In November 2017, a trial excavation was carried out at Khirbat el-Makhfi (Permit No. A-8119; map ref. 276213–8/783823–83; Fig. 1), following damage caused by defense infrastructure work. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Defense, was conducted by A. Kleiner (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), Y. Shmidov and M. Kunin (surveying, drone photography and photogrammetry modeling), I. Reznitsky (metallurgical laboratory), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), E.J. Stern and Y. Alexander (pottery reading), J. Gosker (metallurgical processing), Z. Turgeman-Yaffe (archaeozoology), H. Tahan-Rosen (finds drawing), A. Shapiro (GPS), C. Amit (studio photography), I.E. Delerson (plans) and a team of laborers from Majd el-Krum.
Stratum III. Remains of a partially preserved basalt floor (L105, L118; Fig. 3) were uncovered in the northwest part of the excavation area. The meager finds from between the flagstones are insufficient for dating the stratum. Nevertheless, the earliest pottery recovered from a probe opened c. 3 m southeast of the floor that reached below the level of Stratum II dates from the Hellenistic period to the first century CE (L111, L114; see Fig. 7). Floor 105/118 may therefore date from the Hellenistic period.
Stratum II. The excavation in the northwestern part of the excavation area unearthed a partition wall (W127), with two stone floors abutting it on the west (L116) and on the east (L104). Floor 104 was laid directly over Floor 105/118 from Stratum III. The base of a basalt pillar was found in situ, on Floor 104 (Fig. 4). Another section of the building (W112, W113) was encountered in the probe to the southeast. Part of an installation was unearthed in the eastern part of the excavation: a small collecting vat (L124; diam. 0.7 m) abutted by a floor made of plaster mixed with coarse basalt grits (L125) and three walls (W121, W122, W126; Fig. 5) to their north. The walls may have enclosed another space belonging to an installation. The finds discovered on the floors and beneath them date this space between the walls to the Late Roman–late Byzantine era.
Stratum I. The ruins of a building were clearly discerned above the surface (c. 13 × 15; Fig. 6); its walls stood about one meter above surface level. The walls enclosed three rooms with floors made of tamped earth: a northwest room, of which the southwest corner (W100, W101) and part of an arch-bearing pier (W128) were preserved; a southwest room (W101, W106–W108); and a southeast room, with all its walls (W107–W110) well preserved and a tamped-earth floor (L123). A follis of the emperor Justin II (565–578 CE, Nicomedia mint; IAA 162053) was recovered from between the stones of W100. However, the meager pottery found on Floor 123 indicates that the building, which most probably served as a farmstead, is much later in date and was abandoned in the Mamluk period.
No clean loci were found in the excavation. Nevertheless, three distinct chronological assemblages could be identified in the ceramic finds.
Hellenistic and Early Roman Periods. This group includes a thin-walled cup imported from Italy (Fig. 7:1); bowls imported from eastern Greece (Fig. 7:2, 3; the two sherds may belong to one vessel); and local vessels, such as bowls (Fig. 7:4–6;), one of which is an imitation of a Kefar Hananya bowl (Fig. 7:5), cooking ware (Fig. 7:7–9), a jug (Fig. 7:10), jars (Fig. 7:11) and pithoi (Fig. 7:12, 13).
Late Roman and Byzantine Periods. This group included LRRW-type bowls imported from Africa (Fig. 8:1), some of which were stamped with Christian motifs (Fig. 8:2); amphorae imported from Cyprus and Turkey (Fig. 8:3, 4), of a type found at nearby Bab el-Hawa (Hartal 2005:173); and local pottery, including a jar with a handle or an amphora (Fig. 8:5) and Golan-type pithoi (Fig. 8:6, 7). Other finds include Phoenician mold-made lamps stamped with Christian motifs (Fig. 8:8, 9).
Mamluk Period. This group included bowls with a transparent glaze (Fig. 9:1), bowls decorated with green glaze and combing (Fig. 9:2), a casserole (Fig. 9:3) and a jug (Fig. 9:4).
