by: Edgar Asher
Friday, 1 November 2019 | A family participating in an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation some 9.3 miles [15 km] east of Haifa at the ancient city of Usha found a 1,400-year-old hammer and nails. This was particularly interesting because it confirmed the fact that the ancient inhabitants of Usha manufactured iron tools.
The IAA’s community excavation, carried out predominantly by youth and volunteers, has exposed part of an impressive Jewish settlement with ritual baths, oil presses and winepresses.
About 8,500 people participated during the recent holiday, Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles], in the IAA’s archaeological excavations and activities, but nobody expected to discover the items most closely associated with building the sukkah [booth]—the hammer and the nails—from the Byzantine period, about 1,400 years ago. Such was the fortune of a family from Tur’an in [the] lower Galilee, who took part in the dig at Usha.
According to Yair Amitzur and Eyad Bisharat, directors of the excavation on behalf of the IAA: “about twenty iron hammers are registered in the Israel Antiquities Authority records, only six of them from the Byzantine period. We already knew that the Usha settlers extensively manufactured glass vessels, since we found many wine glasses and glass lamps together with glass lumps that were the raw material; the discovery of the hammer, the nails and the adjacent iron slag teaches us that they also produced iron tools at the site.”
Alongside these industries, complex pressing installations to produce olive oil and wine indicate that the primary occupation and source of income of the Usha inhabitants was the large-scale processing of the agricultural produce of the olive trees and the vines that they cultivated on the surrounding hills. Two rock-hewn ritual baths with plastered walls and steps, dating back some 1,800 years to the Roman and Byzantine periods, were exposed adjacent to the oil and wine presses. The discovery of the ritual baths indicates that the Jewish press workers took care to purify themselves in the ritual baths in order to manufacture ritually pure oil and wine.
Today the main “workforce” excavating the site are school children, youth and volunteers, who participate in the excavations thanks to the IAA’s policy of bringing the community closer to its own cultural heritage. Over the past year, more than 15,000 youth and families have taken part in the educational venture at Usha, digging and exposing the site’s fascinating past.
According to Yair Amitzur, director of the Usha excavation and of the Sanhedrin Trail for the IAA, “the settlement of Usha is mentioned in the Jewish sources many times in the Roman and Byzantine periods, as the village where the institution of the Sanhedrin [Jewish judges who constituted the supreme court and legislative body of ancient Israel] was renewed, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and after the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 AD.”
The excavations at Usha are part of the Sanhedrin Trail Project that was initiated by the IAA, crossing the Galilee from Bet Shearim to Tiberias, following the movement of the Sanhedrin sages who finally convened in Tiberias. The excavation will continue throughout the year with the participation of thousands of school children, youth and volunteers. Also planned are special activity days open to the general public.
Posted on November 1, 2019
Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published by Edgar Asher, Ashernet on October 30, 2019. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today.)
Photo Credit: Yoli Schwartz/IAA/Ashernet
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