Horbat Qishron is located in the Lower Galilee, south of Golani Junction, near Ilaniyya. The site was initially surveyed by Gal (1990:38), who collected potsherds from the Iron Age II and the Byzantine period. Four prior excavations had been carried out at the site and in its vicinity, along with additional surveying, which indicated human activity and settlement during the Neolithic period, Early Bronze Age I, Intermediate Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age II, Late Bronze Age I and Iron Age I–II, as well as the Persian, Hellenistic, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The first two of these excavations (Areas A and B, not on the map) uncovered IBA settlement remains and Roman-period installations (Smithline 2002). Later excavations on a hill c. 0.5 km to the west of the site uncovered burial caves dating from the Intermediate and Middle Bronze Ages (Zagorski and Rosenblum 2008) and a poorly preserved Roman-period wall to the north of the site (Fig. 1: A-6170; Dalali-Amos and Liran 2012).
The five seasons of excavation described below were conducted in 18 areas (C–I, I1, J–S: Fig. 1). The excavation in these areas, as well as the pre-excavation trial trenches, enabled the division of what was previously considered a single site into two separate, clearly defined sites—Qishron North and Qishron South (Figs. 1, 2)—having different occupational histories (see Appendix) and separated by an area devoid of archaeological remains. Qishron North is a large (c. 80 dunams) multi-period site that includes a small mound to the west of Road 65 and surrounding lower areas, dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age, the Middle Bronze Age and the Iron Age, as well as the Persian and Roman Periods. Qishron South is characterized by a flint extraction and knapping site from the Middle Paleolithic period and a small (c. 5 dunams) single-stratum settlement dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age that overlay colluvial soil.
The fullest stratigraphic profile of this multi-period site is found near the mound, west of Road 65; the mound itself was not excavated. In the lower areas east of the mound, the stratigraphic sequence thins out, leaving only the IBA remains.
Paleolithic Period. Flint artifacts dated from the Lower to the Upper Paleolithic periods were found in the topsoil above the in situ finds, primarily in the excavation areas east of Road 65.
Intermediate Bronze Age. The initial occupation at Qishron North was during the Intermediate Bronze Age; settlement remains of this period were exposed in Areas C–M. The architectural features were founded directly on the bedrock or on sterile soil. In the excavation areas east of Road 65, the in situ finds were found in the topsoil layer, and in some instances even protruding above it. A modern infrastructure trench with interred communication cables cut into these remains (Fig. 3).
The excavations revealed numerous multiroom buildings characterized by walls built mostly of fieldstones with some roughly hewn stones. It is probable that the buildings’ superstructures were built in part of stone courses and in part of mud-brick courses. The floors of the rooms were hardpacked beaten earth, often with a flat stone slab incorporated into the floor. Stone-built corner installations were found in many of the buildings’ rooms. A cooking installation found in all the buildings had a basalt-paved floor (‘cooking floors’; Figs. 4, 5). Smoothed rock-hewn stone surfaces and hewn installations were identified on bedrock outcrops in the northernmost squares of Areas C and D and in the southernmost squares of Area E.
One of the buildings in Area K was well preserved and bore unique finds. In one of its rooms, several storage jars and cooking pots, as well as a teapot and a jug belonging to the Black Wheel-Made Ware (BWMW) pottery type, were found broken in situ (Fig. 6). One of the jars contained large amounts of carbonized grape seeds that yielded a 14C date in the 23rd century BCE (Lev et al. 2021). A circular platform constructed of stones—possibly an altar—was found in an adjoining room. The building included additional installations and a stele.
While most of the multiroom buildings had open courtyards separating them, Areas K and L had preplanned alleyways between the buildings (Fig. 7). In the southernmost squares of the site (Areas I, M), stone mortars and grinding stones were found in association with surfaces paved with small stones. These areas, located along the periphery of the settlement, may have served for communal processing of agricultural produce.
Accumulations above the floors contained pottery, including numerous nearly whole vessels; metal, groundstone and flint items; and animal bones. Among the pottery vessels were many cooking, storage and serving vessels, including BWMW teapots and goblets. Copper alloy awls were found in many areas, as well as a dagger in Area G. In addition, dozens of in situ groundstone tools were found, with grinding stones most common among them. The lower grinding stones, all made of porous basalt, were found mainly in the courtyards (Fig. 8). Two distinct types of lower grinding stones were identified—a large and thick type, with a concave active surface, and an elongated, thin one with a flattened active surface; these two types may represent different traditions of food preparation or specialized use for different cereals. Most of the upper grinding stones are either loaf shaped or small and rectangular in shape. In addition, several basalt mortars were found in situ, usually fixed stationary on floors. Other common groundstone tools are large basalt rings (diam. 7–15 cm) made of both porous and non-porous basalt and exhibiting polishing in the perforation, possibly the result of friction caused by a rotational movement. Also found were weights, pestles and hammerstones made mainly of flint.
Evidence for on-site pottery production was found in two separate Areas: Area G, where a rock-hewn installation (settling basin?) was found in association with a basalt tournette; and in Area R, where a pit kiln was uncovered along with production waste. Additional basalt tournette fragments were collected in other areas. The potter’s wheel tournettes indicate the employment of the wheel, perhaps for smoothing vessels, in the on-site pottery production.
