Bouddicca Bell, Univerrsity of St Andrews
Thanks to the generosity of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society I was able to attend my second season at Tel Azekah for four weeks. My first-time volunteering at Tel Azekah 2016 (in area T2) inspired me to study archaeology at postgraduate level once I completed my Biblical Studies BA at the University of St Andrews.
Located within the Judean Lowlands Tel Azekah is at a strategic meeting point of ancient roads. This location meant it played an important part within the history of the area. The site is mentioned three times (1 Sam. 17:1; Jeremiah 34:7; Nehemiah 11:30) in the Bible. This rich historical past made Tel Azekah an exciting site for me to excavate, as I could physically interact with the biblical texts and history I had studied during my degree. This ability to physically interact with the biblical history is something I particularly love about excavating.
This season I was placed in area S1, located on the south of Tel Azekah. Throughout this season the team was attempting to understand the various different phases of occupation in this area, which began in the Late Bronze Age to the Persian period. The Iron Age II destruction and Late Bronze Age III destruction was the focus of the 2018 season.
During my four weeks there, under the instruction of the area staff I worked in different squares. The opportunity both to attend for four weeks and to move throughout the area allowed me to understand, explore and learn about the different phases of area S1. For instance, I was able to work in Persian, Iron II and in Bronze Age III squares. In doing so, I was able to work with a variety of people, whose own knowledge and expertise enriched my own learning experience.
Outside of excavating, Tel Azekah offered guest lectures, field school and tours of other sites. Although hard after a day’s work in the field, each of these activities were riveting. In particular the field school and guest lectures allowed me to gain an understanding and outline of technical aspect of the field work, while also exploring different subfields in archaeology. In particular I found the lectures on zooarcheology and physical anthropology fascinating and engaging. As these were given by staff members, I was also able to learn more about these areas while in the field. By attending these lectures, I could more thoroughly engage with the excavation at an academic level. I was also given the opportunity to visit Gezer, among others, during my four weeks. Being able to visit and learn about other sites near Tel Azekah added to this brilliant experience. None of these experiences would have been possible without the kindness and generosity of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society.
Gregory Bilotto, school of oriental and African studies, UCL
My PhD research at SOAS University of London concerns Fatimid period (4th-6th H/ 10th-12th CE centuries) metalwork or more specifically utilitarian and higher-quality objects produced in Egypt, Ifriqiya (North Africa), and Bilad al-Sham (Levant). The utilitarian objects consist of buckets, ladles, pans, pots, and tools, while higher-quality examples include incense burners, lamps, lampstands, and pomanders. Most of these objects were made from varying compositions of copper-alloy, but a minority were made from silver or included silver and enamel. One aspect of my research is to provide an identification for Fatimid produced metalwork through archaeological material and original source information. The resulting objects can then be used as a guideline for other similar Fatimid attributed metalwork in numerous museum and private collections without any provenance or original context. Another part of my research is to identify Fatimid centres of metalwork production through archaeological, historical, and textual evidence all with the aim of understanding the dissemination of Fatimid produced metalwork.
For this study and to continue research sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund in May 2016, the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society generously awarded a grant to study Fatimid metalwork recovered from Ramla and other mediaeval Bilad al- Sham cities such as Caesarea and Tiberias. As a result, I travelled to Israel and during February-March 2018 examined nearly all the metalwork excavated in Ramla, Caesarea, and Tiberias, which has been kept in the Israel Antiquities Authority store at Bet Shemesh (Greater Jerusalem) with the help of Dr Ayala Lester. I then studied the Fatimid metalwork excavated in Caesarea and Tiberias including several articles of jewellery found in Ramla and held in the Israel Museum with Na’ama Brosh. Finally, I travelled to Ramla and visited the Ramla Antiquities Museum, several mediaeval Islamic sites in the city, and the findspots for certain metal objects to visualise and further understand the context of Fatimid metalwork production.
