Tel Gat Hefer, in the village of Mashhad in Lower Galilee, lies approximately 6 km northeast of Nazareth. The tell is identified with Gat Hefer, which is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:13) as being within the lands of the tribe of Zevulun. Surveys of the site revealed evidence of occupation from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age I to the Late Byzantine period (Gal 1992). Excavations conducted on the tell yielded settlement remains (c. 30 dunams) from the Early and Middle Bronze Ages and from Iron Age I, as well as remains of an Iron Age II fortified city (Alexandre, Covello-Paran and Gal 2003; [Fig. 1: A-1915]; Covello-Paran 2003 [Fig. 1: A-2396]). In 2011, a broad wall dated to Early Bronze III was excavated (Jaffe 2012 [Fig. 1: A-6199]). Excavations in 2015, on the northeastern slopes of the tell, uncovered remains of a broad wall (possibly an outer wall) dating from Middle Bronze II and a rich pottery assemblage dating from the same period (Feig 2016 [Fig. 1: A-7581]). Remains of walls from Middle Bronze II and the Late Bronze Age were unearthed c. 10 m east of the current excavation (Fig. 1: A-8597). Iron Age pottery devoid of any architectural context was found to the southwest of the tell (Alexandre 2008 [Fig. 1: A-5072]). A cave dating from the Roman period was excavated near the tell’s eastern slope (Porat 2006 [Fig. 1: A-4157]). In recent times, the tell was surrounded by boulders to prevent erosion.
Two excavation squares (southern and northern) were opened on the tell’s western slope (50 sq m; Figs 2, 3). Prior to the excavation, a layer of heavy soil (thickness 0.8–1.1 m) was removed with mechanical equipment. Remains of walls dated to Iron Age II were unearthed. Rich pottery finds from the Persian and Hellenistic periods were found above the walls.
The square contained scant remains of two walls (W102, W105). Wall 102 (length 5.75 m, width 0.7–0.9 m; Fig. 4) was founded on a layer of tamped earth (L108) and was built of two rows of fieldstones on a southeast–northwest alignment; it was preserved to a height of two courses. Collapsed stones were found in the southern part of the wall, and large stones incorporated in its northern part were probably added during repairs or renovation. To the east of the wall and near its base (L108), a layer of dark soil (L103) yielded rich pottery finds including an abundance of rims from Iron Age II jars and holemouth jars. Only some of the stones of W105 (Fig. 5) were preserved, to a maximum height of two courses; it is unclear whether it abutted W102. A layer of dark soil (L106) to the south of W105 yielded pottery comprising mainly Iron Age II cooking pots and jars. Beneath the Iron Age pottery accumulation (L103, L108) were two Middle Bronze II jar rims.
A layer of small stones (L101) above the remnants of the walls could not be dated with any certainty. Several Iron Age potsherds and two basalt bowls (below, Fig. 10:2, 3) were found on top of the stone layer. The few surface finds of EB II and MB II pottery probably came from the settlement on the tell.
In the western part of the square, scant remains of a north–south wall were preserved to the height of a single course; the wall is probably a continuation of W102 from the southern square. It was built on top of a layer of tamped earth (L107; Fig. 6) overlying the natural soil. A thick layer of brown soil (L104) containing Persian and Hellenistic pottery found to the east of the wall could not be associated with the wall. A layer of small stones (L100) above L104 was probably the continuation of L101 from the southern square; L100 was thicker on the eastern side of the square. This layer yielded a few Persian and Hellenistic potsherds, including an amphora and a Rhodian amphora handle.
The finds consist of pottery from the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, the Iron Age, and the Persian and Hellenistic periods, as well as some stone items. The Iron Age pottery dates the architectural remains, while the other pottery attests to a pre-Iron Age presence at the top of the tell and later, Persian and Hellenistic occupation on its slopes. The following description presents representative examples of the pottery from the various periods.
Early Bronze Age II. The pottery was collected from the surface and had apparently been swept down from the top of the tell, since it lacked any architectural context. It includes platters (Fig. 7:1, 2), a jar fragment (Fig. 7:3) and a holemouth jar (Fig. 7:4). The platters are red-slipped and burnished, and their types are common in EB II (particularly the burnished type). Similar vessels have been found at the summit of Tel Gat Hefer and in tells in the valley, as at Tel Qashish and Tel Bet Yerah (Covello-Paran 2003: Fig. 17:5, 6; Ben-Tor and Bonfil 2003: Figs. 37:6, 7; 40:4–7; Eisenberg and Greenberg 2006: Fig. 8.84:2). Platter No. 2 is decorated with a reticulated pattern; the same design was found at Tel Bet Yerah (Paz 2006: Fig. 7.31:5) and at Tel Qashish (Ben-Tor and Bonfil 2003: Fig. 36:2). The jar fragment is made of coarse fabric and bears a punctured design, characteristic of large storage vessels. Identical designs were found on jars from Bet Yerah (Eisenberg and Greenberg 2006: Fig. 8.61:8, 8.62:8; Paz 2006: Fig. 7.32:5). The holemouth jar has a thickened rim; identical jars were found at Bet Yerah (Covello-Paran 2003: Fig. 9:9; Eisenberg and Greenberg 2006: Fig. 8.72:9).
