In May–June 2011, a trial excavation was conducted just north of the village of Ibtin (Permit No. A-6178; map ref. 211043–85/741033–9), prior to the construction of a road. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was conducted by P. Gendelman and U. ‘Ad, with the assistance of M. Hater and I. Tahan (area supervision), Y. Amrani and E. Bachar (administration), A. Peretz (field photography), R. Mishayev, M. Kahan, M. Konin and A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), district archaeologist K. Saʽid, and regional archaeologist Y. Levy.
in village extends across a low limestone hill overlooking the Zevulun Valley. Several small salvage excavations had previously taken place on the village’s outskirts (Horowitz and Reuyah 1999; Peilstöcker 2000; Massarwa 2018
). Intermediate Bronze Age burial caves were uncovered on the western periphery of the settlement (Yannai 2004; Oren 2009
The current excavation was conducted on the hill’s northern slope and the plain to the north. Some 30 excavation squares were opened in four areas (B–E; Fig. 1): Area B on the plain north of the hill; Area C at the foot of the hill’s northeastern slope; Area D in the western part of the northern slope (further subdivided into D1 in the upper part of the slope, D2 and D3 in the middle of the slope, and D4 near its base); and Area E in the upper part of the northern slope, near the village houses. The excavation uncovered an Intermediate Bronze Age burial cave, settlement remains of the Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Mamluk periods, Roman and Byzantine quarries, a complex Byzantine winepress, and a modern agricultural terrace, as well as agricultural installations, terrace walls, quarries and tombs that could not be dated.
Several walls were revealed (exposed length over 10.0 m, width 0.7–1.0 m; Fig. 2) 0.4–0.6 m below the surface. The walls were built of undressed limestone blocks and small fieldstones without bonding material, and they were preserved one course high. The walls’ foundations were built into alluvial soil that contained pottery of various periods, the latest of which date from the Byzantine period (fifth–seventh centuries CE). The alluvium uncovered beneath the foundations was devoid of finds. Apparently, the walls were used to partition agricultural plots that, based on the ceramic finds, can be dated to the Byzantine period or later. However, it is also possible that they were used as early as the Roman period, which was the site’s main period of occupation, as described below.
At the eastern part of the area, a sophisticated rock-hewn winepress (c. 5.0 × 6.5 m; Fig. 3) was excavated, comprising a treading floor with a settling pit and a collecting vat to its north. The treading floor and the collecting vat were paved with white mosaic. The winepress also included architectural features that were not preserved, as evidenced by collapsed stones found inside the collecting vat. A rock-cut rectangular pit was hewn in the center of the treading floor, also paved with tesserae. It was probably an ancient pit burial that was reused to fasten as the screw base. Five steps led into the collecting vat, and a settling pit was hewn into its floor. The winepress yielded pottery that dates it to the Byzantine period. A few rock-cut features were uncovered on the rock outcrops northeast of the winepress, including several cupmarks and a probable bodeda used for oil extraction.
At the western part of the area, several retaining walls were uncovered, belonging to agricultural terraces of various periods, as well as small stone quarries and a rock-hewn pit burial.
Five strata were uncovered, dated to the Late Persian and Hellenistic periods (Stratum V; fourth–second c. BCE), the Roman period (Stratum IV; first–fourth c. CE), the Byzantine period (Stratum III; fifth–seventh c. CE), the Mamluk period (Stratum II; fourteenth–fifteenth c. CE) and from 1927–1956 (Stratum I).
Stratum V. Architectural remains were only found in Area D4. They include a wall built of large stones and a habitation level abutting it. In addition to the architectural remains, pottery dating from the Late Persian and Hellenistic periods was also recovered. Pottery from this period was also found elsewhere in Area D, suggesting that the settlement of this period covered a larger area than implied by the architectural remains.
Stratum IV. Settlement remains of the Roman period were found throughout the area, but the most significant remains were discovered in Areas D1 and D2, at the upper part of the slope. The buildings in Area D were built on artificially leveled terraces. In Area D1, parts of a structure were uncovered, extending over three levels with an elevation difference greater than 1.5 m (Fig. 4). In Area D2, parts of another, probably two-story building were exposed with an elevation difference greater than 3.5 m (Fig. 5). Among the collapsed stones of the second floor of this building were traces of painted plaster (fresco). The houses in the settlement were built of local stone, and most of the floors were made of plaster or stones. Although most of the buildings’ walls were found without plaster, the fresco fragments found in the rubble in Area D2 show that at least some of the village houses’ walls were plastered and even painted. A water cistern was hewn inside each of the excavated buildings.
