The excavation was located in the northern part of Kibbutz Merhavya, directly to the north of Tel Merhavya (Fig. 1). The site is located near the main road that led from the Jezreel Valley toward the Harod Valley and Bet She’an. The tell was first surveyed by Conder and Kitchener (1882:82) and numerous times following them, including by Zori (1977:53), who mentioned the retrieval of finds dating from the Middle Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Hellenistic, Roman and the Byzantine periods and the “Medieval periods”. At the site are ruins of a Crusader castle identified as Castrum Fabe of La Fève, built in 1170 CE and destroyed in 1187 CE (Conder and Kitchener 1882:82; Zori 1977:53; Kedar and Pringle 1985).
Three excavation areas (A–C; 2.5 × 6.0 m each) were opened north of the tell, north of a wide ditch, apparently marking the castle’s moat. The excavation uncovered the remains of a structure from the Late Roman–early Byzantine periods (Area B, Stratum II) and a refuse pit from the Mamluk period (Area A, Stratum I); no vertically stratified remains were found in these areas. The excavation in Area C was halted when the tops of two stone-lined cist graves were uncovered; they were left unexcavated (for further documentation, see the IAA scientific archive).
Late Roman–early Byzantine periods (Stratum II). Area B yielded remains of a single structure (Figs. 2–4): four walls (W205, W206, W215, W216) separating two rooms (L212, L214) and what seems to be a courtyard (L217/L219). The walls (width c. 0.8 m) laid directly on the bedrock, were constructed of large hewn stones along with small and medium-sized fieldstones preserved to a height of 3–4 courses. Stones that had collapsed from these walls were noted throughout the excavation area.
Room 212, enclosed by Walls 205 and 206, had a leveled bedrock floor. The accumulation above this floor yielded glass shards of several glass bowls dated to the fourth century CE and a coin (IAA 100210) dated to the first half of the fifth century CE. Room 214, enclosed by Walls 205, 215 and 216, was entered in the south, as evident by a threshold in W215. Several internal modifications were made in this room, as evident by its two superimposed beaten-earth floors or floor beddings (L214a, b). The accumulation above the upper floor (L214b) contained numerous potsherds, including a storage jar from the fourth–early fifth centuries CE (Fig. 5:4); a glass bowl (Fig. 11:1) dated to the second half of the fourth century CE; and small white, black and red tesserae, indicating that a mosaic floor of these colors was laid either in this or in an adjacent room. In the space to the south and west of Walls 205, 215 and 216 (L217/L219)—most likely an open courtyard—the bedrock was partially levelled out to serve as either a floor or a foundation for one. The pottery from above the leveled bedrock in Courtyard 217/219 included two cooking pots (Fig. 5:1, 2) and one storage jar (Fig. 5:3). Also found in the accumulation above the leveled bedrock were a glass bowl and a glass beaker (Fig. 11:2), both dated to the fourth century CE, and fragments of several groundstone implements. The finds from the courtyard, together with the glass bowls and coin from Room 212 and the jar and glass bowl from Room 214, enable us to date this building to the Late Roman or early Byzantine period (the fourth–early fifth centuries CE).
This courtyard building served as a dwelling, as evident by the pottery assemblage, which comprises pottery vessels for storage, food preparation and serving, glass vessels for serving and stone implements for processing agricultural produce.
Mamluk period (Stratum I). Reaching the limestone bedrock in Area A (0.75 m max. depth below the surface), the excavation revealed a single rock-hewn pit (L101; estimated diam. 5 m, depth 3 m; Figs. 6, 7) at its northeastern border. Only about one fourth of the pit was exposed, as it extends beyond the excavation area. Superimposed layers of ash and burnt charcoaled wood and stones could be discerned inside the pit (Fig. 8).
