Bethsaida 2014 – Day Three

Today was our first regular day on the dig at Bethsaida.

Work resumed in Area A South (Iron Age remains south of the monumental city gates) and Area A West (a Roman villa above Iron Age remains), while in Area T work commenced for the first time this season. Since I am involved with the project in Area T these daily updates will mostly focus on work in that area, but when special finds are made in other areas I will attempt to mention them as well.

In Area T we are looking for evidence of occupation by non-elite population groups, since the elites (then and now) tend to occupy the higher levels of any site. The heights offer better security, fresher air, and effective gravity-feed drainage systems … down to the less influential people located lower down the slope. The ‘upper city’ was naturally the fortified portion of the settlement, as well as the place where more expensive structures were to be found.

The monumental city gate structure from Stratum Five at Bethsaida is a classic example of this selective investment of public resources for the benefit of the elite:
8C City Gates


In Area T we do not expect to find such monumental structures (although we are happy to be proved wrong), but rather domestic structures from the non-elite elements of ancient societies. Based on finds from 2012 and 2013, it seems that this part of the site was occupied by a Mamluk village for at least part of the time between 1200 and 1500 CE. There is also some evidence of first century CE settlement, but so far no structures from the early Roman period have been found in Area T.

The site for our primary excavations this year had been identified and pre-prepared towards the end of the 2013 season, while we had a backhoe on site for other works. That site lies just to the East of the two squares excavated in 2012 and 2013. Our first task today were to prepare for the excavations that will follow over the next few weeks:

  • The site was cleared of weeds.
  • A new square was marked out. In this case, the ‘square’ is actually a rectangle: 4m x 10m. As such it parallels both the earlier squares, and will allow us to see whether any of the walls found in those earlier excavations are extending eastward.
  • The sifting frames were set up, ready for the many buckets of soil that need to be sifted to reduce the possibility of small items being discarded inadvertently.
  • Shade cloth was erected to provide some protection from the sun during our digging.
  • The first bucket loads of soil were removed and most of the crew had the personal pleasure of finding pottery from either the Hellenistic/Roman period, or the Mamluk period.

As there was no pottery waiting to be identified and catalogued, there was no ‘pottery reading’ session today. Many people took the opportunity to go into Tiberias for a few hours.

After dinner we had the first of the evening lectures, with Rami Arav offering an overview of some work in progress on the origins of the ancient Israelites and the question of their original religion. Heavy stuff after a hot day in the sun, but lots of food for thought.

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