An analysis of the findings, especially in light of the partial and irregular nature of the excavations, raised many questions regarding the nature of the phases and their dating, and led to the current excavation project. The current excavation season sought to understand the layers that were discerned in the trenches excavated in the 2013 season, which were covered until recently with sand. It thus focused on cleaning the trenches and on excavating small-scale probes to answer the questions that arose following analysis of the salvage excavations’ findings.
Ten probes (1–10) were excavated throughout the temple complex (Fig. 2) to better understand the relationship between the various elements, their dating and character. They are described from west to east; the two easternmost probes (9, 10) are describes separately.
1. At the northwestern end of the temple building the westernmost square from the 2013 season (N13) was re-excavated. First, sand fills that covered the tops of stones that begun to emerge during the salvage excavations were removed. The excavation area was then widened so as to include the entire square, and the westward continuation of the northern wall of the northern room in the temple (W473; exposed in 2013) was uncovered. The western end of the newly unearthed part of the wall (W850; exposed for almost 2 m) was found to be truncated (Fig. 3). South of W850, further along its course, was a modern southeast–northwest terrace wall (W852); north and west of this wall were fills of agricultural soil. This is part of the terrace system built by the inhabitants of the Arab village of Qaluniya in the modern era; the position of the terrace wall marks the bend in the slope during this period. It therefore seems very likely that nothing remains of the western wall of the temple building.
2. In the center of the temple building, the eastern part of Sq M15, which was excavated in 1993 and 2013, was reopened. The renewed excavation uncovered a small additional section of the stone flooring that was found in 2012 c. 0.2 m above the packed-earth and plaster flooring in the eastern part of the building. Some of the paving stones were dismantled, and the soil below it was excavated (c. 0.8 sq m; Fig. 4). At a depth of 0.3 m, numerous flint items and a small quantity of pottery sherds were found, as well as a layer of soil containing numerous small stones, some burnt; no evidence of earlier flooring was unearthed. It therefore seems that this stone floor is the original flooring of the building in this area, and that it was used at the same time as the packed-earth and plaster floor. This finding reinforces an assumption raised following the 2013 excavation, that the difference in material and height between the floors attests to two spaces in the building, and that movement inward and westward within the building involved an ascent.
3. An area (1 × 2 m) in Sq M17 was excavated in the northeastern part of the temple building, south of W71, where a bench, excavated in 2012, abuts the wall and a packed-earth and plaster floor was set on a leveling fill of soil that contained numerous small stones. The renewed excavation unearthed the continuation of the leveling fill, consisting of thin-grain soil mixed with a very large quantity of small stones, some of which were burnt, as well as flint and some pottery. Once the fill was fully excavated, it became apparent that it covered a layer of very hard earth that slopes southward and contains numerous small stones. A northwest–southeast wall (W851), which curved at its southern end, was embedded in this layer; only the top of the wall was uncovered. Based on the findings from the salvage excavations in this area, this layer can apparently be attributed to the Neolithic period.
4. The trench under W71 and W61 in the northeastern corner of the temple building was cleaned where the benches that originally lined the walls were removed in the 2012 season. In this corner, the bases of the walls were higher than in the rest of the areas where walls were uncovered, in the southern and western parts of the temple; they were founded on a hard, earthen layer with numerous small stones. This layer appears to be part of the layer discerned in the excavation to the west (see above, Section 3; Fig. 5).
5. The southeastern part of Sq N17 was excavated to determine whether there was another room north of the northern wall of the temple (W71). No evidence of such a room was found. Under brown soil, partly consisting of accumulations since 1993, the continuation of the layer of hard earth mixed with small stones, which was discerned to the south (above, Section 3, 4), was reached. The base of the northern face of W71 is higher than the base of its southern face; the wall was apparently built directly on the layer of hard, southward-sloping earth, without a foundation trench.
6. The face of the western balk of Sq L17 in the southeastern corner of the temple was cleaned, and another part of the packed-earth and plaster floor was identified. The flooring was laid on a thick layer of leveling fill consisting of fine-grained soil and a large quantity of small stones, some of them burnt. The fill was sampled for radiocarbon and OSL dating.
