The week before last I attended my very first university trip, having just started studying Archaeology in Bar Ilan University. This trip was to be a two-day adventure around the Kinneret area, hopping from site to site to explore and to hear brief lectures from the various resident academics as well as special guests. We left the Bar Ilan campus in the morning, our buses taking Road 6 and then passing Megiddo, Afula and Kfar Tavor before entering the beautiful green valley of Yavne’el. Our first stop was just minutes later, at the Hod Lookout beside a monument dedicated to the early androcentric settlement of Beitanya.
Next we drove to a site that I’ve read much about, yet never really seen – Karnei Hittim (or, the Horns of Hattin). Known for the famous battle between the Crusaders and the Ayyubids under the leadership of Saladin, this extinct volcano was the battlegrounds that held testament to the Christians’ first major defeat back in 1187. Following the lead of Dr Rafi Lewis we skirted the east side of the gentle slope and made our way through a brief rainshower to the obscure ruins of Kankuzah.
Rafi, an archaeologist specialising in battlefields, proceeded to tell us all about the deciding battle that was fought to the west of us, and how he conducted numerous light digs of the general area finding all sorts of military artefacts. At one point he held up a printed version of the picture embedded below, a photograph from the 1890s listed in the Library of Congress as the Mount of Beatitudes (Capernaum) which has since been “historically relocated” to the area where the Jordan River spills into the Kinneret.
Leaving behind the beautiful view of the Arbel Valley, we walked back to the buses passing large green fields of wheat. Next we drove back down to the Beitanya area, headed for our next destination: the Roman bathhouses of Hamat Gader.
I had the opportunity of visiting Hamat Gader back in 2012, but then I was only able to marvel at the archaeological ruins from the plebian side of the fence. Being a university trip, even key points of interest along the way to Hamat Gader were pointed out, including the famous ruined bridge and sites along the Yarmouk River, bordering the country of Jordan. Once inside the resort, famous for its hot springs and crocodile farm, we were ushered directly to the Roman ruins. Across the Yarmouk, under Jordanian sovereignty, is the mountainside ruins of Gadara – a once important city that had close ties with the population living beside the hot springs.
In class the other day I learned about the Roman plumbing technology used in these bathhouses, and the small stone cubes lining the pool behind me in the photo are actually small fountains all connected by a pipe under the stonework. Iconoclasm lent to the destruction of the faces on the stone cubes, the mouths of which would spout water. Ever under the watchful eye of the head of security, our group walked carefully from room to room, taking in the classic beauty. At last we settled down in the stately Hall of the Pillars for a few brief lectures.
Wrapping up at Hamat Gader we drove up the Golan side of the Kinneret to our next point of interest, Ein Gev. One of the first kibbutzim to be established in Golan under Syrian authority, the success of Ein Gev was a powerful message to all parties involved. Leaving the buses, we walked to the grassy lakefront and sat beneath the gently swaying palm trees settling in for another lecture.
With still so much to see, we were hustled back onto the buses and driven to an ancient site on the banks of the Jordan at the southern end of the Kinneret, a site known as Tel Bet Yerach. I had tried visiting Tel Bet Yerach on my trip to Belvoir, yet couldn’t seem to find the archaeological discoveries. And so, as we crossed the Jordan after Degania I recognised exactly where we were headed yet didn’t know until that moment that the whole elevation was considered the tel of Bet Yerach. The archaeological site is quite in depth and we were given photo-copied maps of the dig to properly understand the layout.
Tel Bet Yerach’s name is thought to originate from the inhabitants’ worshipping of the moon, or perhaps of the pagan moon god Sin (which may be connected with the huge moon-shaped megalith Jethro’s Cairn some 30 kilometres away). With the Jordan and the Kinneret flanking the massive stone fortifications, Bet Yerach became an important and highly protected regional city. Flourishing during the Canaanite and Egyptian periods, the city was then destroyed and then rebuilt way later during the Persian era with the Greeks and Romans augmenting and improving the city in their times.
One of the lecture topics that interested me most was the unique pottery belonging to Tel Bet Yerach, a distinct black and red that is only found elsewhere in the Caucasus region. As Professor Aren Maeir spoke I scoured the ground looking for potsherds that matched the description given – the piece I found and rubbed clean was declared to be from the Early Bronze Age III (some 4,000 years old or so). With daylight waning we had one last lecture, given by Professor Ehud Weiss, on the Ohalo II site which made headlines providing rare evidence of food sources as well as early dwelling structures. Unfortunately darkness was upon us before we were able to get a good look at where the ancient site is located on the banks of the Kinneret, but the information given over was very eye-opening. Boarding the buses one more time we were driven to Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov where we were set up in quaint country lodgings for a night of trivia, academia and, of course, much needed sleep to prepare us for the next day.