After examining many of the metal objects excavated from Ramla during the Fatimid period, it became clear that there was a larger population with the ability to support higher-quality metalwork production in the early Fatimid period. This idea also was supported by the numerous hoards of precious metals including gold coinage and gold or silver jewellery recovered from Ramla (Fig. 1). I was able to study several coin hoards in the Ramla Antiquities Museum and visit numerous sites that revealed a high standard of living; but unfortunately, I could not photograph most of the Ramla metalwork kept in the Israel Antiquities Authority store since these objects remain unpublished and part of active excavations. Many of the later Fatimid period metalwork included scrap, tools, weights, and related objects, which meant Ramla was transformed into a city with significantly less wealth and the metalwork production reflected this change, meaning it became industrial.
The other cities in Bilad al-Sham also experienced economic misfortune but retained their wealth under Fatimid rule for a longer period as archaeological evidence has shown. Tiberias was one such city where wealth prevailed until famine, invasion, natural disaster or a combination thereof led to abandonment en masse. Perhaps one of the greatest metal objects recovered from Tiberias was a copper-alloy vessel decorated with human figural imagery in enamel (Fig. 2).
After receiving funding from the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, I was able to continue my previous research on much of the metalwork from Caesarea and Tiberias and especially on this precious object adorned with human figures in Fatimid dress and with faces reminiscent of Fatimid figural imagery on lustreware ceramics (Fig. 3). The object also contained an illegible Kufic inscription in its interior, which likely wished good fortune upon the owner. F ollowing extensive discussion on the decoration, inscription, and shape with Na’ama Brosh from the Israel Museum, we determined the object was the base of a corona- lucis lamp from a domestic or another secular location, rather than a tray-stand as previously identified in other scholarship.
The lamp base is the only surviving example of its kind from the Fatimid world and was truly exciting to examine for a second time. Finally, the study of the other metalwork from Caesarea and Tiberias permitted my research to advance on formulating an identification for Fatimid produced metalwork in other collections without any provenance or original context.
The grant awarded by the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society was invaluable to my research and enabled the study of numerous unpublished Fatimid metal objects from Ramla, which would not have otherwise been possible. I was also able to study nearly all the Fatimid metalwork excavated from Caesarea and Tiberias including jewellery from Ramla. These objects were essential for my research, and through direct examination, a significant amount of data was collected including previously unknown information such as the function of the copper-alloy and enamelled object that was almost certainly a corona-lucis lamp base. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, Dr Ayala Lester from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and finally, Na’ama Brosh from the Israel Museum.
Bilotto, G.. (2013). ‘Fatimid Metalwork.’ MA thesis, American University in Cairo.
Brosh, N. (1998). ‘Two Jewellery Hoards from Tiberias.’ ‘Atiqot 36: 1–9.
Brosh, N., ed. (1987). Jewellery and Goldsmithing in the Islamic World, International Symposium Israel Museum. (Jerusalem).
Khamis, E. (2013). The Fatimid Hoard from Tiberias: Tiberias Excavations in the House of the Bronzes Final Report Volume 2. Qedem 55. (Jerusalem).
Rosen-Ayalon, M. (2013). ‘A Unique Metal Object from Tiberias’, ‘Atiqot 76: 173–81.
Jessica Feito, University of Reading
With the help of an AIAS Student Grant, I was able to participate in the Hippos-Sussita Excavation project as the archaeobotanist.
Hippos-Sussita, also referred to as Antiochia-Hippos, is a fascinating site located near the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Occupied from the 3rd century BC, Sussita became one of the Decapolis cities during the Roman period, and thus stood out from the surrounding region, which was inhabited by largely Semitic populations.
The site itself occupies a strategic position on top of a large hill, somewhat isolated from its surroundings. In the past, this may have contributed to the defence of the site, while in the present, it allows excavators to enjoy impressive views of the surrounding landscape. The decumanus maximus is well preserved, and leads visitors through the site, passing extensive architectural remains. Numerous areas have been excavated previously, including, but not limited to, structures such as a basilica, an odeion, a Hellenistic temple (temenos), as well as a residential area, forum, bathhouse, and a number of churches dated to the Byzantine period (see Segal et al. 2013 for comprehensive report on site and excavated areas).
