In 2018 and 2019, the fifth and sixth seasons of excavation were conducted at the ancient village of Majduliyya (License Nos. G-53/2018, G-57/2019; map ref. 27200/75220; Fig. 1), as part of a broader research project on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the University of Haifa, codirected by M. Osband and M. Eisenberg begun in 2014. The excavations, directed by M. Osband (pottery and petrography) and B. Arubas (survey and planning), have been funded by a grant from the Israel Science Foundation (No. 722/17). We thank the staff and volunteers for their dedicated work: K. Raphael, A. Meir, S. Ariel and A. Bracha (area supervisors), S. Appel (logistics), D. Syon (numismatics), A. Iermolin (pottery drawing), M. Edelcopp (conservation planning), V. Uziel (mosaic conservation) and A. Wiegmann (photogrammetry). The analyses of most of the finds were carried out at the laboratories of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology.
The site of Majduliyya is located in the southern Golan, south of Nahal Samakh. The excavation aims to reconstruct the settlement history of this rural site during the Roman period and characterize the nature of Roman-period a rural settlement in the Golan. Following an initial survey, nine areas of interest representing much of the site were demarcated, and excavation has so far been conducted in six of these areas (Fig. 1): the synagogue (Area A); dwellings near the center of the site (Area E) and another dwelling area at the site’s northwestern periphery (Area M); a pottery kiln (Area C) and two areas of olive-oil production, one at the site’s northeastern periphery (Area B) and another at its southern periphery (Area R). Two other areas of oil production that were identified in the survey remain unexcavated (Areas P, S), as well as dwellings near the center of the site (Area T).
Most of the finds uncovered in the excavation belong to the late first–third centuries CE. The construction of the synagogue is tentatively ascribed to the Early Roman period, possibly the early first century CE, and it continued to be used until the third century CE. Later remains, of the Early Islamic and Mamluk periods, were exposed in connection with the dwellings in Area E. The following description refers to the excavation seasons up to and including 2019.
The Synagogue (Area A). This area was chosen for excavation based on the presence of various architectural elements on the surface, comprising a bench segment, column drums, bases and Doric capitals. It revealed a synagogue (Figs. 2, 3)—a rectangular building oriented north–south (13 × 23 m)—with an annex of two rooms adjacent to its northern wall. Entire sections of the exterior walls were missing, especially on the western side, and the surviving segments were preserved to a height of only 1–3 courses. These segments are not uniform in appearance and construction technique, attesting to the existence of at least three main building phases. Most segments, however, were constructed of local, high-quality basalt stones.
Columns and fine Doric column capitals were found broken and scattered within and outside of the building; their wide distribution and extensive fragmentation indicate that they may have been broken intentionally. Only the plinths that supported the columns were preserved in situ, mainly those of the eastern row.
The interior of the synagogue is divided into a central hall and side aisles. The floor levels of the aisles are c. 0.26 m higher than the floor of the central hall (Fig. 4). Two thresholds were found in the western wall, one that is set near its southern end and the other near its northern end, probably representing side entrances; there was likely also a main entrance to the building in the middle of the western wall, although this part of the wall was missing. A continuous bench seems to have been installed along the interior face of each of the synagogue’s walls. The bench was variably preserved: along the northern wall it was preserved in its entirety, while only a few sections were preserved along the eastern wall; a single bench block was preserved along the western wall, at its northwestern corner; and only what was likely the bench foundation was exposed along parts of the western and the entire southern walls. Remnants of an interior bench that surrounded the central hall and was set at a lower elevation than the peripheral bench were exposed between the columns in both the eastern and western rows and along the northern and southern peripheral benches, where they form stepped benches. Mason’s marks are visible on top of each building block in the southern segment of the lower interior bench.
The floors were made of mosaics, which are poorly preserved. Mosaic patches were found mainly in the southern part of the synagogue’s central hall, and to some extent also in the aisles. Remains of a rich figurative composition including animals, which were only partially preserved, was discerned in the mosaic patches of the central hall, while a colored geometric pattern could be discerned in the aisles (Fig. 5).
