Heritage Grant Recipient Brian Coussens Describes his Experiences at the Archaeological Site of Huqoq in Israel

Through the financial support of an ASOR Heritage Fellowship, I was able to participate in the inaugural season at the archaeological site of Huqoq in Israel. The excavations centered upon the Roman-Byzantine village and the pre-1948 modern village of Yakuk which partially covers it. The project is multi-faceted, with a number of objectives including uncovering part of the ancient synagogue and portions of its village and systematically exploring the modern village through excavation and historical research.

I spent my season meticulously excavating a square in the modern village. In Square 4/7, we immediately encountered a series of layers consisting of hard, compact lightly-colored clayey soil. Although we initially suspected that we had a series of plaster floors, subsequent discoveries indicated that these layers belonged to the common flat-roofing system of the region. Such roofs typically consisted of beams, crossed with small timbers and plant matter and sealed with successive layers of mud plaster. Within these layers, to our initial surprise, we stumbled upon a couple of surviving timbers, and as we continued to excavate, they soon multiplied. By the time we had fully uncovered the floor of the house , it was strewn with burned timbers, particularly in the northern portion of the square. The main layer of timbers, which lay directly on the floor, was also coeval with a thin layer of ash, presumably resulting from the burning of the missing timbers and rafter fill. Those of us who were excavating the square soon found ourselves returning to the kibbutz dirtier than anyone else, covered head to toe in ash, and I can now say with confidence, even after excavating in the midst of a tropical storm in South Carolina, few archaeological conditions will get you filthier than an ash layer. We spent most of a week carefully articulating the timbers and attempting to preserve this final stage of occupation in the room, both to capture some idea of the condition of the structure at the time of conflagration and to try to track the layout of the roofing system. The room had surprisingly few finds, to the point that the absence of finds became a joke with the excavators (we were lucky to pull out a hand full of sherds in a single day). The southern portion of the square proved to be an exception and did yield a small concentration of finds which seem to be associated with a shelving unit.

Beyond the fascinating discovery of the semi-preserved roofing system and the shelving unit, the area of the modern village is exciting for what is going on out of the field. Taufik De’adle is conducting archival and oral history research on the modern village, allowing us to fill in the gaps in the archaeological data (e.g., possibly further information on the function of our room). This combination of archaeology, historical documentation, and oral history will provide us with a unique glimpse into village life in early 20th century Palestine.

Once again, I wanted to thank ASOR for honoring me with the Heritage Fellowship, Mr. MacAllister for his contributions to the Fellowship, and our dig directors — Jodi Magness of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz, both of the Israel Antiquities Authority — for their support, leadership, and a great dig season.

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