The excavated part of the pit contained large amounts of potsherds, unidentified glass sherds, metal fragments and animal bones. The latest potsherds from the pit were dated to the Mamluk period. Among these were handmade geometric-painted sherds (HMGPW; Fig. 9) and bowls (Fig. 10:1); glazed bowls (Fig. 10:2, 3); and two types of jugs, one slipped and glazed (Fig. 10:5), and the other of HMGPW (Fig. 10:6). The topsoil (L100) overlying the bedrock and the pit included a Mamluk-period glazed bowl (Fig. 10:4), a glass cup from the third–fourth centuries CE and a conical stone spindle whorl (Fig. 10:7). The presence of HMGPW was noted in all of the excavated debris; although usually dated to the Mamluk period, some HMGPW sherds may date from the Crusader period.
The Glass Finds
Fourteen glass fragments were retrieved from the excavation; ten of these are diagnostic.
In Area A, a rim fragment of a small beaker was found in topsoil (L100). The rim is everted and fire-rounded, and it may be part of a beaker with a sack-shaped body. These beakers date from the Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE).
Most of the finds are from Area B. The accumulation in Room 212 yielded three rim fragments of bowls with hollow, out-folded rims, and a fragment of a hollow ring base, pinched outward, belonging to a bowl of the same type, as well as an upright, fire-rounded rim belonging to a shallow bowl. Room 214 yielded a fire-rounded and thickened rim of an upright bowl decorated below the rim with a fine trail in the same bluish green hue as that of the vessel (Fig. 11:1). Courtyard 217 yielded a characteristic fragment of a hollow double tubular fold, belonging to another bowl. Bowls with a hollow double tubular fold below the rim are very common, and examples have been found at Bet She’an (Katsnelson 2014:24*–26*, Fig. 1:5, 6, and see therein parallels from other excavations at Bet She’an, as well as from Jalame and a burial cave on Mount Gilbo‘a). All these bowls are characteristic of the end of the Late Roman period (fourth century CE).
An almost complete beaker (without its base) found in Courtyard 217 is also characteristic of the fourth century CE: a type with a cylindrical body and a solid disc base. The beaker is made of blueish green glass and is decorated with a fine blue trail wound horizontally around it (Fig. 11:2). Beakers of this type are known from numerous sites throughout the country, such as Bet She’an, where beaker fragments and a complete beaker were found in a burial cave (Katsnelson 2014:27*–29*, 51*–52*, Figs. 2:8–11; 14:6, and see references therein to Jalame, where numerous examples of this type of beaker were found in production waste from a pottery workshop dated to the second half of the fourth century CE). The finds also include a fragment of a small hollow ring base (L217), typical of cylindrical or sack-shaped beakers, as well as a fragment of a fire-rounded bottle rim (L212).
All the identified fragments belong to vessels that are commonly found in Galilee, and all can be dated to the fourth–early fifth centuries CE.
The small-scale excavation at the site contributes toward reconstructing the ancient settlement patterns immediately to the north of the ancient mound. The importance of the site’s location, along a main road, as evident in the erection of the Crusader castle, was most likely an impetus for the rise of the pre-Crusader settlement as well.
The Late Roman–early Byzantine dwelling uncovered in Area B indicates that the settlement of this period was located in the lower grounds to the north of the mound. The construction methods of the walls and the quality of the mosaic tesserae suggest that the remains belonged to a villa. As substantial Byzantine-period remains have been exposed in numerous salvage excavations at Tel ‘Afula (Shalev 2017, and see references therein), only 2.5 km to the west, the villa may have been linked to this large site; this, however, cannot be determined based on the findings in this small-scale excavation.
The rock-hewn refuse pit in Area A, dated to the Mamluk period, provides evidence for a settlement at the site during this period (late thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE), approximately two hundred years after the destruction of the castle (Kedar and Pringle 1985). As Area A lied to the north of the Crusader-period castle moat, this part of the site may have been a midden area during the Mamluk period. The absence of any settlement remains from this period in Areas B and C suggests that the ruins of the domestic quarters of the Mamluk-period settlement are to be sought in a different part of the site.