Cohen, Susan L. (ed.): Excavations at Tel Zahara (2006–2009): Final Report The Hellenistic and Roman Strata. xi+185 pages; illustrated throughout, ISBN 9781407311753. £41.00
(Archaeopress, Oxford 2013)
Compte rendu par Rocco Palermo, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II

Nombre de mots : 1829 mots
Publié en ligne le 2014-05-13
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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          The book edited by Susan Cohen collects a series of different studies related to the excavations carried out on the site of Tell Zahara between 2006 and 2009. Tell Zahara is a small-medium site in the Jezreel Valley, Israel, probably gravitating around the major site of the region, Scythopolis (Beth Shean). The location of the site in a fertile strip of land in the valley of the river Harod, a western tributary of the Jordan River, certainly provided a suitable agricultural potential for the development of the settlement from the Bronze Age onwards. Excavations carried out by Montana State University in collaboration with the Israeli Department of Antiquities exposed a sequence of the occupation of the site from the EBA II-II to the Islamic period with a significant gap between the MBA II and the Late Persian / Early Achemenid period.


          Despite this long occupation the aims of the project were mainly the exploration of the Hellenistic and Roman levels when the site reached a certain importance also due to its proximity to such an important centre of the Levant as was Scythopolis. The social and economic trajectories of Scythopolis heavily affected the phases of rise/decline/abandonment of Tell Zahara. After a geographical and environmental introduction to the area where the site is located (Chapter 1) the following Chapter discusses the stratigraphy and the architectural remains excavated at Tell Zahara.


          The most important Hellenistic remains come from stratum IIIA where the investigations have permitted the discovery of quite a large building (Building I) that consisted of two-large rooms, built up with unevenly placed fieldstones. Traces of ash deposits and visible burnt areas may be related to the whole structure being used as a work area. Other two small buildings, Building II and Building III were most likely connected to the main structure and date back to the same chronological phase.


          The building was slightly modified at the end of the Hellenistic period and in stratum IIC, which dates from the early 2nd century CE, since the Tell Zahara team was able to recognize a levelled layer with mixed ceramics materials, which was probably used as a preparation for the structures of the stratum IIB. This represents the main phase of occupation at Tell Zahara. A large four-roomed building occupied the area in this period. Rooms were probably disposed around a central courtyard. Unfortunately only a few artefacts have been collected and the floors were generally quite clean. Other structures were identified in stratum IIA, especially a long wall that connects Building I to Building II probably in consequence of the addition of new rooms to this latter building. New floors and reinforcing benches were added to some of the walls at this time. Strata IIA and IIB mark a series of additions to the larger building. Particularly interesting is the water system discovered in Stratum IIA. This consists of a small plastered bell-shaped cistern and at least five plastered channels in order to drain water into it.


          The architectural layout of the Roman phase at Tell Zahara with the superimposition, addition and modification of multiple rooms and the presence of a water system to collect water has some parallels in the nearby regions and western areas as well. A similar system of collecting and storing water has been identified at Pompeii, but also in Roman Palestine, on sites such as Ramat Ha-Nadiv, Samaria and Ein Yahel. The complex of Tell Zahara, articulated around a central courtyard, was probably intended as a large farmhouse as comparisons with similar architectural solutions in the region tend to suggest.


          Chapter 3 (by R. Bar-Nathan and J. Gärtner) presents the analysis of selected pottery materials spanning from the late Persian-early Hellenistic to the Roman and later strata, which were discovered during the period between 2006 and 2009. The chapter uses a chronological order to describe the pottery found and a functional classification for the types. Sherds analytical descriptions and plates are provided. The pottery collection clearly suggests a domestic use, at least for the strata II – IIB as proven by the homogeneity in the number of cooking pots, storage jars (although only six specimens have been found in the Roman strata) and drinking vessels. The most striking comparisons are obviously with the Jordan River valley area and Roman Palestine broadly. Beside Scythopolis which certainly influenced the material culture at Tell Zahara, parallels are also clearly identifiable with sites such as Sepphoris and other minor sites in Galilee as well.


          Chapter 4 discusses the faunal remains of Tell Zahara (authored by L.K. Horowitz). The analysis permitted the identification of Tell Zahara as a primary producer of domestic livestock in the area, mostly sheep and goats. Sheep were more common both in the Hellenistic and Roman strata, probably also considering a secondary exploitation other than butchery. The presence of pigs within the skeletal remains of the Roman levels may be related to the abundant water sources in the valley. Cattle herding, in a certain period, may also suggest a significant investment in agriculture on the site.


          Chapter 5 by E. Estrup (with an appendix on the Ayyubid coins by M.Hawari) presents a collection of coins found on the site. Seven coins are Hellenistic or Provincial Roman coins and three specimens may be related to the Ayyubid occupation.


          Chapter 6 to 10 present a series of short but useful studies about materials other than ceramics such as glass (by C. Swan), ground stones (J. Ebeling), analyses of metal objects (S.Shalev and S. Shilstein), stamped amphora handles (D.T. Ariel) and a Varia chapter about some graffito shards, bone tools and loom weights.


          Chapter 11 briefly discusses the Muslim cemetery uncovered during the excavation of stratum IA, whilst the last chapter (12, by S. Cohen) summarizes and contextualizes the archaeological data in a broader historical and regional context.