As previously mentioned, my role for the 2018 season was that of the archaeobotanist. In the most basic terms, Archaeobotany, or Palaeoethnobotany, is an important and fruitful avenue of research, which entails the extraction and identification of preserved plant remains. These remains are often seeds, but can be various other plant parts as well. In analysing such remains, archaeobotanists are able to to shed light on topics from past environments and human interaction with these environments, to diet and economic organisation.
With the help of the excavators and supervisors, I collected samples from a number of different contexts during the 2017 and 2018 field seasons. The site yields primarily charred remains, which I processed by means of flotation. The basic idea behind flotation is to separate the organic remains from the soil and the heavier material and artifacts that are collected in the same soil sample. I used bucket floatation, which necessitates less water but can be more time consuming than using a flotation machine. In this method, soil samples are put into a bucket, submerged in water, and agitated. This eventually causes the soil to rinse away, and allows the organic remains, as well as any other lighter material, to float to the top. This material is then gently guided over the edge of the bucket and is collected in a fine mesh. When the sample yields no more floating organic remains, the fine mesh is carefully removed and hung to dry. Once dried, this material, referred to as the light fraction, is then bagged, labelled, and set aside to await analysis. The heavy fraction, which includes the artifacts that sank to the bottom of the bucket, yields primarily charred remains, which I processed by means of flotation. The basic idea behind flotation is to separate the organic remains from the soil and the heavier material and artifacts that are collected in the same soil sample. I used bucket floatation, which necessitates less water but can be more time consuming than using a flotation machine. In this method, soil samples are put into a bucket, submerged in water, and agitated. This eventually causes the soil to rinse away, and allows the organic remains, as well as any other lighter material, to float to the top. This material is then gently guided over the edge of the bucket and is collected in a fine mesh. When the sample yields no more floating organic remains, the fine mesh is carefully removed and hung to dry. Once dried, this material, referred to as the light fraction, is then bagged, labelled, and set aside to await analysis. The heavy fraction, which includes the artifacts that sank to the bottom of the bucket, is also then collected and left to dry. I sorted the heavy fraction on site, separating any bones, ceramics, or larger pieces of charred material, while the light fraction is sorted in a lab using a low power microscope.
In collecting and processing archaeobotanical samples from the site, I was able to provide valuable data, not only for the project itself, but also for my own PhD research, which focuses on regional dietary and consumption patterns, with a particular focus on the Roman Near East. I am extremely grateful to the AIAS for providing me with the means to collect such data, and to contribute to the greater body of archaeobotanical research in the region.
Segal, A., Eisenberg, M., Burdajewicz, M., Mlynarczyk, J., Schtober-Zisu, N., and Schuler, M. (2013) Hippos-Sussita of the Decapolis: The First Twelve Seasons of Excavations 200–2011, Volume 1, (Haifa).
Joseph Scales, University of Birmingham
Between 30th of June and 15th of July I travelled to Israel to participate in the fifth and final season of excavations at Khirbet el-Eika. The site is located east of the modern city of Tiberias, on the lower north-western slopes of the extinct volcano known as the ‘Horns of Hattin’. The site sits on the highest point of a hilltop, overlooking the northern plain and lies opposite a sister site, Khirbet el ‘Aiteh (yet to be excavated), located on another hilltop. Each of these sites was occupied during the Hellenistic period (333–37 BCE). They were both abandoned before the end of the 1st century BCE. The excavation was directed by Dr Uzi Leibner, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr Leibner has previously conducted field surveys in eastern lower Galilee. The decision to excavate at Kh. el-Eika was made to understand more about settlement during the Late Hellenistic period in Galilee.
There has been an ongoing debate concerning the identity of the ancient Galileans before and after the Hasmoneans established their rule over Galilee. As the site fell out of use before the 1st century BCE, excavations have allowed the excavators to see how people lived prior to the so-called ‘Hasmonean conquest’ of Galilee. At this stage, archaeologists are still unsure about these people’s identity but have a clearer picture of how they lived and who they traded with. Another well-documented site which is comparable to Kh. el-Eika is Tel Anafa. This site is located in the Huleh Valley and seems to have had a villa belonging to an affluent family. The villa remained in use into the 1st century BCE, was also connected with the Phoenician coastal cities and imported items from the Mediterranean.
