By: Ianir Milevski, Nimrod Getzov, & Roy Liran
Before Highway 79 was widened, drivers are likely to have noticed a long series of tents on the north side of the road just before the entrance to the Sepphoris National Park. Few suspected that they were driving across one of the largest and most important late prehistoric sites in the Galilee.
From 2011 to 2013 we conducted a salvage project on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at Ein Zippori, ca. 2 kilometers west of Nazareth, in preparation for the widening of modern Highway 79. The site is located between the hill of Giv`at Rabi (Jebel el Ayin) and the stream and springs of Nahal Zippori. This enormous site was occupied during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB) B-C (ninth — eighth millennium BCE), the Early Chalcolithic (sixth — fifth millennia BCE) and the Early Bronze Age IB and II (end of fourth millennium-beginning of third millennium BCE). This long time range stretches from the domestication of plants and animals to development of the first urban centers.
The site’s importance nearly reaches the present day. Sporadic finds from the Roman and Byzantine periods connect it with Zippori (Sephoris), and material from the Crusader period confirms documents that tell of Frankish soldiers camping on the site before the Battle of Hattim (1187 CE) against Salah Ad-Din. Finally, a house belonging to the village of Safuri was bring built in 1948 but was not completed because of the war of that year.
Since only small soundings had been done previously at the site, we were fortunate to open eleven excavation fields with a total of ca. 5000 m2 in an area almost 1000 m long and 100 m wide. Here we discuss the Early Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age IB remains, discoveries that are transforming our understanding of these periods.
For the first time in the Southern Levant we found a huge accumulation of remains dated to the enigmatic Early Chalcolithic period (second half of the sixth millennium BCE – first half of the fifth millennium BCE).Deposits from this period can be seen in three different sub-periods:1) the Wadi Rabah culture (and probably before) at the bottom, 2) the so-called Jericho VIII culture in the middle, along with something similar to the Syrian-influenced pottery of Tel Tzaf in the Jordan Valley, and 3) later material but still prior to the better known ‘Ghassulian’ culture. Ein Zippori will be critical for answering the still open question of where the classic Late Chalcolithic culture came from.
Most of the building remains were fragmentary but we can reconstruct the plans of a few structures. In Area C there is a building with thick walls approached by long walls that suggest a spacious courtyard. In Area E remains of another building with stone foundations were encountered. Attached to the southern wall three standing flat stones were found, a probable cultic feature.
Several graves were also found, including one with two adults embracing one another with tombstones on top of them,and a baby in a pottery vessel under a wall of a building. Another tomb of a baby was covered by a half of a jar. Nearby was a fine stone bowl with a necklace with more than 200 stone beads.
In Areas B and E several interments of animal bones (sheep, pig, and even a rabbit) were found. But the most astonishing example is a complete articulated skeleton of a cow (Bos taurus), on top of a stone surface. This, and the concentration of other bones, suggests remains of a ceremony.
The Wadi Rabah pottery included sherds decorated with incisions, punctures and painted red stripes. The stone tools included tabular flint axes and sickle blades, and numerous sling stones and basalt bowls were found. A preliminary X-Ray fluorescence study of some of the hundreds of obsidian tools and debris indicates the material originated in central and eastern Anatolia, distances of 500 kilometers or more.
One especially interesting find is a schematic engraved image on a stone palette, probably representing two ostriches in the center with part of eyes above. This motif has interesting parallels from some Early Chalcolithic sites in the southern Levant and possibly with Mesopotamia.
In addition to the Early Chalcolithic material, we made dramatic discoveries related to the Early Bronze Age. In areas D and N, a fortification wall was found protecting the EB IB town from the east. At one point a narrow passage was found built into the wall, and a house attached to the wall’s inner side. The base of the 2 meter wide wall was built of large roughly dressed stones while the superstructure was probably built with mud bricks.
Two forms of buildings were used simultaneously: capsule-like long buildings with two parallels walls and two round partitioned apses, but most were rectangular buildings with rounded corners. Over time rooms were added and doorways were opened and blocked, creating clusters of buildings and eventually forming a dense plan.
The houses of the EB IB were constructed of several courses of roughly dressed stones as foundations for mudbrick walls. A coat of mud plastered the walls. Several strata each with a number of phases demonstrate the site was long-lived. Roofs were supported by wood columns positioned on stone slabs along the central axis of the interiors and packed earthen floors were set originally below the foundation levels but were raised with successive renovations. Several houses and outdoor spaces were partial paved with stone slabs, hinting at some special activities.
Several circular small stone-lined pits, probably silos, dated also to the EB IB, were located between the clusters. Most average one meter in diameter but one pair are around four meters in diameter with massive foundations made of roughly dressed stones and a superstructure of either stone or mudbrick. They define a narrow protected gateway into a domestic area behind and probably served as towers.
The material culture associated with the EB IB strata at Ein Zippori is indicative of the period’s last phase. Analysis of residue from the interior of several storage jars suggested they were used for storing olive oil, pointing to an important part of the economy and diet.Among the stone tools were numerous basalt bowls with four handles and several basalt pivots for potter wheels. Zoomorphic figurines and seal impressions on pottery sherds were also found.
Ein Zippori is the largest Early Chalcolithic site in the Nahal Zippori basin, and probably in the lower Galilee, covering approximately 30 hectares. The EB IB occupation was smaller (ca. 20 hectares) but denser and was probably connected with the EB I-II site at the summit of Giv`at Rabi. The increasing site density and town wall in the EB IB points at an early wave of urbanization in the southern Levant and has also been observed at many other sites such as Tel Beth Yerah.
Taken together, these discoveries help illustrate periods of enormous change in the prehistoric southern Levant. They also remind us that important new discoveries are to be found under familiar ground, like Highway 79.
Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov are senior research archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority and directed the excavations of Ein Zippori. Milevski is also associate fellow of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. Roy Liran was field supervisor during the excavations also on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
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