In August 2015, a trial excavation was conducted on the northern outskirts of ‘Illut (Permit No. A-7478; map ref. 224829–5329/736472–806), after seven stone heaps containing flint artifacts were identified in a development survey prior to expansion of the town. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Israel Land Authority, was conducted by M. Shemer with the assistance of A. Yaroshevich and A. Shapiro (area supervision), K. Covello-Paran (scientific guidance), A. Peretz (field photography), Griffin Company (aerial photography), R. Liran, R. Mishayev and M. Kahan (surveying and drafting), B. Zidan and Y. Yaakobi (administration), D. Avshalom-Gorni (on-site pottery reading), I. Taxel (pottery analysis), D. Gazit (studio photography) and I. Lidsky-Reznikov (finds drawing).
‘Illut, located c. 5 km west of Nazareth, lies on an elevated hill whose northern slopes open onto a small valley enclosed by the Nazareth Hills to the east and Giv‘at Rabbi to the west (Fig. 1). The excavation, conducted in a wooded area on the edge of the hill’s northern slope, documented seven stone heaps (Units 1–7 from east to west; Fig. 2), six of which (Units 1–5, 7) were excavated. In addition, a probe comprising two squares was excavated northeast of Unit 4. All the heaps yielded multiple flint items—most of them characteristic of the flint industries of the Middle Paleolithic period, and some typical of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods—along with some pottery from the Roman and Ottoman periods; one of the heaps contained modern refuse. Also uncovered were hewn steppes in the bedrock, which may attest to ancient flint mining. The finds indicate that the stone heaps are probably late clearance heaps, since the flint items are abraded and not in their original location; however, the flint finds can be linked to mining and knapping processes and may belong to an ancient ‘industrial zone’, parts of which were uncovered in previous excavations (below).
Past excavations and surveys conducted in the area point to extensive activity during prehistoric and protohistoric periods. The earliest human presence in the area is attributed to the Lower Paleolithic period (250,000 YBP and earlier) and is represented by a horizon containing a flint industry that was revealed in a salvage excavation near the junction at the entrance to Nazareth (Yaroshevich 2016). However, since the assemblage has not yet been fully processed, the nature of the activity at the site is not yet clear. The most prominent site in the area is ‘En Zippori, where excavations have yielded remains of settlements from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, the Early Chalcolithic, Early Bronze I and II and the Middle Bronze Age (Milevski and Getzov 2014; Getzov and Milevski 2017). Also excavated in this region were a knapping site for Levallois cores, which may have been used by the inhabitants of the nearby Qafzeh Cave (Kedumim Cave) in the Middle Paleolithic period (250,000–50,000 YBP; Ekshtain et al. 2011; Yaroshevich 2016; Yaroshevich et al. 2018), and knapping pits for the production of bifacial cores and bifacial tools, which characterize the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods respectively; these pits are a possible source of some of the flint tools found at ‘En Zippori (Barzilai and Milevski 2010; Barzilai and Milevski 2015; Shemer, Roskin and Vardi 2019). The remains of stone buildings from the Ottoman period, as well as architectural remains from the Hellenistic (late third–second centuries BCE), Middle Roman (second–third centuries CE) and Byzantine (fifth–sixth centuries CE) periods were documented in the village of ‘Illut, along with burial caves, rock-hewn tombs and coffins from the Roman and Byzantine periods (Alexandre 2005; Dalali-Amos 2009; Dalali-Amos and Tepper 2017).
The stone heaps were sampled in squares (4 sq m each), and all the sediments were sieved with a 5 mm mesh. The excavation strategy focused on digging a section from the center of each heap toward one of the edges, although in some cases the excavation was enlarged. In all the heaps, the excavation yielded a similar stratification sequence of two layers (Fig. 3). The limestone bedrock was overlain by a dark brown sediment (Stratum 2; max. thickness c. 0.6 m) containing small to medium-sized limestone stones (diam. up to 0.3 m); this was probably the surface layer before the stone heaps were piled up. The stone heaps (Stratum 1; height 0.1–0.6 m), which were piled on this sediment, consisted of medium-sized limestone stones (diam up to 0.3 m) mixed with a little reddish-brown sediment. Most of the finds were recovered from the stone heaps, whereas the sediment yielded far fewer finds. The units and the finds from excavating them are described below. Building remains were uncovered at the base of two of the heaps (Units 1 and 3); their function was not fully clarified.
