For many years it was thought that during the Roman period there was not much activity on Tell Halif. Of course, we knew that they were there – after all the odd potsherd from the Roman period was found. But it seemed the people during the Roman period had left little in the way of buildings. Maybe, so many thought – if they gave the topic much thought at all – during that time period people came on the hill with their flocks and broke the occasional pot or even grew some crops on the mound. Then in 2009 we struck a wall just below the surface while looking for remains from the Iron Age. Next to the surface we could discern a floor, though further away the traces of the floor disappeared. Due to some lucky finds, such as Roman period potsherds in the wall and a whole cooking pot from Roman times just under the floor, we concluded that the structure was most probably built in the Roman period. Some centimetres above the floor and the wall, we could find pottery from the Roman-Byzantine period, but the pottery associated with the floor and that below it was clearly from the Roman period. People were building on the tell after all, not just herding sheep.
Here’s a view of the wall with remains from the Iron Age in the foreground.
It seems this year we have discovered more structure from the Roman Period. In the square joining Field IV and Field V (A8) the excavators struck a wall and floor just below the surface. It was clear that another surface was below this, for a pillar had eroded out of the soil at lower levels. The floor about 20 cm below the surface was partly cobbled, partly made from crushed limestone. It seems that it is associated with the wall foundations running along the side of the square. Even though there was some suspicion that the floor could be associated with a late Iron Age phase (Stratum VIA – or the squatter phase), I immediately had the impression that this was a later structure, at least from the Persian Period. Now a nearly complete Roman cooking pot has been found under the floor. My hunch has been confirmed and it is very likely that this floor was also constructed in Roman times.
Here is a labelled photo showing the different phases that may be present in square A8. This is not a final determination, but rather my interpretation on data currently available. As I’m not working in the square, I’m not closely familiar with all the features, but I pass often enough to observe what is being uncovered.
If the wall is associated with the floor, we have more and more signs of buildings on Tell Halif during Roman times. With the settlement of Rimmon situated at Khirbet Um el Rumamim only 1 to 2 km away during the Roman Period, what were these relatively isolated buildings doing on Tell Halif? Did someone live there? Where these agricultural buildings? We haven’t found enough remains on the floors and not enough of the walls to really answer that question.
As we continue to excavate we continue to get fragments of a larger picture of life during the Roman Period in this area. And maybe one day we have sufficient fragments to try to make sense of this picture. Tell Halif would have just been on the outskirts of Iudaea. It was far away from the religious centre of Jerusalem, far away from the political and trading centre of Caesarea on the coast, far away from the Galilee, where the ministry of Jesus changed the lives of people.