Universität Bonn

Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn

Khirbet Beit Loya, Excavation Season 2023, Week One (29 March–06 April 2023)

This field season at Khirbet Beit Loya is happening thanks to Professor Walker obtaining the grant from the DFG’s Middle East Cooperation competition, the excavations are co-directed with Oren Gutfeld of Hebrew University. More specifically, the multi-disciplinary project “TERRSOC: ‘Reading Ancient Landscapes’, investigates the role that agricultural terraces played in society, and how social and economic systems together stood behind the decision to build, maintain, and restore terraces, on the one hand, and abandon them, on the other. By integrating data sets with high chronological resolution within an agent-based model (ABM) framework, we test hypotheses regarding human behaviour and decision-making, comparing the ways peasants invested in their land in the medieval Islamic period and Iron Age. At the centre of the study is the excavation of the extensive Mamluk-era settlement of Khirbet Beit Loya in the Shephelah, and its agricultural terraces. The research is carried in partnership between the Islamic Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Bonn and the Institutes of Archaeology at Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities in Israel and runs from 2022-2025.

This year's field season at Khirbet Beit Loya welcomes team members from and affiliated with the University of Bonn's Islamic Archaeology Research Unit, with participants from undergraduate to post-doctoral schools. We all gathered in our respective airB&Bs and travelled across Europe and beyond to find ourselves working together in and for this site for the next two weeks.

In this site, we took an administrative area, a domestic area, and a ritual area, each of which makes this settlement an urban site. The mosque is led by Anastasia, alongside Rebecca, while the court is led by Volker and Britta. Square W, the house, is under the direction of Loren, assisted by Yixin, Philipp and me, and finally, the monumental building is under the supervision of Nicolò and Oliver. Professor Walker and Omer help us throughout the site. We all receive the support from workers, coming from Hebron and Jerusalem. We are all very excited to better understand the evolution and reoccupation of the site from the Byzantine period to the Ottoman period.

Field P: The Monumental Building, under Nicolò and Oliver

Excavations at field P focus on understanding the function of this monumental building. In the 2011 season, excavations focused on the tower, which is located under the monumental building. In this season, however, we wanted to give attention to this monumental building which, due to its position, represents an interesting case. Located in the east of the site, on top of a tell, it could be seen from a distance. Excavations so far have revealed an inner courtyard, as well as Early Islamic, Mamluk and Byzantine pottery.

Field W: The House, by Loren

Excavations in the W field involve understanding a domestic environment. Professor Walker has chosen one of the best-preserved houses along the main road as a case study, hoping to uncover material culture that could reveal more about the process of Islamization. Due to the amount of repairable and intact household items found to this today, it may be that this space served a household storage.

Field T1: The Mosque, by Anastasia, and Field T2: The Courtyard, by Volker and Britta

The purpose of the excavation of the mosque is to better understand its period of origin. While the Byzantine Basilica is nearby, and a potential musalla, understanding the use and origin of the mosque may lead our research to understanding when and how Muslim populations settled (permanently or temporarily) at Khirbet Beit Loya. Furthermore, the excavations in the courtyard of the mosque are due to its special features. Its walls make the courtyard of the mosque an interesting centre of research. The original courtyard wall Abbasid, with later featuring a Mamluk extension.

Field U: The Donkey Stables, by Omer

Field U was chosen as part of our study to better understand the process of resettlement and reuse of these Late Hellenistic – Early Byzantine donkey stables. Situated opposite Field W, Field U appears to have similar characteristics: a Mamluk house above, and below, a hand-picked cave used as a stable for donkeys, with further vats. We went there to sample the soil from the vats, to see if indeed it was used as fertilizer in the nearby fields in the Mamluk period. We will achieve this by comparing the plant phosphates from the stable samples to those taken in the terraced fields. Furthermore, the vats were later used as middens, due to the mixed pottery, glass and metal objects found, which date back from the early Mamluk to the Ottoman. Also, this season tries a different mode of investigation in the stables. While the 2011 team looked at the microarchitecture of the building, we are looking at the micro-archaeology and sediment samples.

Report by: Luna Silvestri

Anastasia in Field T1.jpg
© Anastasia in Field T1
Luna in Field U.jpg
© Luna in Field U
Loren in Field W2.jpg
© Loren in Field W
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