A survey conducted in the past in the vicinity of the excavation documented the remains of a settlement and many finds dating from the Early Bronze Age through to the Mamluk period (Kohn-Tavor 2014: Sites 29–31, 53, 54). An excavation conducted west of the present excavation exposed a cemetery from the Late Bronze Age IIb (Atrash 2016; Fig. 1: A-5438). An excavation to the southeast uncovered a thin layer of soil that yielded numerous finds, including pottery and coins from the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages, and the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods—all of which were probably washed there from nearby sites (Horowitz 2015; Fig. 1: A-7198). Most of the potsherd were covered by a calcareous encrustation, evidence of a flooded environment. Further evidence of a nearby source of water is the travertine rock on which the layer of soil was found.
The present excavation comprised four areas (A–D; Fig. 2), all exposing soft travertine rock under a thick layer of soil (0.7–1.0 m). Area A yielded numerous potsherds dating from the Middle Bronze Age, as well as the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, and a Late-Roman-period cemetery was exposed in Area C; Areas B and D yielded no ancient finds.
A layer of alluvium (L100, L104) that lay over the travertine rock contained small stones and numerous potsherds from the Middle Bronze Age, as well as the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, along with a few glass shards (not drawn). Most of the pottery, especially that from the early periods, was found covered with a thick calcareous encrustation, similar to that found in the nearby excavation (Horowitz 2015), indicating a flooded environment.
Area C (Figs. 3–5)
This area yielded a cemetery with a rectangular structure (L106), a square stone base (L113) and five pit graves (L108–L112), all oriented northwest–southeast. A layer of compact crushed limestone (L115) was observed over the entire area and bore soot and ash, evidence of burning. Structure 106 (2.35 × 3.00 m; Figs. 6, 7) comprised a foundation and a superstructure.
The foundation (height 0.8 m) was constructed of medium-size fieldstones set in a foundation trench that cut through the soil (L107) down to the travertine rock. The foundation was levelled at its top with a thick, hard layer of white plaster (L116) that coincided with the level of the crushed limestone (L115). The superstructure (height c. 0.8 m; Fig. 7) was constructed of two rows of nari blocks, interspersed with small and medium-size stones. No opening or internal space were identified, and the purpose of the structure is unknown.
Two ash pits (L117, L118; diam. 0.8 m, depth 0.3–0.4 m) were dug into the layer of compact crushed limestone (L115) alongside the northern wall of the structure; Pit 117 was cut by Pit Grave 112 (Fig. 8). The ash pits were found full of earth mixed with ash and soot; this mixture was also scattered around the pits and discolored the limestone layer (L115) and the edges of pit graves. The pits were found devoid of finds.
The square base (L113; 1 × 1 m, height 0.7 m; Figs. 5, 9) was constructed of two courses of dressed nari blocks, and it too had clear traces of ash around it; its function is unknown.
The five pit graves (L108–L112; Figs. 8, 9) were dug into the layer of compact crushed limestone (L115) and the soil layer below it. Their outline was marked with small stones coated with plaster, and they were covered with dressed nari blocks; the blocks in Grave 112 were long and narrow (see Fig. 8). Glass shards belonging to vessels from the Late Roman period (Gorin-Rosen, below) were found in Graves 109 and 110, beside their eastern walls. Next to the glass shards in Grave 110 was a fragment of a Roman-period lamp (not drawn), and a few Roman-period potsherds were found in the area between the graves (not drawn). The construction and orientation of the graves is similar to that of pit graves dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods in the Lower Galilee—east of Tamra-in-the-Valley (Permit No. A-7704) and on the periphery of the village of Nein (Dalali-Amos 2018).
Fragments of glass vessel were found along the eastern walls of Graves 109 and 110. The vessels date from the Late Roman period and represent both local products that are well-known in the Galilee, and a group of vessels made of colorless glass brought from a distant production center, which reflect trade relations and the high status of the interred.