The Glass Finds
The glass finds (not drawn) were collected from the floor in Stratum II: a glass with a solid base dating from the Late Roman and early Byzantine periods; wineglasses with a fire-rounded delicate rim; the stem of a Byzantine wineglass with a thick cylindrical segment; a wineglass with a cylindrical stem and a solid base dating from between the late sixth and the eighth centuries CE; and a bottle rim decorated with thin trails below the rim, belonging to a common Byzantine type.
Most of the metal artifacts were found in Stratum II and date from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (Fig. 10). Two items, most probably much later in date, were found in the farmstead (Fig. 11).
1. A fragment of a plain iron bracelet (diam. 50 mm; Fig. 10:1) was retrieved from among the stones of Floor 116 in Stratum II.
2. An iron ring (Fig. 10:2) was found between the stones of W112 in Stratum II. The ring has a flat, elliptical bezel (diam. 12–15 mm) on its shank (inner diam. 18 mm). Although no decoration was preserved, the bezel was probably not set with a stone.
3. A copper-alloy bell without a clapper (height 75 mm, upper diam. 12–30 mm, bottom diam. 38–48 mm; Fig. 10:3) was found hidden behind a stone in W121 in Stratum II. The flattened upper part has a hole for suspension.
4. A crossbow fibula made of gold-plated copper alloy (length 70 mm, width 12 mm, catch length 46 mm, crossbar width 30 mm; Fig. 10:4) was found in W121 from Stratum II. Only a few patches of gold were preserved. The catch is triangular in section and hollow in the center, with a hole for the pin at one end. The top plate is incised with two bands of a hatched design flanked by parallel lines. The small, thick bow is pentagonal in section. The crossbar is hexagonal in section with a slot in the center where the pinhead loop would have fitted. One end has a round finial and the opposite end has a socket with threaded grooves. The missing finial was clearly screwed into place at this end (Dandridge 2000:71–74). The finials held the pinhead loop in place. The preserved finial is onion shaped, and its end is hexagonal in section.
Crossbar fibulae replaced a wide variety of fastening pins around 200 CE. At first, they were used exclusively in the army, to denote military rank (Deppert-Lippitz 2000:41). The main distinctive traits of this type of fastening pin are the finial with the screw mechanism, the proportions between the catch dimensions, the bow and the triangular cross-section. Similar fibulae made of gold have been dated to 450–550 CE (Deppert-Lippitz 2000:56). A comparable fibula from the third century CE was found at Sussita (Segal, Schuler and Eisenberg 2010:59–60), and another example was discovered in Lod (A. Yannai, pers. comm.).
5. Fragments of a horseshoe and a horseshoe nail (Fig. 11).
Four identifiable animal bones were found: a poorly preserved bovine tooth (L114, B1017); two bones of a hind leg, probably from one individual—a goat/sheep three years old or younger (L119, B1023); and the tooth of a three-year-old bovine, based on its dental erosion (L102, B1010).
Khirbat el-Makhfi is a multi-stratum site that has settlement remains from three periods. The site was first settled in the Hellenistic period, and it was probably occupied continuously until the Early Roman period (first century BCE–first century CE). Due to the limited area of the excavation, the settlement’s size cannot be determined, nor can an explanation for its abandonment be offered. The site was re-settled at the end of the Roman period and continued to be occupied until the late Byzantine period (fourth–seventh and possibly eighth centuries CE). After a prolonged settlement gap, the site was re-occupied in the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE). Aerial photographs and the plan of the unearthed building show that the settlement was small, consisting of a few farmhouses, open-air courtyards and agricultural plots, and that it exploited the Byzantine ruins and building stones (Fig. 12). The settlement was apparently abandoned, or was in seasonal use until it was finally deserted.
Strata III and II yielded the type of Golan pottery that is characteristic of the Ituraeans, who lived in the northern Golan from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods (Dar 1994:41–57; Hartal 2005) although vessels bearing Christian symbols appear in Stratum II (Fig. 8:2, 8). This may point to connections with the Ghassanid tribe, which reached the region in the Late Roman period, settling in the vicinity of Quneitra and bringing with it Christian cultural characteristics (Hartal 2017); or it may indicate the existence of trade links between the Ituraeans and the Ghassanids. Sites near Khirbat el-Makhfi that are identified with the Ituraeans include Bab el-Hawa, Thaljiat, Khirbat Zemel, Quneitra and Dhahrat Umm Assaf (see Fig. 1).
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