The 2017 excavation season concentrated on areas that were opened in recent seasons in the northwestern part of the higher mound (Hasegawa and Paz 2015; Hasegawa, Kuwabara and Paz 2017; 2018; 2019). It aimed to fully expose the Roman-period synagogue, which was first discovered and partly excavated in 2016, and to explore the Iron Age building remains that were detected to the west of the synagogue during the 2016 GPR survey (Fig. 1). The season’s achievements included the identification of building remains that predate the Iron Age building complex dated from the Iron Age IIC; the exposure of rock-cut installations that predated the synagogue and should possibly be related to the Iron Age; and the reconstruction of the synagogue’s plan.
Iron Age Structure (Fig. 2). The 2016 GPR survey detected a rectangular structure that was located to the west of the outer western enclosing wall (W2119) of the Iron Age IIC building complex. A square (Sq D4a7) was opened in this location, exposing a north–south stone wall (W2110; length c. 4 m, width c. 0.5 m), probably the eastern enclosing wall of the structure. Its orientation differs from that of the Iron Age IIC building complex, which is dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE, and indeed the pottery relating to the wall seems to date it to the eighth century BCE, prior to the construction of the building complex.
Rock-Cut Installations (Fig. 3). The exposed bedrock throughout the entire excavated area was dotted with rock-cut installations, such as basins, cup-marks and pits. Some of the pits were fully excavated, yielding pottery that dates mostly from the Middle Bronze Age, the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I and II; some Roman-period sherds were also retrieved. Two of the excavated pits (L2093—diam. c. 1 m; L2055—diam. c. 2 m) were found inside the Roman-period synagogue (see below); they were probably filled-in with rubble and sealed during its construction, explaining the potsherds from this period.
The hewn elements in Sqs D4b5–c5—a basin (L2096) with a related rectangular rock cutting, as well as cup-marks and pits—may hint at the existence of at least two rock-hewn installations (winepresses? Fig. 4). A northwest–southeast rock-cut channel (L2070; depth c. 0.3 m, width c. 0.2 m) may have served for drainage and may have been associated with the Iron Age IIC building complex.
The Synagogue (Sqs D4b–c6–7; Figs. 4, 5). One of the most important discoveries made during the 2016 season was an impressive structure, identified as a synagogue dating from the first–second centuries CE, which was uncovered while searching for the northwestern corner of the Iron Age IIC complex. During the current season, the structure was fully excavated, and its overall plan was recorded. The structure was a northeast–southwest-oriented rectangular (c. 8.5 × 9.3 m; W2120/W2121, W2122, W2123/W2081, W2082). The entrance (L2118; width c. 1 m) was set in the middle of the northern wall of the structure. Benches built of limestone ashlars lined the interior of each of the four walls.
The synagogue was constructed on the bedrock surface, in which numerous rock-cut installations were filled-in with rubble by the builders. Above this fill was a floor, probably of plaster or of hard packed earth, but it was only partially detected. Two rectangular pillar bases were found in the middle of the structure; the western one rested directly on the bedrock, while the eastern one was set on a constructive fill of rubble, which was used to fill the rock-cut installations.
The fill below the floor contained cooking pots and a complete oil lamp from the first century CE (Fig. 6). It is thus suggested that the synagogue was built during this century, abutting the southwest outer wall of the Jewish farmstead that had already existed on the crest of the higher mound (uncovered in previous seasons).
The discovery of the synagogue associated with the farmstead sheds new light on the religious and cultural life of the inhabitants of small Jewish settlements in the Lower Galilee during the period between the two Jewish revolts against Rome.