The buildings were probably erected in the first century CE and continued to exist with slight alterations until the settlement was destroyed in the fourth century CE, apparently in the earthquake of 363 CE. According to historical records, this earthquake caused extensive damage to nearby settlements at Zippori and ‘Akko (Russell 1980:49).
Stratum III. During the Byzantine period, some of the rubble of the Roman period was cleared, and several smaller buildings were built. The remains of this stratum are poorly preserved due to damage caused by later construction. Remains of one building, whose size and function are unclear, were discovered in the eastern part of Area D1, and segments of other buildings were discovered in the rest of Area D (Fig. 6). The buildings, which feature ashlar walls and high-quality clay floors, were probably residential. Despite the relative paucity of architectural remains, this stratum yielded an abundance of material finds, including imported pottery from North Africa, Cyprus, and Asia Minor, dating from the sixth–seventh centuries CE.
Stratum II. Few architectural remains were excavated. In Area D2, a corner of a large building with ashlar-built walls was found (Fig. 7). The building’s floors were not preserved, and only the wall foundations were uncovered, rendering them difficult to date. In Area D1, several elliptical cist graves with a truncated end were found; only one of these was excavated. The deceased was placed with the head to the west and the face to the south, in the direction of Mecca, in accord with Islamic burial customs. No accompanying finds were retrieved that could provide an accurate date. Nevertheless, the graves were assigned to Stratum II based on the damage they caused Stratum III and the damage they sustained from structures of Stratum I. Their dating also relies on their typological resemblance to graves at other sites that date from the Mamluk and early Ottoman periods (Gorzalczany 2016:71–77).
Stratum I. In Area D, an agricultural terrace was uncovered. Its walls were built on bedrock, and it incorporated ashlars and architectural features that were appropriated from earlier buildings. This agricultural terrace was built as part of the area’s preparation for the establishment of the Kraman family farm in 1927 (Hacohen 1985).
The earliest find is a burial cave with a vertical rock-hewn entrance shaft; it was only partially excavated. The cave roof is vaulted and flat. A complete pottery vessel and additional sherds found on the floor date the cave to the Intermediate Bronze Age, like another tomb excavated in this area in the past (Yannai 2004).
From the Roman period onwards, the area was used primarily for quarrying building blocks (Fig. 8). Four large ‘courtyard quarries’ and several smaller ‘corner quarries’ were found. In one of the quarries, a burial cave’s entrance hall was found. It was rectangular and had an arched opening sealed by a roll-stone (Fig. 9); the cave was not excavated. The cave’s entrance yielded fragments of pottery vessels and lamps, suggesting prolonged use from the Roman period (second c. CE) to the Byzantine period (sixth c. CE). The burial cave probably predates the quarry.
The limited trial excavation at Ibtin attests to intermittent occupation from the Intermediate Bronze Age (2400–2000 BCE) to the British Mandate era. The settlement reached the height of its expansion and development during the Roman period. While the Roman settlement was rural, the finds indicate a wealthy population that probably took an active part in the region’s economy. The site’s location beside one of the main roads in the Zevulun Valley, which connects ‘Akko and Zippori, enabled the villagers to market their agricultural produce, based on grain, grapes and olives, throughout the entire region. Trade of quarried building stones may also have been part of the site’s economy. The village was destroyed in the fourth century CE, most probably by the earthquake that struck the region in 363 CE. During the sixth century CE, the site was reoccupied, and a new settlement was established above some of the ruins of the Roman-period village. Based on the material finds and the agricultural installations, the new inhabitants—like their predecessors in the Roman period—probably earned their living out of agriculture and quarrying building stones. This settlement was abandoned for unknown reasons toward the end of the Byzantine period. The site was only settled anew at the beginning of the Mamluk period, during which several buildings and a cemetery were constructed. Due to the limited extent of the excavation and poor preservation, it was impossible to determine the nature of this settlement at Ibtin. The site’s final occupation began in 1927 with the establishment of the Kraman family farm in collaboration with Jewish entrepreneurs from Haifa.
Gorzalczany A. 2016. A Mamluk-Period Settlement and Cemetery at Ge’alya, near Yavne. ʻAtiqot 86:69–110.
Hacohen D. 1985. Time to Tell: An Israeli Life, 1898–1984. New York.
Horowitz Z. and Reuyah L.1999. Ibtin. ESI 19:146.
Peilstöcker M. 2000. Horbat Ivtan. HA-ESI 112:32–33.
Russell K.W. 1980. The Earthquake of May 19, A.D. 363. BASOR 238:47–64.
Yannai E. 2004. A Tomb from the Intermediate Bronze Age near the Village of Ibtin, in the Zevulun Valley. ‘Atiqot 48:9*–14* (Hebrew; English summary, p. 150).