Kursi Beach Excavation: Second Season (Nov. 1-Dec. 15, 2016)

Haim Cohen

Michal Artzy 

 

Hatter Laboratory, RIMS, University of Haifa

Shamir Research Institute

Dr. Haim Cohen and Prof. Michal Artzy of the Hatter Laboratory, Recanati Institute directed the 2nd season of excavation for Maritime Studies in the University of Haifa.  Eran Meir from the Shamir Research Institute in the Golan joined as a field supervisor during the 2nd season.  Prof. Liu of and students from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, as well as the archaeological museum in Changdu, joined the project.  Amanda Holdeman and Alisha Hsu were in charge of the daily registration digitized in the Hatter Laboratory database created by Ragna Stidsing.  Michal Oren-Paskal dealt with the finds in the University.  Jonathan Gotlieb carried out the cleaning and conservation of the metals, agricultural tools and coins, as well as the conservation of the piece of wood found in Area C.  Iddo Katz carried out the drone photography.  Benny Arubas and Marcos Edelcopp prepared the plans. IAA’s Jacques Nagar was consulted and Yehoshua (Yeshu) Dray carried out the conservation.  Shmuel Garsiani served as the administrator and medic.  Among the participants were students from the Department of Maritime Civilizations, University of Haifa, pupils from Eretz Israel program, Shaked High School in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, Ulpanat Eyal Barama, Nov, Ulpana Regavim, Branco Weis School in Ramot and 6th graders from the Mitzpe Golan School, as part of the IAA Cultural-Education program.  Volunteers from Norway, Sweden, USA, England, Taiwan and Israel joined the excavations as well.

Kursi Beach Aerial
Aerial photo of excavations areas (Photo: Iddo Katz)
Eran Meir with Mitzpe Golan School pupils, IAA cultural-Education program (photo: Michal Artzy)
Eran Meir with Mitzpe Golan School pupils, IAA cultural-Education program (photo: Michal Artzy)

The Excavation was financed with the kind contribution of Thomas Morton of the Hyslop Shanon Foundation, Sheila Bishop, the Foundation of Biblical Archaeology, Eli Malka, the Head of the Golan Regional Council, the Shamir Research Institute in Katzrin and an anonymous donor.

We are thankful for the Israel Antiquities Authority’s aid and participation, especially to Dr. Kamil Sari, Dina Avshalom-Gorni, Oren Zigenboym and Dr. Dan Syon as well as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Dr. Tsvika Tsuk, Dr. Iossi Bordowicz and Dr. Dror Ben Yosef.

This is the 2nd season of excavations in Area B.  The discovery of a synagogue (assumed to have been in this area by Mendel Nun) and an inscription associated with it in the previous season, encouraged further work so as to better understand the stratigraphy and the architecture in the area.  This is the reason that a concerted effort was made in the area.  All in all, 9 standard squares of 5 X 5 meters, with a meter baulk, were opened.  Of the 9, only 3 were opened in the first season and the rest in the present one.  The first week in the season was dedicated to the cleaning of the area of the thick reed growth and the preparation of the area, which contained a great amount of organic matter due to the thin layer of reed bulbs.

We can discern at least two, very distinct, major periods of building, although there are likely to have been several building phases in the first major stratum.  Clear answers will be possible with deeper analysis of the excavation results and further excavations.

Kursi Beach plan
Plan of excavation areas (Prepared by Marcos Edelcopp and Benny Arubas)
Kursi Beach plan
Plan of Area B (Prepared by Marcos Edelcopp and Benny Arubas)
Area B (Photo: Iddo Katz)
Area B (Photo: Iddo Katz)

The earliest layer

A square building, ca. 13 X 13 meters was found.  Its southern wall is 2012 and the western one 2043 (see plan of Area B).  The walls are all constructed in a similar manner: “small” and “medium” fieldstones strengthened by white plaster.  A large amount of plaster remains were found on the floors of the building, especially on its eastern side.  A floor associated with this wall (loci 209, 314 and 407) bears, in part,  geometric mosaic decoration at ca. -208.37 MSL.