Middle Bronze Age II. The few potsherds found on the surface and at the base of L103 include only fragments of storage vessels (Fig. 7:5–7), typical of the transition period from MB IIA–B to MB IIB. The vessels have a wide mouth and a thickened rim. Similar assemblages were found at Tel Qashish, Stratum IXA–IXC (Ben-Tor and Bonfil 2003: Figs. 79:6, 80:6, 86:23) and at Tel Yoqne‘am, Strata XXIII–XXII (Livneh 2005: Figs. II.18, II.24:1–18).
Iron Age IIA–B. A very rich pottery assemblage was retrieved mainly from the layer of soil between W102 and W105, as well as from the layer of stones near the surface. The assemblage contains bowls (Fig. 8:1, 2), kraters (Fig. 8:3–6), cooking pots (Fig. 8:7–9), a cooking jug (Fig. 8:10), jars (Fig. 8:11–15) and the base of a juglet (Fig. 8:16). The bowls include a red-slipped carinated bowl (Fig. 8:1) and a bowl with rounded sides (Fig. 8:2). A similar assemblage was found at Bet She’an in Strata P-7 and S-1b (Mazar 2006: Pl. 27:10, BL 52, Pl. 6:9, BL 53). The kraters include an example with a thickened rim (Fig. 8:3) and a similar profile to that of the cooking pots, a carinated krater with a triangular rim (Fig. 8:4) whose profile is also similar to that of the cooking pots, and barrel-shaped kraters (Fig. 8:5, 6). Kraters similar to all these types were found at Bet She’an in Strata P-8, P-8a and S-1b (Mazar 2006: Pls. 11:15–16 KR51, 19:12 KR52; 19:16 KR55). Three types represented among the cooking ware are characteristic of the period: cooking pots with a triangular rim (Fig. 8:7, 8), typical of early Iron Age IIA; pots with ribbed rims (Fig. 8:9); and a cooking jug (Fig. 8:10). Identical cooking ware has been found at all the sites in the north, for example at Bet She’an in Strata P-8, P-8a, S-1b (Mazar 2006: Pl. 20:6–13) and at Yoqne‘am in Strata XIII–XII (Zarzecki Peleg 2005: Fig. 1.75:26–36). The jars, dated to the end of Iron Age IIA, include high-necked jars with a pronounced ridge at the base of the neck and a thickened rim (Fig. 8:11–13), a jar with a short neck and a simple rim (Fig. 8:14) and a holemouth jar (Fig. 8:15). A similar jar assemblage was found in Stratum P-7 at Bet She’an in Building 28636 (Mazar 2006: Pls. 36:3, 37:3, 38:3–5). The juglet base is typical of Iron Age IIB (Fig. 8:16) and it was found beside a krater (Fig. 8:3).
Loci dated to Iron Age II yielded several stone items, including a basalt grinding stone (Fig. 10:1) and two rounded bowls (Fig. 10:2, 3) that were probably used for crushing.
Persian Period. All the pottery sherds were found on top of each other near a row of stones in the southeast side of the northern square. The assemblage includes mortaria bases (Fig. 9:1, 2), a jar with a carinated shoulder (Fig. 9:3) and further jars (Fig. 9:4–6). Similar vessels were found in strata from the Persian period at Yoqne‘am and Tel Dor, among other sites (Cimadevilla 2005: Fig. IV.4:3, IV.12:10, 11; Stern 1995: Figs. 2.8:5, 2.10:13).
Hellenistic Period. A few potsherds collected from the surface, near the Persian pottery assemblage, include the base of a bowl (Fig. 9:7) that probably belongs to a group of bowls with an inverted rim that emerge in the first half of the fourth century and continue at least until the late second century BCE (Guz-Zilberstein 1995:289–290, Type BL 8, Fig. 6.1); an amphora (Fig. 9:8) imported from Knidos and dated to the third century BCE (Finkielsztejn, pers. comm.); a Rhodian amphora handle (Fig. 9:9) bearing two letters of an unidentified eponym, dated to the first quarter of the second century BCE (Finkielsztejn, pers. comm.); and amphora bases (Fig. 9:10, 11) from Rhodes and from Knidos respectively.
The results of the current excavation and other excavations on the tell attest to Early Bronze Age occupation that reached its peak during EB III, when the settlement was surrounded by a city wall and was part of a chain of settlements along Nahal Zippori (Gal 1992:54–55). The meager pottery from EB II and MB II in the current excavation was probably swept down from the settlement higher up the tell. The sparse remains of walls are dated to the Iron Age, but their nature is unclear. The concentration of pottery from the Persian and Hellenistic periods probably attests to later settlement on the fringes of the tell. These periods are not represented at the top of the tell and this is the first example of such pottery that attests to the site’s occupation during these periods.