In August 2020, a trial excavation accompanied by conservation work was carried out on two dolmens in Kibbutz Dafna’s northern agricultural lands (Permit No. A-8814; map ref. 259700/794575; Fig. 1), following damage caused by mechanical equipment and prior to development of the Israel National Trail for visitors. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Kibbutz Dafna, was directed by U. Berger (field photography) and G. Sharon, with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), R. Liran (surveying and drafting), E. Mordechovich (conservation architect), A. Kleiner (models and aerial photography), K. Reed (field photography), A. Shapiro (mapping and morphology) and J. Peterson, Y. Alef, M. Khatib and N. Korem (conservation). The excavation work was carried out by students from Tel Hai Academic College and volunteers from Kibbutz Gadot and Kibbutz Shamir. Special thanks are due to Prof. H. Goren from Tel-Hai College and O. Shahar from TAHAL Engineering Group for their assistance in locating the dolmens.
The excavation was located to the south of a large dolmen field documented in the area of the abandoned Syrian village of Nukheila, southwest of Horbat Nehila (Berger 2020) and south of the ancient site of el-Shauka el-Fuqa (Fig. 2; Shaked and Shemesh 2016: Sites 28, 41). The dolmen field, extending across a large tract of basaltic land sloping southward to the Hula Valley, between Nahal Snir in the west and the slopes of Har Dov in the east, is the northernmost dolmen field in the Hula Valley and in Israel (Berger and Sharon 2018). The field was first discovered in the spring of 1882 by Claude R. Conder when touring the Levant, accompanied by two British princes, Prince Albert Victor, and his younger brother George, later George V (Conder 1882; Berger, Goren and Sharon 2020). Four dolmens were recorded in the tour. A recent survey documented and mapped the dolmen field, numbering the dolmens and also identifying the dolmens discovered by Conder and the princes (Fig. 3:1–27; License No. S-713/2016; Berger, Goren and Sharon 2020). Another survey (License No. S-1062/2021) conducted in the area shortly after the current excavation, discovered more clusters of dolmens in the northwestern lands of the village of Nukheila, in formerly inaccessible locations. A total of 41 dolmens, including remains of probable dolmens, have been located in this dolmen field.
The excavation focused on two of the dolmens documented by Conder (10, 11; Figs. 4, 5), the small-scale excavations limited to part of the burial cell in each dolmen in order to preserve and conserve the dolmens’ structure. All the excavated sediment was sifted through a 10 mm mesh. The remains of an adjacent ruined dolmen was also initially inspected and documented (12; Fig. 6).
(Fig. 7; map ref. 259691/794562; Conder 1882:226–227). The burial cell (0.8 × 2.6 m, height 0.8 m) was built of large stones on a southwest–northeast axis and was surrounded by a circle of stones (stones diam. c. 4 m). The cell was capped with two large basalt slabs (L1007: 0.50 × 0.95 × 1.50 m; L1008: 0.30 × 0.65 × 1.50 m), one of which (L1007) was broken in two; a drawing from 1882 shows the crack across the stone slab, which evidently subsequently broke. At the end of the excavation, slab L1007 was reconstructed by joining the two parts together (see below). One side of slab L1008 had fallen into the burial cell, which was full of dark clayey soil to half the height of the cell. Two small areas in the middle of the cell (L1001–L1005) were excavated. The surface layer (L1001, L1002) consisted mainly of organic matter from a jujube tree growing over the dolmen, as well as a few rusty tin fragments, small worn non-diagnostic pottery sherds, part of a copper rifle-bullet casing (L1001, B10013; Fig. 8). A tiny milky quartz pebble retrieved must have been imported since milky quartz is not endemic to Israel (see below). The tiny pebble may possibly have been set in a jewelry item or ornament, as the use of milky quartz in jewelry production is known in western Asia from the early third millennium BCE (Golani 2010). A few non-diagnostic potsherds were found in the layer underlying the surface layer down to the basalt slab paving (L1003–L1005), and a tiny blue glass bead (L1003, B10003; diam. 4 mm, hole diam. 1.5 mm, thickness 3 mm; Fig. 9) was found while sifting the soil from the cell. A similar bead was found in the burial cell excavated in Dolmen 3 at Kibbutz Shamir (Sharon et al. 2017: Fig. 10b); it is not unusual to find beads in dolmen burial cells (Epstein 1985; Berger and Sharon 2017
; Berger and Gottschalk 2019
; Berger and Sharon 2019
; Assis and Berger 2020
A large basalt rock with a hewn cupmark was found five meters north of Dolmen 10 (Fig. 10). Hewn cupmarks are common near dolmens, for example, at many megalithic sites throughout Galilee and the Golan Heights (Sharon and Berger 2020). Large fragments of a Golan-Iturean pithos with a pointed base and a folded rim, dating from the Byzantine period (L1000, B10014; Fig. 11:1; Hartal 2006:176–183) and a round basalt object with a hole in the center (L1000, B10015; diam. 26 cm, hole diam. 9 cm, thickness 5–8 cm; Fig. 11:2) were uncovered 20 m south of the dolmen, the latter possibly being a stand for the pithos, and the two objects may have been buried together (Fig. 12).