 

Geometric mosaic floor (Photo: Michal Artzy)

Geometric mosaic floor (Photo: Michal Artzy)

Parts of the floor (loci 506 and 601) were found at a slightly lower height, 10-30 cm.  The lower level is the one associated with the inscription slab.  It is likely that the differences in heights are the result of a slow subsidence of the building in its southern side due to weight.  This can be best seen among the stones on the southern side, where a small void can be discerned between them.  Thus it seems that the wider wall indicates an attempt to widen the wall to avoid the subsidence.  It should be mentioned here that on the southern part of the building, wall 2012, the side closer to the lake, a thick layer of gravel, mixed with broken modern glass was found.  This was most likely caused during recent periods in which the lake level was high enough to cover this part of the building.  Since not all the walls of the building have been excavated so far (only the eastern and southern ones), it was not established where the entrance to the building is to be looked for. Was it in the north? There may be some indication that it was in the West.  The dating of the building is still questioned, although in Locus 414, the foundations of the wall were reached, and the ceramic remains and a coin indicated that it was likely to have been constructed during the Byzantine period.  Remains of a mosaic floor were found in most of the squares associated with the building, they extend in size from 1-2 cms.  The decorations, both of the sections found in situ and remains used as fills, are usual colorful geometric motifs, mainly of braids, triangles and medallions exhibiting several colors: reds, blue and white.  A decision was made not to excavate all floor sections bearing mosaics. The floors excavated were all covered to protect them.  The southwestern side of the earliest building is leaning on another structure, constructed in a similar manner.  It has not been determined as yet, what the relationship between the two walls is, and whether they are both part of the same structure.

The later layer

The remains of this stratum were found immediately below the surface, some of the reed bulbs were found in between the stones.  The typical building material for the structures was round basalt fieldstones, bound with mud.  In the middle is a room (Locus 501) whose floors were constructed using pebbles, which were likely to have been in secondary use.  The walls are: 2404, 2505, 2805.  No remains of the southern part were found.  The builders did not use the earlier walls as foundations, and thus the later phase walls were not built on the earlier ones.  We assume that this clear stratum was constructed after a period of abandonment and the foundations of the later stratum destroyed the mosaic floors of the earlier one.  Remains from this stratum include several iron tools and a horse show.  On the Western side no construction was found as it was likely destroyed by the lake activity during high level of the water.

 

The dating of this stratum is the Early Islamic period, the Abbasid-Fatimid periods (8th-10 centuries CE).  At this point we cannot distinguish sub-phases within the period.  Although some glazed ceramics were found, they are few.  This might have to do with the fact that the tell, south of the breakwater might have been settled during the period and in contact with Tiberias, during its height of settlement, where the glazed wares abounded.

Singular Roman remains were found in Area B, including part of a lamp, but no architecture can be associated with that period so far.  In addition, no Crusader or Mamluk period remains were found, despite the fact that south of the area, in Area A, partially excavated in 2015 some were noted.  One possibility, presently entertained is changes due to natural, ecologic and climatic phenomena, which caused habitation changes in the area.

In square B2, Locus 22208, an 80×80 cm trench, showed that below Wall 22505, there is no architecture, but a hill of almost sterile geological fill of yellow clay.  This was corroborated in a core taken in the same area, for ca. 3 meters.

Later construction (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Later construction (Photo: Michal Artzy)

Area C

In this area a round structure was noted this year due to low level of the water in the lake.

In a previous period of low level, in 2000, it was noticed by Avner Raban and Ehud Galili, who called it ‘Square Tower’ and who took samples of carbon for Carbon 14 testing from the plaster used to strengthen the wall, although they did not excavate the structure.The results were published as dating to the 7th-8th centuries CE (Galili, ‘Kursi Hof’, Hadashot Arkhiologioyot 119).  Following that date, the lake level rose and in 2016, the ‘square tower’ was discerned again.  Galili remarked that what he saw was of a terrestrial construction method.  The low level of the lake aided us in the excavation of the ‘square tower’, which turned out to be round and not a tower at all.  It showed up in a height of -213.24, although it was likely to have been a bit higher since many loose stones were found in the area.