Middle Bronze Age. Fragmentary occupation remains were found in Areas D, G and H, all located west of Road 65: walls, a pit and stone-lined installations. East of Road 65 were only a few potsherds, indicating that the settlement of this period was located toward the mound in the western part of the site.
Iron Age. Human activity at the site during this period is represented only by small amounts of potsherds retrieved in Area D, west of the Road 65.
Persian Period. Architectural remains were found exclusively in Area D. They include fragmentary building remains, as well as built and hewn installations.
The corner of a building, which extends westward, beyond the excavation limits, is abutted by a courtyard. Numerous installations in the courtyard include a square plastered basin (Fig. 9) and several ovens (tabuns), one of them lined with pottery sherds from a contemporary storage jar. The use of some of these ovens seems to have ended prior to the end of the Persian occupation, leading to the conclusion that this courtyard was used over an extended period of time.
Several pits were dug into the building remains from the IBA; most of the pits had a stone covering. Large quantities of pottery vessels were found in the pits, as was a bronze fibula. A rock-hewn pit in the northern part of the area reached a maximum depth of three meters and contained numerous animal bones and broken pottery vessels.
Among the pottery finds from this stratum are mortaria and storage jars, as well as cooking and serving vessels, including imported Cypriot and Attic ware.
Roman Period. The architectural features dating from the Roman Period were found on both sides of Road 65: poorly preserved terrace walls (Areas D, S), and the foundation for an agricultural road (Areas E, G, H, L). These elements should probably be associated with contemporary installations that were uncovered by Smithline (2002), as well with enigmatic architectural features excavated 150 m due north of Area D (Dalali-Amos and Liran 2012).
Modern period. Ammunition belonging to a French Lebel rifle was found in the topsoil in Areas G–I. The ammunition most likely post-dates World War I, and thus may be ascribed to fighting either during the Arab revolt in 1936–1939 or during the War of Independence in 1948.
Although exhibiting evidence of human activity during the Paleolithic periods, Qishron South is in essence a single-stratum settlement dating from the IBA.
Paleolithic period. The southernmost squares of Area F yielded in situ evidence of flint extraction and knapping during the Middle Paleolithic period, including of Levallois core reduction. In addition, tools from the Lower to the Upper Paleolithic periods were found in the topsoil above the IBA settlement remains.
Intermediate Bronze Age. The site of Qishron South is characterized by a low density of multiroom buildings in an area enclosed by a well-built wide wall, which was exposed in the easternmost squares of Area O and in the northwesternmost squares of Area Q. The remains of three buildings were found in Areas O, P and Q, directly below topsoil. The building in Area Q has rooms of similar size—a much more symmetrical plan than those of the rest of the buildings of this period at Horbat Qishron. Accumulations above the floors of all the buildings contained numerous pottery vessels, Groundstone and flint implements, and animal bones. As in Qishron North, the pottery assemblage comprised many cooking, storage and serving vessels, including potsherds of BWMW vessels.
The series of excavations at Horbat Qishron identified two separate sites, with different occupational histories. Allowing for a large-scale exposure, these excavations are the largest at an IBA site in Northern Israel.
The earliest finds at the site—from the Lower through the Upper Paleolithic periods—were found in both sites. However, the close proximity of the only in situ remains from these periods—in Area F—to the Paleolithic extraction and knapping complex at Sede Ilan (Barkai and Gopher 2009) suggest that Area F belonged this complex, attesting to its large size.
The post-IBA settlement remains, uncovered only in Qishron North, were very fragmentary, precluding any wide-ranging conclusions regarding these settlements. The Roman-period agricultural road and agricultural terrace walls could be connected to one of the contemporary sites in the region, such as Horbat Luvya, c. 1.25 km to the northeast of Horbat Qisron.
The prime contribution of the excavations relates to the Intermediate Bronze Age, when a settlement existed in each of the two sites. The exposure of two adjoining IBA settlements raises questions regarding spatial organization, chronology and hierarchy of the sites. The two settlements differ in size, layout and other features. Most striking of these is that Qishron South, the smaller of the two, was surrounded by a wide encompassing wall, beyond which no architectural remains were found. It is not yet clear whether this wall served for defense or had some other function. Such walls are a rare phenomenon in IBA contexts, as they have been documented only at Khirbat el-Meiyita in the Jordan Valley (Bar, Cohen and Zertal 2013) and at Khirbat Iskandar in Jordan (Richard et al. 2010). The Qishron South wall is the only occurrence known to date in northern Israel.
Qishron North is not only much larger than Qishron South, but it also exhibits a denser plan. In addition, while both settlements comprise multiroom buildings, their rooms in Qishron North are larger and less regular in size, while those at Qishron South are smaller, more regular in size and arranged symmetrically. Nevertheless, some preplanning seems to have taken place at Qishron North as well, as suggested in both the alleys separating the buildings and the designation of specific areas for industrial activity. The latter is evident, for example, in the location of the pottery kiln at the southern edge of the settlement, probably with the intention of placing polluting industries far from the core of the settlement.
The 14C date along with the BWMW pottery point to a date for both settlements around the 23rd century BCE. Both were abandoned with many vessels and implements left in situ, but it is yet to be determined whether they were abandoned simultaneously. It also remains unclear whether the two settlements were fully contemporary or whether one predates the other.
The large extent of the excavations and the rich finds from the two IBA settlements at Horbat Qishron make this a key site for researching the society, culture and economy of the second half of the third millennium BCE in the Southern Levant.