The shapes of glass vessels that were manufactured throughout the Roman empire, both East and West, exhibited a high degree of uniformity. Nevertheless, some characteristics differentiated local and foreign wares, especially the fine fabric and its production methods. The differences between vessels manufactured from locally produced glass and vessels made from non-local glass—as evident in quality, color and weathering—shed light on the life of the deceased.
Grave 109 yielded many glass sherds (B1012) that were mended into three partial bottles/jugs (Fig. 10:1–3) made of colorless glass and covered with a thick layer of hard, golden weathering and pitting on the walls. Vessel No. 1 is a cylindrical bottle/jug; its upper part was restored from numerous neck and rim fragments. It was then matched to one of the three bases found in the grave and to several wall fragments so as to estimate its full height. The bottle/jug has a short fire-rounded funnel rim and a horizontal glass trail that forms a step. The bottle has a low, wide neck and rounded shoulders. The walls are straight, the body is cylindrical and the base, found separately and restored from several fragments, is slightly pushed inward and relatively thin for bottles. Although handle fragments, which would have helped in reconstructing the vessel as a jug, were not found in the grave, its shape does allow for such a classification. Bases No. 2 and 3 resemble the base of Vessel No. 1, but they differ slightly in size. All three bases are made of the same high-quality colorless glass and covered with its characteristic weathering. No rim or wall fragments were found for Vessels No. 2 and 3.
The quality of the colorless glass and its characteristic weathering are known from glass vessels dating from the second–third centuries CE found in several excavations in Israel. This vessel type is sometimes decorated with shallow, incised horizontal grooves on the outside. The colorless glass characteristic of this group differs from local glass. It is often identified as glass that was manufactured in Egypt or as the type of glass that was commonly used in the western Roman empire, but the eastern production center of this glass is still unknown.
Bottle No. 1 is a well-known type in the western Roman empire, and it dates from the end of the second century to the end of the fourth century CE (Cylindrical bottle-flasks; Isings 1957:120–121, Form 102, and see therein further references to finds from graves in the western Roman provinces).
No vessel that is identical in all respects to Vessel No. 1 has been found in Israel, but several vessels have some similar characteristics. Two such vessels, for example, are found in the collection of the Franciscan Museum in Nazareth and are said to originate in Bet She’an: a cylindrical bottle with a low neck and a rim that is different from that of Vessel No. 1, and a cylindrical jug with a low neck and a funnel rim (Bagatti 1967:224–225, 231–232, Figs. 1:30, 5:108). This collection also includes a large bottle from Bet She’an, with a conical body and a decoration of thin, incised horizontal grooves on the neck and body, which could—based on its shape—belong to the group of vessels that originated in a distant production center (Bagatti 1967:224–225, Fig. 1:8). The Dobkin collection at the Israel Museum includes a similarly shaped cylindrical jug, but it is made of Light bluish greenish glass (Israeli 2003:257, Cat. No. 332). The collection of the Ontario Museum in Canada, which houses numerous Middle Eastern vessels of Syro-Palestinian manufacture, includes two jugs and a bottle with characteristics resembling Vessel No. 1. The jugs were dated to the first half of the fourth century CE, and the bottle—to the late third–early fourth centuries CE (Hayes 1975:102, 110, Pl. 24:363, 364, cylindrical flagons; Pl. 25:410, bottle).
Grave 110. Glass fragments found in the grave (B1011) were mended to form the upper and lower parts of a bottle (Fig. 11) with an elongated, carelessly fire-rounded funnel rim, a short neck, low rounded shoulders, a rathe thin, pushed-in base, a globular body and thin walls. The quality of the glass and the shape of the bottle are characteristic of local Galilean wares of the third–fourth centuries CE. A similar bottle, but almost twice as large, of which only the upper part was preserved, was found in a tomb at Hanita, dated to the third and early fourth centuries CE (Barag 1978:26–27, Fig. 13:54, and see therein reference to bottles from Bet She‘arim). A tomb at Hurfeish, dated to the third century CE, yielded two similar but larger bottles, with slight differences in the modeling of the rim and with a trail on the neck of one of the bottles (Gorin-Rosen 2002:162*–164*, Fig. 13:56, 57, and see therein references to tombs in Tyre and Cyprus). This type is also known in the western Roman empire, where it first appeared in the second half of the third century and continued into the fourth century CE (Isings 1957:123–125, Form 104b, and see many references therein).