Unit 1: An elongated heap of stones on a southwest–northeast alignment (length c. 50 m, max. width c. 14 m, max. height c. 1.5 m). Nine excavation squares were opened in the southern third of the heap, at its widest part: seven in one row, cutting across the width of the heap and two more extending southward following the identification of building remains. At the base of the heap, two parallel walls were revealed (W111, W112) in the same general direction as that of the unit’s longitudinal axis. The walls were built of large rectangular undressed fieldstones (average size 0.4 × 0.5 m), which were placed stretcher-like on top of the brown soil (Fig. 4). Flat, medium-sized fieldstones (0.25 × 0.35 m) were arranged beside one another like a paving that extended between the two walls and west of W112. No finds were recovered that could date the construction or the use of these features.
Unit 2: An elongated heap of stones on a southwest–northeast alignment (length c. 50 m, max. width c. 8.5 m, max. height c. 0.55 m). Three squares were opened in a single line: two of them formed a section at the top of the width of the heap, from the center to the eastern edge; the third square was excavated near the western edge of the heap in order to sample the nature and density of the finds in the dark brown sediment. The density of the finds in this square was identical to that observed in the sediment beneath the stone heap.
Unit 3: A circular stone heap (diam. c. 12 m, max. height c. 1.5 m). Initially, two excavation squares were opened that formed a section from the highest point of the heap toward its eastern edge; these revealed sections of two walls (W214, W215) built at the base of the heap. Following the identification of the structural remains, the excavation area was expanded to 20 sq m, roughly two-thirds of the heap’s area.
Wall 214 followed a circular course, enclosing a space at the center of the base of the heap (diam. c. 6 m; Fig. 5). The wall was built of a single row of large rectangular fieldstones (0.3 × 0.4–0.6 m) that were undressed, and it was preserved to a height of two courses (c. 0.6 m). The stones were laid stretcher-like, resembling those of the walls in Unit 1. Wall 215 continued in a general north–south direction and enclosed the eastern third of the inner space formed by W214. Wall 215 (excavated length c. 2 m) was built of a single row of large, undressed fieldstones (length 0.3–0.5 m) preserved to a height of two courses. A high density of limestones mixed with archaeological finds was found from the top of the heap down to the base of the walls. The walls were built on the dark brown sediment (Stratum 2) that was devoid of finds. The function and date of the walls is not clear, but they seem to have served as a base on which the stone heap was piled up.
Unit 4: A circular stone heap (diam. c. 10 m, max. height c. 0.8 m). Four adjacent squares were excavated in the center of the heap, as far as the top of Stratum 2.
Unit 5: An elliptical stone heap on a northeast–southwest axis (length c. 15 m, width c. 9.5 m, max. height c. 0.5 m). One square was opened at the highest point of the heap, and three additional squares were dug c. 2 m from it, along a northeast–southwest axis. The excavation reached the bedrock, which was found to be stepped, probably as a result of mining in ancient periods (Fig. 6). The presence of flint nodules embedded in the bedrock reinforces the hypothesis that this area was used to extract raw material for knapping tools in prehistoric and protohistoric periods.
Unit 6: A circular stone heap (diam. c. 2.5 m, max. height c. 0.8 m). This heap was not sampled as there was evidence it had been damaged by mechanical equipment.
Unit 7: An elliptical stone heap (length c. 14 m on a northeast–southwest axis, width c. 11 m, max. height c. 0.5 m). Two adjacent squares were excavated in its northern part, to the northwest of its highest point. Modern refuse, including metal bullets, was found to the full depth of the stone heap, together with archaeological finds. These finds suggest that Unit 7 is a clearance heap, created out over the last hundred years, perhaps during the planting of a grove in this part of the town.
Probe. Two squares were opened c. 15 m northeast of Unit 4, and the brown sediment (Stratum 2) was excavated to check whether an archaeological horizon was preserved in the sediment, in places where there had been no clearance. No archaeological horizon was identified in the excavation, which reached down to bedrock (depth 0.3 m below the surface).
