"The Nancy & James Grosfeld Sepphoris Excavation (1999)"
in Honor of Penny Blumenstein and Doreen Hermelin by their Husbands, Harold and David
Zippori (Sepphoris) - Archaeological Summer Course


The "1999 Zippori Expedition Sponsored by Nancy and James Grosfeld and in Honor of Penny Blumenstein and Doreen Hermelin by their Husbands, Harold and David" was conducted in four different parts of the site, mainly along the decumanos. Area supervisors were: Oren Guttfeld, Hagit Ma'oz, Tammar Rabbi, Rona Evyasaf and Ron Kehati. Tomer Goldstein, Architect; Gabi Laron, Photographer; Mantzur Subbhi, Foreman. A group of 38 students (32 University of Michigan students including two counselors and 6 students from other universities mostly outside the U.S.) participated in the five week academic program, together with several Israeli volunteers and local workers.

The 1999 excavation season was conducted by the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with support from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the cooperation of the University of Michigan Hillel, Ann Arbor. The summer course was held in cooperation with the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Special assistance was given by the National Parks and Nature Reservations Authority.

Monumental Building (Area 76.3)
Our major effort this year was concentrated in the area located on the slope between the hilltop and the lower city of ancient Zippori, in which we uncovered what we believe to be the first century "city wall", and the beginning of a "Herodian building". After expanding the area in all directions, several well preserved massive walls were uncovered, which proved to complicate our understanding of the finds and our ability to identify the structures that stood here in antiquity. While analyzing the remains in this area three major stages constructed in different periods can be identified.

The first building located to the south of the area, is dated to the Roman period. To date a large hall, measuring 10X15 m., of which only a small section was unearthed last year (previously referred to as a "Herodian building") was uncovered. Its walls, which are preserved almost three meters high, were monumentally built. Several columns and pilasters constructed on a stylobate where found inside this structure. It is not yet clear whether this structure served as a colonaded courtyard within a larger domicile, or as a spacious hall in which the columns supported the roof. Further excavations to the south of the building next season, will hopefully clarify this question. Partition walls were added during the life of the building, between the columns and pillaster, creating smaller spaces. The heavy collapse found inside the hall indicates that it was purposely destroyed, presumably during the fourth century C.E. Colored fresco chunks found in the debris together with many cut stones, indicate that the walls were originally decorated with mural paintings.

Two major walls running in the north-south direction, parallel to the heavy and massive wall unearthed last year, were excavated outside of the building mentioned above. One wall, measuring 17 m. long, 1.2 m. wide and over 2 m. high is abuts to the north-western corner of the monumental building. This wall, as opposed to the others excavated in this area, is cast with cement and might have served as a foundation to an unknown structure. The wall unearthed west of the latter is constructed with heavy fieldstones, resembling the wall excavated last year, although it is not quite as thick. The uncovered section which follows the topographical line of the hill slope measures some 17.5 meters long, 80 cm. wide and almost 4 m. high. It turns westward at its northern corner and probably continues in a straight line on its southern side.

Chronologically, it seems that the "cement wall" was added next to the monumental building during the Roman period, several decades after its initial construction. The two other walls constructed with field stones are attributed to a third stage. They were added during the Roman period, but not during the first revolt against the Roman in 67 C.E., as previously assumed. Even though the architectural remains in this area are extremely impressive and well preserved, the limits of our excavations and lack of clear evidence at this stage, makes it hard to identify the complete architectural plan of these massive structures or their use. These walls could have been used either as retaining walls of an important building constructed on the hill, or as part of the fortification system set up around the acropolis during the Roman period. It is expected that further excavations in this area will clarify the plan and function of these walls.

Western end of the Decumanos (76.2)
To the east, area 76.2, in which the westernmost section of the decumanos was excavated two years ago, was expanded. Knowing that the decumanos, which runs across the lower city, does not continue on the hill, we wanted to find out how far westward it extended and how it ended in this area. Although the remains in this section are not well preserved, the data we collected during this season is sufficient to suggest two possible reconstructions. The decumanos ended either with an open plaza close to the bottom of the hill, or met perpendicularly with another street that runs north-south along the foothill, parallel to the cardo. Here too, further excavations will help clarify our hypotheses in reconstructing the architectural layout of the decumanos.

Orpheus Building and adjacent area (76.1)
Work in the vicinity of the Orpheus building, unearthed in previous seasons, continued this year. Most efforts in this area were devoted to clarifying the relationship between the Orpheus building and the decumanos to its north. Several squares were opened along the northern side of the building, baulks and later constructions were removed, and excavations in the area were expanded. Several shops constructed in a row were unearthed in addition to those excavated last year, north of the Orpheus building and adjacent to the decumanos. One of them seems to be a northern entrance to the Orpheus building. Two of the shops uncovered were paved with geometric mosaics in simple colors, while the others had well constructed plaster floors. North of these stores another section of the stone paved decumanos and the sidewalk which run along this road's southern side were unearthed. The stylobate located between the sidewalk and the street pavement on which columns stood, was looted in this area.

Approximately one meter above the two westernmost shops revealed this season, a seven by two meter mosaic pavement was uncovered, together with some architectural remains. Although further excavations and clarifications regarding these find are still needed, evidence indicates their connection to the church constructed above the Orpheus building during the Byzantine period. They may be part of an architectural facade emphasizing the church entrance, from the decumanos. If so, these finds are extremely important, since they add valuable information regarding the church unearthed in previous seasons, of which only the foundation is preserved and visible today.

Several soundings were conducted inside the Orpheus building in order to get a better understanding of the building's architectural plan and artistic decoration (for a detailed description of the Orpheus building, see the 1998 excavation report). Based on the 1999 excavations, it is assume that the Orpheus building had two entrances. One, excavated last year, is located to the east, adjacent to the cardo. The other, mentioned earlier, is located to the north, between the shops, enabling passage to the building from the decumanos. After taking down some baulks and later constructions, the excavation of several other rooms in the building was completed. The rooms, some which belong to the building's first phase and others to the second phase, had mostly simple geometrical mosaics. One mosaic included a Greek inscription installed within a wreath, which is partly preserved.

Roman and Byzantine Domiciles (Area 68.1)
The fourth area excavated this season is the easternmost area of the current Zippori excavations. This year's task was to obtain additional information regarding the decumanos and its adjacent buildings. Seven squares where opened in this area leading to the discovery of another very well preserved section of the decumanos. Various rooms, dating mainly to the Roman period, were excavated south of the decumanos. Some of their walls are well constructed with cut stones. The floors, in most cases, had simple plaster pavement. Although it is difficult, at this stage of research, to clearly designate the numerous walls and rooms in this area, finds to date indicate several structures, possibly private domiciles, constructed adjacent to each other. removal of the baulks between the squares as well as expanding the excavation to the south and east will help clarifying the architectural plan of this area.

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Last update: 01/01/01