Talmi. Kh. ‘Asafna. HA-ESI 131
Gorin-Rosen Y. 2021. Wind, Sea, Sand and Fire: The Height of the Glass Industry at the Foot of Mount Carmel. In S. Dar ed. ‘As Carmel by the Sea’: Archaeological and Historical Studies of Mt. Carmel and its Environs. Pp. 108–136 (Hebrew).
Olami Y., Sender S. and Oren E. 2004. Map of Yagur (27)
(Archaeological Survey of Israel). Jerusalem (Hebrew).
Stern E.M. 2007. Ancient Glass in a Philological Context. Mnemosyne 60:341–406.
Tal O., Jackson-Tal R.E. and Freestone I.C. 2004. New Evidence of the Production of Raw Glass at Late Byzantine Apollonia-Arsuf. JGS 46:51–66.
Weinberg G.D. ed. 1988. Excavations at Jalame: Site of a Glass Factory in Late Roman Palestine. Columbia, Mo.