The excavators, staff and volunteers, stayed in the nearby village of Arbel. Over the two weeks I volunteered, I worked with ten other volunteers and between ten to fifteen staff. Each day we would rise around 4:15 to leave at 4:45 after coffee and cookies. We arrived at the site at 5:00 each morning to begin excavations. The site offers excellent views to the north, east and west. Over the next hour we were able to watch the sunrise over the Golan heights and the Sea of Galilee. As the site lies within the territory allotted to the Druze shrine of Nabi Shu’ayb, the site is gated (the Druze community has kindly given their permission for the site to be excavated). Each morning we were let in by gatekeeper and ascended the steep road to Kh. el-Eika. After disembarking from the minibuses, we collected tools from a container and metal locker, then we would begin to excavate for the day.
As the site was only occupied during the Late Hellenistic period, digging was relatively easy. On any given day, a team of five could open a square, remove the top soil layer, define a Hellenistic stratum, remove any finds and reach bedrock. Many of the walls of the site are still visible about ground level, so much of the work revolved around identifying the remains of walls and rooms beneath the top soil. A large complex existed there. The site was surrounded on three sides by steep slopes, with a gradual ascent from the south. This southern side was enclosed by a wall of no great proportions and the excavators have yet to locate an entrance. The site is approximately 200 meters from the closest spring. In the Hellenistic period, the residents of Galilee chose to live at the top of fortified hill sites. During the Early Roman period, this same spring would be used by a settlement at the base of the hill. This fact illustrates some of the changes that took place during this time.
To our north, the mountains in the form the beginning of what is known as upper Galilee. Between them and the site lies the Beit Netofa valley which is suitable for farming. The site overlooks an ancient road which ran up this valley to the Sea of Galilee from the city of Ptolemais-Akko.
Material finds from the excavation point to links with Ptolemais-Akko and trade with cities in the Mediterranean. A large number of Rhodian and Koan amphora have been found, many with stamped handles. These provide strong dating evidence for traded goods making their way into the interior of Hellenistic Galilee. Other finds include approximately 150 bronze and silver coins, some decorated vessels, painted ware, metal keys and a bronze incense shovel. Personally, I found a metal implement, possibly a cosmetic spatula. In the squares I excavated, the team found a silver Athenian coin, a loom weight, animal bone fragments and virtually complete vessels. Other finds will be published in the near future.
The site affords an insight into rural life in 2nd century BCE Galilee. It commanded a good view of the land surrounding it and its inhabitants possibly farmed the valley. Clear evidence of imported pottery exists, including heavy amphorae, which would have been transported at some cost into the interior of Galilee. Kh. el-Eika’s abandonment was part of widespread abandonment or destruction of sites around this time in Galilee. It is unclear whether this had anything to do with the Hasmoneans, but Jewish settlements began to be founded soon after Kh. el-Eika and similar sites were left deserted.
My sincere thanks go to both the AIAS and the Midlands3Cities AHRC consortium for generously supporting this project.
Sarah Wisialowski, University of St. Andrews
Thanks to the generous support from the AIAS, I was able to participate in the 2018 season of excavation at Tel Azekah. The excavation of Tel Azekah is a collaboration of several universities and archaeologists, and has just finished its sixth season. The site of Tel Azekah lies on a pivotal crossroads in the Shephelah region in Judean Lowlands. It sat at a highly strategic intersection during the biblical period, and controlled the intersection of roads between Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath), the Judean Hills, Beth-Shemesh, and Lachish, which would have been a powerful position in the biblical period.
The current excavation at Azekah began in 2012, co-directed by Professor Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University, and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University. The site was first excavated by Frederick J. Bliss and R. A. Stewart Macalister in 1898–1900, however was not examined again until a survey was conducted at the site in 2007.
The excavations revealed that across the site, there have been settlements almost continuously from the Early Bronze II-III until modern times. Throughout this timeline, the occupation of the Tel has varied, sometimes with larger populations and sometimes with only a few finds to indicate settlement.
