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Insitute of Archaeology
of the Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel

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"Nancy and James Grosfeld 2000 Zippori Expedition"

Zippori (Sepphoris) - Archaeological Summer Course,

June 25 - July 28, 2000

The "Nancy and James Grosfeld 2000 Zippori Expedition" was conducted in four different parts of the site, mainly in the lower city. Excavation staff included area supervisors: Oren Guttfeld, Hagit Ma'oz, Rona Evyasaf, Ron Kehati, Na'ama Vilozny and Zipporah Fried. Architect; Tomer Goldstein. Photographer; Gabi Laron. Foreman: Mantzur Subbhi. A group of 37 students (30 students from universities throughout Michigan State and seven 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 2000 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 Division of Summer Courses at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Monumental Building (Area 76.3)

Our effort this year was concentrated largely in the area located on a slope, between the hilltop and the lower city of ancient Zippori, in which a monumental building and massive walls where uncovered in previous years. The monumental building, partly unearthed last year, attracted our attention and we decided too concentrate on it this summer. The area was extended mainly southward and eastward of the previously excavated section. In these areas, additional remains of the monumental building were uncovered during the season. The building measuring 16.80 X 14.50 meters includes a peristyle courtyard surrounded by three aisles and a row of rooms to its south, of which only the western one is well preserved. The others, possibly two, where eroded over time, but based on their foundations, which are relatively well preserved, one can still outline the architectural layout of the building. A water cistern was installed in the southern part of the peristyle courtyard. Inside we found a collection of complete Roman vessels, several oil lamps, a few metal objects and a fragment of a marble statue.


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The monumental structure, which served as a public building was constructed during the early Roman period, but at the moment, it is difficult to assess its original purpose. Analyzing the westernmost room, which is the most interesting one, might help in clarifying the building's original use. The room, square in shape, measures 7.10 X 6.80 meters and has a smooth plaster floor. The entrance to the room is located in its northern wall, adjacent to the peristyle courtyard. The room has thick walls (1.15 m.) on its four sides which have niches, constructed in repetitious rhythm. Several niches were found in the northern and western walls, which are preserved between one to three meters high.

The width of the niches is 74 cm., their depth 46 cm. and we assume they were 1.5 m. high. Evidence for additional niches appears in the eastern wall of the room. Slits found between the stone layers in the vertical walls within the two well-preserved niches indicate that they may have held wooden shelves.

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Analyzing the architectural layout of the room, one can assume that niches were constructed on all four walls. Three niches on each wall, except the northern one, which had only two - one on either side of the door entrance. Each niche might have had two or three wooden shelves, used for storing purposes. Although nothing has been found during excavation other than the architectural remains to support the following suggestion, based on parallels from other Roman sites, it is possible that this room served as a library or as an archive. The location of the building within the city, its layout and especially the arrangement inside the westernmost room might reinforces this suggestion, although further excavations and comparative studies must be conducted in order to reach a firm conclusion.

At a later stage, probably close to its final years, the building lost its glory and was utilized for private purposes. Partition walls were added between the columns and pilasters in the peristyle courtyard, creating smaller spaces. The entrance to the westernmost room was partly blocked and holes were cut next to the niches, possibly to hold hinges. This indicates that the niches might have served as troughs in the later stage and the room as a stable. The heavy collapse found throughout the building indicates that it was destroyed, presumably during the fourth century C.E., abandoned and never rebuilt.

Vicinity of the Orpheus building (area 76.1)

Work in the vicinity of the Orpheus building, located next to the intersection of the two main colonnaded streets in the lower city continued this year. We opened several squares along the southern side of the building, took down several balks and deepened our excavations in this area. The remains found can be attributed mainly to the two phases identified here in previous seasons. Several features belong to the Byzantine church uncovered in this area and others are connected with the Orpheus building, dated to the Roman period. It seems that the Roman building reached the southern alley which runs adjacent to it and parallel to the decumanos (for a detailed description of the Orpheus building, see the 1998-1999 excavation report). Several rooms were uncovered here, some of them defining the southern part of the building. These rooms had plaster floors and they might have served as shops, similar to those found along the northern part of the building. Among them is a stone paved courtyard with a threshold, which is located on the southern wall, next to the alley. It seems that the courtyard and the door served as a southern entrance to the Orpheus building, in addition to those found in previous seasons.