The Flint Assemblage. A total of 1891 knapping products were collected during the excavation. The richest finds came from Units 1 and 5 (Appendix 1: Table 1). The finds represent a predominantly flake industry. Among the diagnostic finds, the Levallois industry is prominent (Fig. 7:1–4), which is characteristic of Middle Paleolithic assemblages. The industry is represented by 24 cores and 11 flakes, comprising c. 2% of the assemblage. The scar patterns on the cores show that several very similar techniques were used to produce and maintain them: uni-directional convergent (Fig. 7:1), bi-directional (Fig. 7:2) and centripetal (Fig. 7:3), which is slightly better represented than the others (Appendix 1: Table 2). Among the flakes, a bi-directional scar pattern is the most common (6 items; Fig. 7:4), while there are fewer uni-directional (3 items) and uni-directional convergent (2 items) scar patterns.
Along with the prominence of the Levallois industry, the assemblage attests to a variety of industries over a lengthy sequence of human activity at the site. An analysis of the cores indicates that the presence of blade industries that made use of cores with a single reduction surface, with two perpendicular reduction surfaces, or with two opposing reduction surfaces (bi-directional); the latter type characterizes Neolithic flint industries.
The tool (Appendix 1: Table 3) comprise along with side scrapers, which are characteristic of Middle Paleolithic assemblages, several bifacial tools (Fig. 7:5, 6), including two chisels, a handaxe and a borer. The former are typical of Neolithic–Chalcolithic industries, and the latter—of Lower Paleolithic assemblages, although some suggest that similar items were used for flint mining in later periods (cf. Yaroshevich et al. 2018).
Clues to the type of activity at the site can be gleaned from the distribution of the assemblages: a high frequency of primary items (retaining at least 50% of the cortex) alongside a low frequency of core trimming elements; such a distribution is usually typical of sites near outcrops of raw material, and is associated with mining activity and primary knapping processes; these processes include testing the raw material, removing the calcareous cortex, and preparing tool roughouts (see, e.g., Ekshtain et al. 2011; Barzilai and Milevski 2015; Yaroshevich et al. 2018; Shemer et al. 2019; Barzilai et al. 2020). Further support for this identification is provided by the presence of unfinished items, both among the cores (Appendix 1: Table 1) and in the tool assemblage (Appendix 1: Table 3; see Fig. 7:5, 6). The rather high frequencies of such items (12.5% of the cores; 14.3% of the tools) suggest that they were produced nearby. They also fit the type of activity attributed to mining and to preliminary knapping. The rock steps beneath Unit 5 probably attest to quarrying, and the flint nodules embedded in the bedrock also point to the site’s proximity to an outcrop used for mining raw material.
Pottery. All seven units yielded a few potsherds, mostly from the Roman period (first–fourth centuries CE). They include bowls of the Kefar Hananya E1 type (Fig. 8:1, 2; Adan-Bayewitz 1993:98–109), a cooking pot (Fig. 8:3) and a jug (Fig. 8:4). Two fragments of tobacco pipes from the Ottoman period were also discovered (Fig. 8:5, 6).
The finds from the excavation are poorly preserved. The breakage and abrasion patterns on the flints and pottery show that they were substantially affected by post-depositional processes. Thus, they were probably swept into the site, and their appearance in the stone heaps does not represent in situ human activity. This observation and the presence of modern refuse in Unit 7 lead to the conclusion that the stone heaps were formed by stone-clearance work that cannot be associated with archaeological activity in the area. The flint items point to activity in this area during the Middle Paleolithic and Neolithic–Chalcolithic periods, and they characterize assemblages from mining sites and sites of preliminary knapping near available sources of raw material. The site was therefore probably part of a wide area where flint mining and flint-tool production took place; the stepped hewn bedrock in Unit 5 reinforces this conclusion. This activity may possibly be associated with an ancient ‘industrial zone’, parts of which have been excavated in the past (Barzilai and Milevski 2010; Ekshtain et al. 2011; Barzilai and Milevski 2015; Yaroshevich 2016; Yaroshevich et al. 2018; Shemer, Roskin and Vardi 2019). The pottery from the site also attests to human presence in the area during the first–fourth centuries CE, a period that is further represented in the archaeological remains uncovered within ‘Illut. These remains may represent an agricultural hinterland or the fringes of the Roman settlement.
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