This season, I worked in Area S1 and moved between a variety of squares during my two weeks there. At the beginning of this season, it was known that Area S1 had been occupied in the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron Age, and Persian/Hellenistic periods. The previous years of excavation had revealed Persian period dwellings, an Iron Age complex and destruction, and several Bronze Age walls. The directors of the dig aim to use Area S1 as an overview of all the periods of occupation.
Due to personal time constraints, I was only able to join the excavation for the final two weeks of the season. Prior to my arrival, the team digging in S1 had found destruction layers. By the time I arrived in week three, the area was already a good model of occupation for the site. There were several squares at different depths, each one focusing upon a different period. The first square I was in belonged to the Iron Age. As we dug we found not only pottery sherds but also shells. This is intriguing because Azekah is not located near the sea. Owing to so many shells in a single area, our supervisor speculated that we could be digging in a production site, in which the shells were used to burnish pottery.
I later moved to a square we referred to as the pit, that belonged to the Bronze Age and included beautiful stratigraphy in the sections. One could clearly see the destruction and soil changes. The other fascinating aspect of this square was that it was cut by Bliss and Macalister’s fill trench. After Bliss and Macalister finished their excavations of the site in 1900, they backfilled their squares. This became apparent because of the softness of the soil, as well as owing to the mix of different types of pottery when the other half of the square was solidly Bronze Age.
The last square that I worked in was important in its soil. When I began
digging there, a layer of dark black soil was on top. However, as we continued to pick-axe and hoe the soil changed from this dark colour to a bright orange. Finally the soil returned to its normal colour. Since this only appeared in the final week of the excavation, not much can be said to its meaning, however, soil samples were taken at each level and hopefully these will be able to reveal what was happening at this site.
I am extremely grateful to the AIAS to have been able to return to work at Tel Azekah this summer. Being able to work with a range of academics, from professors, to PhD candidates, to interested students makes the Azekah Lautenschläger Expedition a wonderful experience. In addition to developing skills in the field, the lecture series and field school held at the kibbutz allowed me to further my knowledge of archaeology. Each of the squares, in which I worked, provided me with a different experience and taught me different skills which are important for archaeology.
William Stumpf, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Thanks to the Nicolas Slope grant from the the Anglo-Israeli Archaeological Society, I was able to participate on the Mount Zion Dig. This year there was a reduced number of volunteers, with UNCC’s Study Abroad students and a few staff members. I served as an Area Supervisor under the Field Director, Rafael Lewis and the Co-Directors, Shimon Gibson and James Tabor. Following the necessary archaeological procedures, I was able to run an orderly and safe environment for the diggers, and I made sure that the recording was done efficiently helping the Site Recorder, Virginia Withers.
In addition to serving as Area Supervisor, I continued the flotation work at the site, following Egon Lass in previous seasons. Flotation is done on important loci (floors, pits instillations, etc.) with soil samples washed to extract micro-artifacts, from light and heavy fraction materials. I was mentored in this activity by Egon Lass (via email) and the site directors. Light fraction materials are extracted from soil samples mixed with water resulting in micro-artifacts (ex-charcoal) rising to the surface, and heavy fraction materials are the residue micro-artifacts (ex-flint). The purpose of the flotation is to recover the information on the everyday lives of human beings. Micro-artifacts include ancient: seeds, charcoal, bones, egg shells, hair and fiber, and many other very small unique artifacts that cannot be seen during the digging.
This season important work was done in a number of different parts of the site, with discovery of a paved street from the Byzantine period in one area, a dry military ditch in front of the Medieval fortification in another, and finally, in the deeper part of the site, the remains of walls and floors of a structure from the Second Temple period (destroyed in 70 CE).
This dig season was a unique learning experience, helping me understand how to conduct digging operations and to gain experience in leadership. This included practices using the Harris Matrix, creating stratigraphical flow charts for each area excavated. I also took the elevations for each locus and special finds. My sincerest thanks to the Anglo-Israeli Archaeological Society for providing me with financial assistance to enable me to journey to Jerusalem in Dr. Nicholas Slope’s memory.