7. An area (2.0 ×2.4 m; Fig. 6) in the southern part of the temple courtyard, north of W73 and adjacent to it, was excavated. As this area was excavated in the past (K–L19), the original packed-earth floor of the temple’s courtyard—the continuation of the floor previously uncovered to the north, adjacent to and around the altar—was reached after excavating only a few centimeters. An assemblage of cultic vessels was found on this floor segment. Under the floor, a fill of fine-grained soil was found containing numerous small stones, which were used to level the area, like that found in the eastern part of the temple building. The floor and the leveled fill below it were cut by the foundation trench of W73. This wall enclosed the courtyard on the south beginning in the Iron Age IIB and served as the northern wall of a structure, uncovered in 2012 to the south of the courtyard, which was in use until the sixth century BCE. The leveling fill of the temple courtyard floor sealed beneath it components belonging to an early phase of the Iron Age IIA, including a very large stone (0.35 × 0.57 × 0.74 m), the top of which was leveled, found adjacent to an oval installation built of medium and large fieldstones interspersed with small stones. The large stone is abutted by a packed-earth bedding, on which only a small patch of plaster flooring survived. This stone continues a row of large, flat-topped stones discerned to its north in 2012. These stones and wall segments found between them were sealed under the courtyard floor and the altar. This layer also yielded fragments of a burnished cultic stand. The new finds uncovered in the current season, along with the remains uncovered in 2012, attest to the existence of a building predating the temple complex that also dates from the Iron Age IIA. The floor of this earlier structure—also cultic in nature—was clearly discerned in the transect created at the eastern end of the excavation area; nevertheless, this part of the floor is yet to be excavated. Like in the temple complex, the floor of this early cultic building was founded on a fill of fine-grained soil containing numerous stones. The excavation at this point reached the depth to which the area to the north was excavated in the 2012 season.
8. In the southeastern part of excavation area (K–L19), part of a wall (W73A) was unearthed along the northern face of W73. The western part of W73A was exposed in 1993 and dismantled in 2012. Wall 73A was identified during the analysis of the finds from the salvage excavation as a bench belonging to the late phase of the courtyard; it thus should probably be dated to the Iron Age IIB. Part of the bench was dismantled during the current excavation, revealing that it was built of one course of medium-size fieldstones on an earthen fill over the foundation trench of W73.
Probes 9 and 10, the two easternmost probes, were opened in the eastern part of the courtyard along a north–south axis. A modern terrace in this area was removed by mechanical equipment under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority during conservation and reconstruction work at the site prior to the current excavation. This strip had not been excavated before, and although irregularly preserved, the four floors of the temple courtyard could be discerned in the resulting trench along its western face. The methodology chosen in this area was to excavate each level along a step, as it appeared in the trench. Following the excavation of the upper accumulations of soil, the excavation reached a clear level, and its area was reduced so that part of each of the levels was left exposed. By the end of the season there were two stepped squares, with a separate level of flooring represented on each step.
9. The southeastern probe (K–L20; c. 2 × 3 m) exposed two levels: an upper level of packed earth, which seals Bench 73A, and a lower level of packed earth and yellowish marl that abuts the bench. These floors were part of the two later floors of the temple courtyard, and they are dated to the Iron Age IIB. Layers of soil and earthen fill and stones were found beneath them.
10. A square (L20; c. 1.8 × 2.0 m; Fig. 7) opened north of Sqs K–L20 exposed three levels. The upper level consisted of yellowish marl, which was intermittently preserved. The middle level was comprised in part of a layer of yellowish marl and in part of thick, white plaster; this may indicate a repair of the floor. The lower floor was made of packed earth containing remains of white plaster. These remains are part of the three lower floors of the temple courtyard; the uppermost, latest, floor was not discerned in this square. The floors were separated by layers of earth and earthen fill with stones used to level the courtyard when the floors were raised. No built elements were found here.
The current excavation season allowed for a renewed examination of the temple complex at Tel Moẕa in light of insights and in pursue of answers to questions raised during analysis of the finds from the salvage excavations. A meticulous excavation of the trench that was left on the eastern side of the courtyard at the end of the salvage excavations identified the four floors that represent four stages of use of the courtyard during the Iron Age II, while dismantling of a small part of the stone floor in the temple revealed the internal division of the building. Limited probes and excavations throughout the built complex revealed that the temple was constructed on early fills, most of which date from the Neolithic period. They also indicated that the thick fills of earth and stones were used to level the area prior to laying the floor. Moreover, the presence of an early cultic structure—the existence of which was posited following the findings of the 2012 season—was confirmed. This building was also dated to the Iron Age II (Iron Age IIA). Although its plan and measurements are unknown, it seems that it was smaller than the temple complex and may have covered only the area of the courtyard; this was deduced from the finding that the walls and leveling fills of the temple building were built on layers from the Neolithic period.
The renewed excavation adds important information both for understanding the site and the development of the cultic complexes within it, and for understanding the processes by which the Judean cult developed during the Iron Age II. This is the only site in Judah where a monumental temple complex has been found. Moreover, it is the only site with a stratification of cultic structures and clear evidence of cultic continuity during the entire Iron Age II. The future goal of the excavation project is to expose most of the cultic structures, and to understand their stratification.