Dolmen 11 (Fig. 13; map ref. 259726/794577). The British survey described the dolmen as a ‘semi-dolmen’ type, since one end of its stone capstone rested on the bedrock (Conder 1882:227–228). The excavation uncovered a rectangular burial cell (0.95 × 2.00 m, height 1.1 m) built of large stones on a roughly east–west alignment. The cell was poorly preserved and many of its stones were missing. The capstone described in the survey (0.3 × 1.2 × 1.5 m) was discovered in situ; it had evidently fallen to the ground on one side, possibly as a result of an intentional blow. The cell was surrounded by a circle of stones (diam. c. 5 m) that was only partly preserved.
Two small areas of the burial cell were excavated. The soil accumulated in the cell (L1101–L1104) yielded a few small non-diagnostic pottery body sherds. A basalt slab in the western part of the dolmen may be a remnant of the cell’s paved floor. No finds were recovered in the soil at the level of the slab or beneath it (L1105).
Milky Quartz Pebble (L1001, B10010; 4 × 6 × 10 mm; Fig. 14). The pebble is rounded, has a shiny surface and is slightly translucent around its thinner edges. A few visible hairline cracks suggest that the pebble may have originated from an already cracked piece, resulting from atmospheric erosion.
Milky quartz is a common variety of crystalline quartz that can be translucent to opaque, and its whitish color is caused by minute inclusions of gas and/or liquid that were trapped inside the mineral during crystallization. Quartz may occur within sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous rocks, and it is rare in the Galilee. When it does appear in this region, it is usually as quartz-chalcedony geodes (‘Elijah watermelons’) or as single, very small (<10 mm) transparent crystals resulting from the destruction of geodes. Milky quartz is not found in the Galilee or the Golan; it is characteristic of igneous and metamorphic formations that are found either in Cyprus and Turkey to the north or in areas in southern Israel/northern Sinai, where there are outcrops of acid volcanic and quartz-containing metamorphic rocks (Eyal et al. 1980; Bingöl 1992; Constantinou 1995; Beyth, Eyal and Garfunkel 2012).
The size of the pebble and the hairline cracks resemble the eroded quartz of the Southern ‘Arava Valley (pers. Observation, 2016), which was probably the pebble’s origin.
Conservation and Reconstruction. Conder’s meticulous documentation enabled identifying the two excavated dolmens after about 140 years; the excavation and conservation was therefore carried out with all due respect for the historical documentation. The small-scale excavation ensured minimal damage to the form and placement of the dolmens’ stones.
The conservation work on Dolmen 10 included cementing together the broken capstone’s two fragments (Figs. 15, 16). Conder’s documentation shows that the stone was already cracked when he saw it, and it must have subsequently broken, half of it falling into the burial cell. The two stone parts were joined with three basalt rods inserted horizontally into both parts of the stone. Dark gray bonding material was used to cement the parts together and to fill in crevices and cavities. The dolmen’s cell was filled with sifted soil and small local stones, devoid of ancient finds, to support the capstone, especially its cemented, broken edges, and to prevent the dolmen stones from breaking and collapsing. The capstones were then restored to their original position as shown in the 1882 sketch. The fill inside the cell was camouflaged and not visible from the outside. Following the restoration, the dolmen’s appearance is similar to that encountered by the British expedition.
Dolmens 10 and 11 are the first excavated dolmens in the Nukheila/ Horbat Nehila dolmen field. As is the case with many excavated dolmens, the dolmens are difficult to date due to the absence of datable finds inside the burial cells and nearby, probably the result of previous tomb robbing.
The Iturean pithos is the first appearance of this Golan culture at the site, suggesting that Iturean cultural influences also reached the northern Hula Valley, a region where they were had not hitherto been recognized (Hartal 2006).
The challenging conservation and restoration work due to the size of the stones used to construct the dolmens and the difficulty of accessing them, will contribute to the growing awareness supporting the preservation of dolmens and ancient megalithic structures.
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