In December 2015, a small trial excavation was carried out on the southern fringes of the Mar Ya‘aqub hill in the village of Yafi‘a (Permit A-7587; map ref. 226114–48/732462–97), following damage caused by unauthorized earthworks prior to the construction of a new house. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by E. Bron (metal detecting, field photography), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), R. Mishayev and R. Liran (surveying), H. Tahan-Rosen (pottery drawing), E. Delerzon (drafting) K. Covello-Paran and D. Avshalom-Gorni (guidance), R. Be’eri and Y. Alexandre (Iron age and Roman pottery identification, respectively) and workers from Yafi‘a.
The village of Yafi‘a is identified with Biblical Yafi‘a (Japhia; Joshua 19:12). Excavations in the area show almost continuous settlement from the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and Iron ages through the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, until today. The site of ancient Yafia‘, known today as the neighborhood of Mar Ya‘aqub, was first excavated by Sukenik who uncovered in 1950 the remains of a synagogue (Sukenik 1951; Fig. 1:2); a series of hewn caves, identified as silos, one of which yielded a hoard of 200 Imperial Roman coins, was already known at the site when Guérin (1880:140; Fig. 1:1) visited the place. A miqveh
(Alexandre 1998; Fig. 1:3) and another silo (Alexandre 2012
; Fig. 1:10) were exposed in the western part of the site. All prior excavations (Abu ‘Uqsa 1998; 2002; Mukary 1999; Shalem 1999; Zidan 2015
; Cohen 2021
; Fig. 1:4–9) were situated north of the current excavation, exposing mainly rock-hewn installations, natural caves and rock-hewn burial caves (for a comprehensive review of the geographical, historical and archaeological background, see Alexandre 2012
The plot slated for construction (c. 10 ´ 23 m; Fig. 2), situated on the eastern slope of a hill, was bulldozed to a depth of approximately 4 m, destroying layers of bedrock. The bulldozing left two high vertical sections of bedrock (Fig. 3), stones and soil on the western side of the plot (length c. 23 m) and on its southern side (length c. 1.5 m). Two rock-hewn cavities and a wall segment were visible in the western section, and in the southern section, right by the western corner, a wall and a blocking stone were revealed. Due to safety concerns, the excavation was limited to cleaning the sections and recording the rock-hewn features.
Cavities. The two rock-hewn cavities (L100, L101; Fig. 4), apparently silos, could not be excavated due to safety reasons, and their exploration was limited to cleaning the east-facing sections, where the accumulations had been disturbed.
The southern cavity (L100; height 2.5 m, width 3 m; Fig. 5) was filled with an accumulation (L102), dark gray and rather compact at the bottom, where it lay on the bedrock floor of the cavity, and light brown and looser toward the top. The accumulation included many small and medium-sized fieldstones and numerous pottery sherds, which may have been stratigraphically deposited, but were mixed as the accumulation was disturbed and spilled out of the cavity. The bulk of pottery sherds belonged to two distinct chronological groups: a small assemblage from the Iron Age II, and a larger one from the late Hellenistic and Early–Middle Roman periods (see below), indicating the long timespan of the accumulation. The Iron II sherds included a bowl rim (Fig. 6:1), a cooking pot rim (Fig. 6:2), a red slipped krater rim (Fig. 6:3) and the base of a small, round red slipped juglet (Fig. 6:4). This assemblage fits with the Northern Iron II culture and can be dated to the tenth–ninth centuries BCE. At the very top of the accumulation was light gray soil with many small stones and a few sherds of mixed, non-indicative Early Islamic and Ottoman pottery.
The northern cavity (L101; height 1.5 m, width at base 2.5 m) tapers towards the top, where a small circular opening is visible. It too was filled with an accumulation, consisting of earth and blocks of rock from the collapsed ceiling. The section-cleaning of this accumulation yielded Persian-period pottery, including a Cypriot mortarium rim (Fig. 6:5) and a mortarium base (Fig. 6:6), as well as pottery from the Hellenistic and Early–Middle Roman periods (see below). As in Cavity 100, the very top of the accumulation was light gray soil with many small stones and a few sherds of mixed, non-indicative Early Islamic and Ottoman pottery.
The pottery from the Hellenistic and Early–Middle Roman periods in the two cavities included a Hellenistic-period storage jar rim (Fig. 6:7); and a late Hellenistic (Hasmonean?) storage jar rim (Fig. 6:8), found mixed in with the Iron Age pottery in Cavity 100; as well as the rims of a Kefar Hananya bowl (Fig. 6:9), a casserole (Fig. 6:11), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:12) and a jar (Fig. 6:14)—all dated to the Early–Middle Roman periods.
Wall Segments. Two wall segments (W1, W2) where encountered, near the southwestern corner of the plot. Wall 1 was constructed of medium-sized field stones and featured a large stone (Fig. 7), most probably a blocking stone of a rock-hewn tomb which extended to the southwest, beyond the excavation limits. Wall 2 was constructed of large ashlars and preserved three courses high (Fig. 8). It seems to be part of a cist grave founded on bedrock in a general east–west orientation; the large stone on top of this feature seems to be a covering stone. A few indicative pottery sherds from the area adjacent to these walls (L103) include the rims of a cooking bowl (Fig. 6:10) and a cooking pot (Fig. 6:13), both of an Early–Middle Roman date, suggesting that that is the date of the two tombs.
The rock-hewn silos exposed in this limited excavation cannot be dated with certainty, but according to the pottery found within them, they appear to have been in use from the Iron II onward. They appear to have fallen into neglect during the Roman period, when this area of ancient Yafi`a seems to have functioned as a burial ground.
Abu ‘Uqsa H. 1998. Yafia‘. ESI 20:24*–25*.
Abu ‘Uqsa H. 2002 Yafia‘. HA-ESI 114:110*.
Alexandre Y. 1998. Yafia‘. ESI 20:131*.
Guérin V. 1880. Description géographique, historique et archéologique de la Palestine III: Galilée I. Paris.
Muqari A. 1999. Yafia‘ (A). HA-ESI 110:25*.
Shalem D. 1999.Yafia‘ (B). HA-ESI 110:26*.
Sukenik E.L. 1951. The Ancient Synagogue at Yafa near Nazareth. Preliminary Report. Bulletin of the L.M. Rabinowitz Fund 2:6–24.