In July–September 2020 and December 2021, salvage excavations were conducted in the AGAM project compound in Tiberias (License Nos. B-488/2020, B-505/2021; map ref. 251110–220/743315–80). The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology and funded by A.Y. Yam-Kinneret Yazamut Nadlan Ltd. and the Agam Kinneret Purchasing Group, were directed by O. Gutfeld, M. Haber and T. Rogovski, with the assistance of R. Ben Shlomo and N. Koskanen (area supervision), M. Krieger, S. Gutfeld and J. Abu Ganem (administration), M. Cohen (surveying), and laborers from Shahaf Ha-Mizrach Personnel Company Ltd. With thanks to the IAA Northern District for their valuable assistance in the excavation.
The AGAM compound in Tiberias extends southward from the Ottoman city wall and is situated to the north of the Rimmonim Galei Kinneret Hotel and c. 30 m west of Huri Beach, on the Sea of Galilee’s shoreline. Previous excavations in the compound and in its immediate vicinity revealed remains dating from the Early Roman to the Ottoman periods (Feig 1984; Dar and Adan-Bayewitz 1984; Stepansky 2007; Hartal 2008; Hartal and Harel 2013; Zingboym, Amitai and Avshalom-Gorni 2018). The current excavation was preceded in 2017 by a trial excavation in four excavation squares (Permit No. A-7881).
The excavation—designated as a salvage excavation prior to the site’s burial for many generations to come—opened 182 squares (c. 4.5 dunams; Figs. 1–3) and focused on the more recent strata. It revealed architectural remains and abundant finds dated to the Early Islamic period (eighth–eleventh centuries CE).
The excavation uncovered extensive remains of buildings, courtyards, paved streets, architectural features, industrial installations for the production of pottery lamps, pottery and possibly also glassware, water channels and storerooms. Some of the buildings were used as dwellings and others for light industry. These buildings were partly founded on ancient walls, which they cut into in places. Two main construction methods were identified in the architectural remains, attributed to two Early Islamic building phases. Walls (width 0.6 m) attributed to the earlier phase were well built of large, dressed basalt stones bonded with white mortar. Carelessly built walls constructed on top of the earlier phase, and therefore attributed to the later phase, were built of two rows of small and medium-sized fieldstones, which were bonded in some places bonded with mud mortar. The following report describes the remains of a prominent building in the west of the area, cesspits, a water channel, a stylobate and paved sections, storerooms, a well and a paved courtyard, and a kiln.
Remains of a Building. The western side of the excavation area contained a massive building (c. 6.5 × 10.0 m; Fig. 4) built on a hill. The building had two entrances: one on the building’s northeastern side, accessed via an alley; the other, with a flight of steps leading to it, on the building’s southwestern side. The building had a central room (1.5 × 3.0 m) with a stone bench along its western wall. A cesspit to the west of the central room opened at a lower level (below); it yielded a few jugs and juglets dated to the Abbasid period. Another room was uncovered to the east of the central room. Three smaller rooms were revealed to the north of the three rooms and the cesspit. The most exciting find of the excavation was discovered on the floor of the westerly of these rooms: a rare cache of ten intact oil-lamp molds made of clay and decorated with various geometric and vegetal motifs (Fig. 5). The excavation yielded numerous oil lamps, some of which had evidently never been used. One of the oil lamps matches one of the molds, attesting to a nearby workshop for the production of oil lamps. The building also yielded a four-spouted lamp made of soapstone (steatite) and a lamp bearing the name ‘Allah’ in Arabic. One of the building’s rooms, to the west of the room where the molds were found, contained a complete pithos found in situ that was covered with a basalt millstone (Fig. 8, below). An identical pithos was discovered in 1998 while excavating Tiberias’s southern sewage plant, c. 500 m south of the current excavation (Hirschfeld and Gutfeld 2008), at the House of the Bronzes. At that site, three pithoi were found containing a cache of bronze objects dated to the Fatimid period (eleventh century CE), the eve of the Crusader conquest. The pithos from the current excavation contained nothing but soil.
Cesspits. Six stone-lined cesspits with round openings (diam. 0.3–0.4 m) were uncovered in the excavation area. Two of them contained round basalt basins with a hole at the bottom, which served as toilet basins. The pits were not excavated for fear of them collapsing, but one pit was empty and reached a depth of 3.5 m. A layer of mud at the bottom of the pit had been washed in from the Sea of Galilee. In one excavation square, the outside of the cesspit’s stone lining was revealed together with its basalt toilet basin.
Water Channel. Most of the excavation area was crossed by a southwest–northeast water channel (width 1 m, depth 1 m), running along dozens of meters to the Sea of Galilee. The channel was built of two walls (wall width 0.2 m) coated with thick gray hydraulic plaster and covered with basalt slabs. The interior of the channel (width c. 0.6 m) was filled with soil and pottery of the Abbasid and Fatimid periods. The impressive dimensions of the channel and its covering slabs suggest that it served as a municipal drain for channeling sewage and rainwater to the Sea of Galilee.
Stylobate and Paving Segments. The western side of the excavation area contained a stylobate on a north–south alignment with seven square basalt pedestals along it (0.55 × 0.55 m, height 1.45 m; Fig. 7) placed exactly 2.2 m apart. One of the pedestals was surmounted by a springer stone found in situ that supported an arch on both sides, confirming that there was a row of arches between the pedestals. Paving segments comprising basalt slabs were uncovered on both sides of the pedestals, to their east and west. As the paving abutted the upper part of the pedestals (c. 1 m above their bases) it evidently postdated them. Therefore, although the paving is dated to the Early Islamic period, the stylobate and the pedestals belong to an earlier period of construction and were employed here in secondary use.
Storerooms. Two subterranean storerooms (1 × 2 m) were coated with thick mud plaster and roofed with large rectangular basalt slabs. Near one of the storerooms, at the base of the flight of steps leading to the west of the building where the molds were found, were two carved stone storage installations, one made of basalt and the other of hard limestone.
Well and Paved Courtyard. A stone-lined well (depth c. 3.5 m) in the north of the excavation area reached down to the water level of the Sea of Galilee. The well was dug on the western edge of a courtyard paved with basalt slabs, which was covered with collapsed architectural features, mostly small pillars and capitals (Fig. 8). The layer of collapsed rubble is evidence of the 1033 CE earthquake that devastated Tiberias, after which the excavation area lay abandoned.
Kiln. A pottery kiln was uncovered containing dozens of elongated clay kiln bars (Fig. 9). Similar kiln bars were found at previously excavated sites in Tiberias (Stern 1995), Ramla (Gutfeld 2010) and Zippori, yet at the current site a large number were found inside the kiln, probably as a result of the kiln collapsing in on itself. Initial examination of the kiln shows that although similar examples exist elsewhere in the world, it was of a kind not previously recorded in Israel. In this kiln, the bars were apparently inserted into the inner walls, so that small clay vessels, such as bowls, juglets and lamps, could be placed on them. This practice differed from other kilns, where the bars served as spacers to separate the pottery during firing.
The above is an initial report on the salvage excavations at the AGAM compound in Tiberias. The excavation revealed one of the city’s northern neighborhoods from the Early Islamic period, dated primarily to the eighth–eleventh centuries CE. The eleventh-century CE layer of collapsed rubble constitutes a terminus post quem for the Fatimid period at the site; no post-Fatimid finds were recovered.
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