          The last 25 pages of the book constitute the appendices of the Stratigraphic Units and the Material Culture (other than ceramics shards) found in strata I through IV.


          The book offers a very interesting overview of the rise and development of a minor site in Roman Palestine. The proximity of Tell Zahara to Scythopolis makes its excavation even more remarkable as it can provide the scholarly community with significant data about the relationship between a major site and the minor sites in the surrounding countryside. Generally speaking the archaeological data about the Hellenistic Palestine is much more focused on the main centres such as Tell Anafa, Tell Istabba and, obviously, Scythopolis while the few minor sites from the periods have been largely investigated in order to track the nature of Jewish life and culture during the Roman imperial rule in the region.


          Archaeologically speaking it is pretty hard to differentiate a farm from a villa or a village from a rural hamlet and the case of Tell Zahara can represent a valid exception to the understanding of the organization of the countryside. Decline and re-establishment of the site was strictly connected to the fortunes of the major centres in the area such as Tell Istabba and Scythopolis during both the Hellenistic period and under Roman rule. However the research carried out at Tell Zahara has also proved the importance of such minor centres for the main settlement as they probably supported the major centre providing meat products, livestock and therefore contributed to its development on the basis of a reciprocal relationship.


          The strongest point of the book is thus the presentation of the archaeological data connected to a minor settlement with the specific aim to offer new insights about the subsistence patterns and lifestyle of a portion of the rural population, also suggesting the central importance of the countryside in the development and prosperity of the Hellenistic and Roman Palestine.


          The volume itself is well organized and the introductive chapter about geography, climate and environment is of particular interest as it sets the site in its own modern context, which was probably not so different from ancient times. Images and tables help the reading and the plans provided in the second chapter facilitate the comprehension of the excavation report.



Table of Contents


Preface X

Acknowledgments XI

Chapter 1. Introduction (S. Cohen, with contribution by W. Więckowski) 1

1 1.1 Site Location and Setting 1

1.2 History of Excavations at the Site 4

1.3 Methodology 5

1.4 Modern Damage to the Site . 6

Chapter 2. The Stratigraphy (S. Cohen, with contribution by J. Baker) 9

2.1 The Hellenistic Stratigraphy and Architecture (Strata IV – III) 9

2.2 The Roman Stratigraphy and Architecture (Stratum II) 10

2.3 The Stratum IIA Water System 22

2.4 Later Deposits and the Muslim Cemetery (Stratum I) 30

Chapter 3. The Ceramics. The Roman Pottery (R. Bar-Nathan); The Hellenistic Pottery (R.

Bar-Nathan and J. Gärtner) 31

3.1 The Late Pottery from Stratum IB 31

3.2 Early Roman Pottery from Pit NE.A.11 L0013 in Stratum IB 34

3.3 The Pottery from the Roman Buildings in Stratum II 34

3.4 Summary of the Roman Pottery 48

3.5 The Hellenistic Pottery (R. Bar-Nathan and J. Gartner) 48

3.6 Summary of the Hellenistic Pottery 67

Chapter 4. The Faunal Remains. (L.K.Horwitz) 75

4.1 Materials and Methods 75

4.2 Results: Stratum IV (late Persian – early Hellenistic Period) 77

4.3 Results: Stratum III (Hellenistic Period) 78

4.4 Results: Stratum II (Roman Period) 79

4.5 Results: Stratum IB (Islamic – Modern Period) 84

4.6 Discussion and Conclusions 94

Chapter 5. The Coinage. Hellenistic and Roman Coins (E. Estrup); Ayyubid Coins (M.

Hawari) 97

5.1 Catalogue of the Hellenistic and Roman Provincial Coins 97

5.2 Summary 100

5.3 The Ayyubid Coins 101

Chapter 6. The Glass (C.Swan) 103

6.1 Overview 103

6.2 Condition 103

6.3 Catalogue 103

6.4 Discussion 116

6.5 Summary 118

Chapter 7. The Ground Stone (J. Ebeling) 121

7.1 The Ground Stone Objects 121

7.2 Conclusion 125

Chapter 8. The Metals. EDS-XRF Analyses (S. Shalev and S. Shilstein) 127

Chapter 9. The Stamped Amphora Handles (D.T. Ariel) 131

9.1 Catalogue 131

9.2 Discussion 135

Chapter 10. Varia 137

10.1 Two Incised Graffiti on Aegean Amphora Shards (P. Stone) 137

10.2 The Worked Bone (J. Baker, S. Cohen, and L. Horwitz) 138

10.3 The Small Finds (J. Baker) 140

Chapter 11. The Stratum IA Muslim Cemetery (W. Więckowski and S. Cohen) 143

11.1 The Burials 143

11.2 The Human Bones associated with the Porcupine Burrows 143

11.3 The Cemetery 145

Chapter 12. Tel Zahara in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods (S. Cohen) 147

12.1 Rural Sites in Hellenistic and Roman Palestine 147

12.2 Scythopolis (Beth Shean) in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods 148

12.3 Tel Zahara and its Relationship to Scythopolis in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods 149

12.4 Conclusions 151


Appendix 1. List of Loci 153

Appendix 2. List of Material Culture 169

References 177