Excavations were also extended to the north of the Orpheus building. This year we completed the excavation of the shops unearthed in previous seasons to the north of the Orpheus building and adjacent to the decumanos. One store was paved with geometric mosaic in simple colors. This floor also included a three line Greek inscription, which was found next to its threshold. The inscription was partly damaged in antiquity. Instead of reconstructing it, the damaged section was repaired with plain white mosaic stones (tesserae). To the north of this area we unearthed another section of the stone paved decumanos and the plaster-paved sidewalk, which ran along this roads' southern side. The stylobate located between the sidewalk and the street pavement, on which columns stood, was looted in this area.

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We completed the excavations of the mosaic floor unearthed last year, one meter above the westernmost shops dated to the Roman period. The mosaic measures 10 X 8 meters and is connected to the church, constructed above the Orpheus building during the Byzantine period. It is decorated with a simple geometrical design made with black tesserae. The floor was part of an open plaza located between the decumanos and the architectural facade constructed parallel to the road, emphasizing the church entrance. Several steps are located on the northern side of the open plaza, adjacent to the decumanos, in order to bridge the elevation differences between the two spaces. Traces of an earlier mosaic, only partly preserved, were uncovered to the north and west of the upper floor, a few centimeters below it. This mosaic included an inner black frame and traces of "tabula ansata" which encompassed, most probably, a written inscription, now completely destroyed. It is not clear yet if and how the earlier phase belongs to the church and whether it served a similar purpose as the later floor, constructed above it. In any case, these finds are extremely important, since they add valuable information regarding the church unearthed in previous seasons and indicate how the Byzaarchitects bound the newly constructed building within existing architecture.

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Area 68.1 - Industrial Zone (?)

The third area excavated this season is the easternmost area of the current Zippori excavations. Our task this year was to obtain more information regarding the buildings constructed adjacent to the decumanos. The area was extended south and eastward. A small section of the decumanos, very well preserved, was uncovered here. To its south we came upon the beginning of a deep channel, running northward, underneath the street, used most probably for drainage. Similar remains located a short distance away, were uncovered in previous seasons. Their resemblance allows us to conclude that the two sections belong to the same drainage system, which was laid in this part of the lower city, during the Roman period. Various rooms, dating mainly to the early Byzantine period, were excavated south of the decumanos. Some of their walls are well constructed with cut stones placed above earlier remains. The floors in most cases had simple plaster pavement. Four ovens ("tabuns") were unearthed in several rooms, indicating the industrial character of this area during the early Byzantine period.

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By extending the area we gained more information and obtained some clues regarding the use of the building constructed to the south of the decumanos, during the Byzantine period. In the course of our work we traced some of the original architectural lines constructed during the Roman period. Future work in this area, which involves the removal of numerous balks between the squares as well as expanding the excavation to the south and east, will help clarify the architectural plan of this area during both the Roman and Byzantine eras.

Private Housing (Area 67.4 - continuation of area 67.2)

The fourth area is located to the south of the previous one. Additional parts of the Roman building unearthed in the 1997, 1998 excavation seasons were dug this year. Analysis of the remains uncovered during the current season, in light of the data uncovered in previous years, indicates that the building was set up on two levels. The lower level was constructed around a peristyle courtyard. Several rooms located east of the courtyard were partly excavated this year. In addition, we also conducted some soundings in the other rooms previously excavated around the courtyard. Various rooms within the building were paved with mosaics while others had plaster floors. The mosaics, which are severely damaged, included simple geometrical and colored designs. Rooms in the upper level where found right below the surface and therefore they are not well preserved. These rooms, varied in size, were arranged in a row. Their floors were most probably paved with mosaics of which only two are relatively well preserved. These two floors include polychrome mosaics with elaborate geometrical designs. The westernmost room most probably served as a corridor in front of the staircase, leading down to the lower level. The mosaic in the easternmost room has the most sophisticated design unearthed so far in this building.

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This type of structure resembles other houses excavated at the site, reflecting private architecture at its best during the second and third centuries C.E. Future work, mainly southward, will allow as to complete the excavations and gain a better understanding of the building and its layout. Later construction dated to the Byzantine and early Arab periods was found throughout the area, above the ruined building. The remains, although less intensive in their appearance, indicate the ongoing use of the area during later periods as well.

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Last update: 01/01/01