Three small probes were excavated inside the synagogue and one outside its eastern wall, seeking to retrieve pottery from below its floors and foundations in order to date the structure. Pottery was also retrieved from accumulations directly below the mosaic floor of the central hall after its removal for preservation. This preliminary exploration suggests dating the construction of the synagogue possibly to the Early Roman period (Fig. 3: Phase 1; the eastern wall and perhaps the room to the north) and the building continued to be used through the third century CE with additions and alterations, such as the installation of a tiled roof, the mosaic floor, piers along the eastern wall and the annexed rooms to the north (Fig. 3: Phases 2, 3). The dating of these phases is still being studied and will be further clarified in the coming excavation seasons.
The sunken floor of the central hall, the peripheral benches, the raised aisles and the fine Doric column capitals are prominent characteristics of synagogues of the Second Temple period. The closest parallels for the Majduliyya synagogue are structures of the Early Roman period at Gamla (Syon and Yavor 2010:40–61) and Migdal/Magdala (Avshalom-Gorni and Najar 2013), both of which ceased to exist in 67 CE.
The Pottery Kiln (Area C). The remains of a pottery kiln, associated with large quantities of cooking vessels including bowls, pots and jugs, were found in Area C. The well-preserved kiln was built of basalt stones in a circular shape (interior diam. 2.8 m; Fig. 6) and has a central pillar. The kitchen wares represent common vessels of the Late Roman period found in the Golan and the Galilee regions.
Dwellings (Areas E and M). In Area E (Fig. 7), the excavation exposed a series of floors and walls associated with large quantities of Late Roman-period pottery. Some pottery from the Early Islamic (Abbasid) period was also found among these accumulations. Above these remains was a layer containing Mamluk-period finds, including two ovens.
The initial survey in Area M, located on a slope leading down to Nahal Samakh, revealed a high density of collapsed remains (Fig. 8). The excavation exposed a domestic complex with an entrance in its western wall. Coins and pottery retrieved from this complex assign the last occupation phase to the third century CE. A wall built into the slope, belonging to another structure, was associated with Roman-period finds, of which the latest dates from the third century CE as well.
Olive-Oil Production Installations (Areas B and R). Remains of olive-pressing installations, initially documented in the survey, were partly excavated. Two weights were uncovered in Area B in association with pottery from the Roman period, which was found both beside and underneath the weights. The weights appear to be either in situ or very close to their original location. A complete weight and a fragment of another weight, as well as the top of a screw press discovered c. 15 m to their east, were found in Area R. The screw press was uncovered in association with the remains of a structure (Fig. 9)—two walls and a floor—which yielded large quantities of Late Roman-period storage-jar fragments and a coin of the mid-third century CE. Screw presses of this type were rather rare during the Roman period, but became more abundant during the subsequent, Byzantine period. Majduliyya was abandoned in the late third century CE, providing an important insight regarding the temporal span for the use of this type of press.
The chronological information from this excavation is consistent with the settlement history of the Golan, as discussed by Ben-David (2005), suggesting that Jewish settlement in this region continued after the First Jewish Revolt. The synagogue at Majduliyya, which was built sometime around the first century CE, or possibly earlier, continued in use until the late third century CE, when the site was abandoned. This is a significant find, as no other synagogue operating in the Late Roman period has been discovered in the Golan. Other important finds include the pottery kiln—to date, the only one of its kind discovered in the Golan—and the screw press, which is one of the earliest examples of this type of an olive press known in the region.
Avshalom-Gorni D. and Najar A. 2013. Migdal. HA–ESI 125.
Ben-David C. 2005. The Jewish Settlement on the Golan in the Roman and Byzantine Period (Golan Studies 1). Qazrin (Hebrew).
Syon D. and Yavor Z. 2010. Gamla II: The Architecture; The Shmaria Gutmann Excavations, 1976–1989 (IAA Reports 44). Jerusalem.