Plan of Area C/Beach area (Prepared by Marcos Edelcopp and Benny Arubas)
Plan of Area C/Beach area (Prepared by Marcos Edelcopp and Benny Arubas)
First days of excavations Area C/Beach area (Photo: Michal Artzy)
First days of excavations Area C/Beach area (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Spillage on the N side of Round Structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Spillage on the N side of Round Structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)

The structure is ca 4 meters in diameter; the width of the wall is ca. 90 cm. A third of the structure was excavated, and it was found that the foundation stones, un-hewn basalt stones were placed in such a way that each layer protrudes ca. 2 cm.  It was built without bonding material.  The foundation stones were placed against a wet surface, a thick dark organic mud matrix, similar to that found under the earliest walls in area B, (although there it is of a lighter hue).

Bubbles from spring in round structure; two layers of construction, foundation and above water (Photos: Michal Artzy)
Bubbles from spring in round structure; two layers of construction, foundation and above water (Photos: Michal Artzy)

Above the foundation walls, were two layers of small and medium stones held together by plaster made of small stones, organic material and lime.

 

In the lower level, 3 openings were noted: North, West and East.  An opening that was likely to have been destroyed was assumed to have been placed facing south, since stones which may have originated in it were scattered in the area.   These openings are conical, and the thin opening is facing inwards.  In the southern opening’ which is slightly lower than the others, a ‘cork’ like log, in the shape of the opening was found.

 

The highest layers were: 25 cm layer of gravel and dark sand, under it a 15 cm layer of river pebbles.  This is likely to have been the ‘living layer’ of the structure since most of the ceramics, mainly of jars were found there.

Inner and outer excavation of round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Inner and outer excavation of round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Gravel ‘floor’ and coins from round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Gravel ‘floor’ and coins from round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Gravel ‘floor’ and coins from round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Gravel ‘floor’ and coins from round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)

Also found were pieces of lead (possibly remains of fishermen’s nets), lead weights and more than 130 coins in different stages of preservation.

Below this layer was 120 cm of brown-black mud into which the foundations were placed.  The mud seems to be of the same consistency as the mud noted in the trial trench and core in Area B2 (see above).  Organic substances associated with the lake and the area are likely to have caused the different color.  A small test pit was excavated on the outskirts of the structure to try to establish the living level of the period of construction of the structure. A similar picture to that of the inner structure was discerned.  Outside, the living layer is slightly shallower and does not include the foundation stones.  It should be noted that most of the ceramics, are probably of a buff color but have adopted a greenish hue and show deteriorating states due to the organic make up of the standing water. The minimal wear is likely to be due to the active sea/lake water.

Wooden log ‘cork’ in situ, Western spillage of round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)
Wooden log ‘cork’ in situ, Western spillage of round structure (Photo: Michal Artzy)

The round structure’s utilization is not completely understood.  During the excavation it was noticed that bubbles originating in the outer wall were noted, and in addition on the two upper layers of stones, those not buried in the mud, there were lines of brown-yellow hue, indicating the presence of Minerals in the water.   The supposition was that these were made by warm sulfur water.  However a check by Dr. Doron Merkel from the Israel Water Authority showed that there was no difference in the salinization and the warmth between the water in the structure and the lake.  Another possibility entertained was that it was used as a pool for fishermen to keep the caught fish alive before their sale.  This possibility seemed likely because of the number of the coins found on the floor of the structure, all of which are of low denomination.  The wooden ‘cork’ log, was used to close the opening and keep the fish inside.  It was removed to let water out when necessary and free small, unsold fish.  The fact that the pool was not plastered on the inside indicates that the water utilized was that of the lake and spring.  Yet a third possibility combines the fish tank idea and a an additional use of the structure, as a wishing well, a place where Christian pilgrims frequenting the area, in association with the monastery and the New Testament accounts, threw small coins for blessings.

The dating of the construction relies on Galili’s dating (see above) and one ceramic piece attributed to a Sichin Jar, dating it to the Byzantine period.  However work is being conducted on dating the coins as well as OSL samples of the mud and geological tests.  The ‘cork’ log will be analyzed.

Work for future research has to do with the height of the lake during the period this structure could function, in comparison to the height when the breakwater and the inner harbour were in use (our Area A – see 2015 report).