site located in the central Golan Heights, approximately 13 km (8 mi.) northeast of the Sea of Galilee and 1 km southeast of the modern city of Qaṣrin (32°59′15″ N, 35°42′15″ E; map reference 2161 × 2661). The site's ancient name is unknown. It was first recorded and identified by Gottlieb Schumacher during his surveys of the region In 1884; he revisited it In 1913 and described “Kiṣrin” as a “small Bedouin winter village with a group of beautiful oak trees and old ruins” (Schumacher, 1888, p. 194). The name Kiṣrin, perhaps derived from the Arabic word qaṣr, meaning “fort” or “palace,” may refer to the monumental ancient remains visible to the inhabitants of this nineteenth- and twentieth-century village (see figure 1).
During archaeological surveys of the region In 1967, Shmaryahu Gutman identified the remains of an ancient synagogue inside the modern Syrian village of Kiṣrin. Subsequent surveys by Dan Urman from 1969 to 1971 revealed numerous architectural elements originally belonging to the synagogue and several ancient Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. In 1971–1972, Urman initiated excavations in the synagogue, which continued under the direction of Muni Ben-Ari (1975–1976) and Zvi Ma῾oz (1978). From 1982 to 1984, Rachel Hachlili, Ann Killebrew, and Zvi Ma῾oz conducted a new series of excavations in the synagogue; from 1983 to 1990, Killebrew directed excavations in the adjacent village. Approximately 1,500 sq m, or nearly 10 percent of the site, has been uncovered.
The excavators identified nine strata at Qaṣrin. Ceramic finds and fragmentary architectural remains indicate that the site was inhabited during the Middle Bronze II (stratum IX), Iron II (stratum VIII), Hellenistic (stratum VII), and Late Roman (stratum VI) periods. The main periods of occupation were the Late Roman through Early Islamic periods (synagogues A and B, strata V–IV); the Mamluk period (mosque, stratum II); and the late nineteenth century-1967 CE (stratum I).
Late Roman-Early Byzantine Periods (Stratum VA–B).
The construction and use of synagogue A span stratum VA–B) (fourth-fifth centuries CE). The earlier phase of the village, VA, dates to late third-mid-fourth centuries CE, based on pottery assemblages found in the structures and coin hoards, including a deposit of nine thousand coins hidden under a stratum VA courtyard floor. Stratum VB (late fourth–fifth centuries CE) follows the earthquake of 363 and is characterized by the continued use of synagogue A and the repair of the village houses.
The earliest monument, synagogue A, was nearly square (15.2 × 15.3 m), with two rows of three columns each. Its main entrance was located in the northern facade wall, with a side entrance in the western wall. The hall was lined with benches on three sides, and a stone platform was constructed against the southern wall, facing Jerusalem, to hold the Ark of the Law. Artifacts sealed below the white plaster floor of synagogue A included Late Roman period pottery sherds and a coin minted In 218–219, indicating a late third-or early fourth-century date for the building's construction.
Most of the village houses built at the same time as synagogue A continued in use until the mid-eighth century, but were remodeled numerous times. The plan of a typical domestic unit at Qaṣrin consisted of a large, rectangular multipurpose room (traclin; Lat., traclinium), a smaller rectangular storage room, a sleeping loft above the storage room, and an unroofed courtyard. Additions to this typical domestic unit included small storage spaces or indoor kitchens. Generally, several of these household units were connected to form a large complex, or insula, inhabited by several generations of an extended family.
Byzantine–Early Islamic Periods (Stratum IVA–B).
Synagogue B, constructed on top of synagogue A, marks the beginning of stratum IVA (sixth century). Although the general plan of the two synagogues is similar, in synagogue B the northern facade wall was extended northward for 2–2.5 m, increasing the size of the synagogue, necessitating two rows of four columns each. The building's exterior measurements became 15.4 m along the north wall; 14.95 m along the south wall; 17.95 m along the east wall and 17.4 m along the west wall. Two surfaces are related to synagogue B's use: an earlier mosaic floor (stratum IVA), dated to the sixth century by coins found inside the benches along the rebuilt northern wall of synagogue B; and a later plaster floor (stratum IVB) laid over the dismantled mosaic floor, dated to the seventh century, based on a coin hoard found sealed below the plaster floor.
During stratum IVA–B, a street and drain were added to the area outside and adjacent to the northeastern half of the synagogue, converting it for use as a public space. Most of the original domestic structures remained in use during the period, and the village reached its maximum size (approximately 5 acres).
Analysis of the faunal evidence from the strata V–IV village reveals that sheep and goat were the largest category of species, followed by cattle and then chicken. The relative percentages of different domesticated livestock indicate that animal production, consumption, and processing occurred at the household level. In addition to the rearing of sheep, goats, and cattle, the economic base of the Byzantine village was diverse, depending mainly on household production of cereals, wine, and a surplus market production of oil.
The synagogue remained in use through the mid-eighth century. Based on the uniform direction of the superstructure's collapse, the destruction of this synagogue is attributed to the earthquake of 749. In the village, several rooms showed signs of reuse by squatters (stratum III) on top of the collapsed rubble.
Mamluk Period (Stratum II).
Following a settlement gap of nearly five hundred years, the site was reoccupied during the Mamluk period (thirteenth-fifteenth centuries). The inhabitants constructed a mosque (8.1 × 15.5 m) in the northern third of the ruined synagogue, reusing several of the earlier walls and architectural elements. The southern wall and its niche (miḥrab) were added then. The poorly preserved Mamluk village covered the entire 5-acre Byzantine site.
Faunal analysis for the Mamluk period indicates that cattle were far more numerous than previously at Qaṣrin. The more specialized approach taken by the stratum II inhabitants and the relatively higher proportion of cattle suggest participation in a larger market economy.
In the nineteenth century, bedouin resettled the site, repairing ancient structures or constructing new houses reusing the ancient basalt building stones. The stratum I site was in use until 1967.
- Grantham, Billy. “Modern Bugata and Ancient Qasrin: The Ethnoarchaeology of Cuisine in the Golan Heights.” Master's thesis, University of Alabama, 1992.
- Killebrew, Ann, and Steven Fine. “Qatzrin: Reconstructing Village Life in Talmudic Times.” Biblical Archaeology Review 17 (1991): 44–56.
- Ma῾oz, Zvi, and Ann Killebrew. “Ancient Qasrin: Synagogue and Village.” Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988): 5–19.
- Schumacher, Gottlieb. The Jaulân. London, 1888.