Available data on burials in Roman Bet She’an is limited. So far, only a few tombs have been published from the cemeteries surrounding the city. Many of the glass vessels in museum collections, such as the collection of the Franciscan Museum in Nazareth, were collected in excavations conducted in the vicinity of Bet She’an and in the Galilee during the 1920s and 1930s. Additional vessels were found in the excavations conducted at Bet She’an in the 1930s, and these are housed in the Philadelphia University Museum collection. The new group of bottles found at Tel Te’omim is therefore important, as it provides additional insights into the life of the inhabitants of the Bet She’an valley in the Roman period.
The vessels found in the two graves adjacent to the structure represent closed vessels of known types, but the three vessels from Grave 109 are made from non-local glass. One possibility is that the vessels were imported from a distant manufacturing center, such as Egypt; the other possibility is that the colorless glass was imported by local workshops, and then melted and used for making these vessels. In either case, owning these vessels indicates a higher economic status than that of those owning vessels of the type found in Grave 110, representing a local industry of the Bet She’an valley or the Galilee.
These vessels show a clear preference for high-quality colorless and more transparent glass, a preference corroborated by written sources that testify to the prestige ascribed to colorless glass during this period. A copy of the Diocletian Edict on Maximum Prices issued in Antioch in 301 CE, which was found in Aphrodisias, southwestern Turkey (Stern 2007:375–378), stipulates prices for two types of glass—Judean glass and Alexandrian glass—and for three kinds of products: raw glass, glass vessels and windowpanes. The edict mentions two differences between the two types of glass: the color—Judean glass is greenish, while Alexandrian glass is apparently colorless; and, more importantly, the price (Stern 2007:375). Producing colorless glass was more complex and costly, and therefore Alexandrian glass was more expensive and prestigious than the greenish Judean glass. Jewish sources also indicate that colorless glass was more expensive: “At first, they would serve wine in the house of the mourner during the first meal after the burial; the wealthy would do so in cups made from white glass, and the poor would serve this wine in cups of colored glass. And the poor were embarrassed, as everyone would see that they were poor. The Sages instituted that all should serve drinks in the house of the mourner in colored glass cups, due to the honor of the poor" (BT Mo‘ed Qatan 27a, 23). Thus, The importance of the glass finds in Grave 109 lies in illuminating the economic status of Bet She’an’s inhabitants during the Roman period and their preference for fine and beautiful vessels.
A neck fragment (not drawn) found west of Structure 106 (L107) belonged to a bottle of the candlestick type. Candlestick-bottles appeared in the late first century CE and continued until the early third century CE.
Apart from the glass fragments found in the graves, several glass shards were found in the alluvium in Areas A and C (not drawn). These include a fragment of a bowl rim with a double hollow fold, a fragment of a funnel-shaped infolded jug rim and a fragment of a hollow ring base of either a bowl or a juglet, all from Area C (L102) and dated to the Late Roman period; and a fragment of a hollow ring base of a wine glass, dating from the Byzantine period (Area A, L100). These vessels are well known from excavations in the Bet She’an area and elsewhere.
The excavation exposed part of a cemetery, with a structure, a stone base, ash pits and pit graves with covering stones. No datable finds were found to help date the structure, the stone base and the pits, and their function is unknown. However, it seems that they predate the pit graves and may have continued in use even after the graves were dug. The pit graves can be dated to the Late Roman period by the glass vessels and a lamp fragment, which were apparently placed against the walls in Graves 109 and 110. The pit graves evidently served the inhabitants of the nearby settlement at Horbat Ne‘etar during the Roman and Byzantine periods. On evidence of the rare glass finds in the graves, the residents were well-to-do. Furthermore, these finds suggest that the residents of Horbat Ne‘etar had similar cultural values as their contemporaries at Tamra-in-the-valley and at Nein and buried their dead in the same fashion.