Monday, September 18, 2017

An Amateur Analysis (What We Discovered)

So I am home from Israel, but I wanted to post one last time to explain what we found.  Of course, the full analysis of the discoveries will take months to assemble and require professional input that I am incapable of.  But here is an amateur’s analysis. 

I am grateful that I spent my whole two weeks on the dig working in the same area.  Each day we exposed more and more of a room in a bathhouse that included a nice archway and a second doorway that was originally another archway.  We weren’t actually exposing the whole room.  Our boundaries were three walls, but the fourth side was just a jumble of densely packed fallen limestone blocks from an earthquake that destroyed the city.  The whole room would have been a longer corridor. 

We were able to take it down to bedrock, which was about twelve feet beneath the upper edges of the extant walls (which would have been a bit higher before the earthquake).  Along the way, questions were raised.  The first was related to the arch itself.  The left hand side was neatly assembled with basalt ashlars, a dark and heavy volcanic rock.  But on the right hand side, the neatly arranged dark basalt stones disappeared as the archway straightened out.  The lower section was full of a jumble of dirt and soft limestone blocks.

Notice the difference between the structurally sound right hand side and the questionable left hand side where the basalt rocks end after the archway.

Closer look at the left hand side where the basalt stones disappear.  Instead, it is just fill similar to what is filling in the middle of the arch (and what we were digging our way through to expose the room.  Where have the basalt stones disappeared to?
As we got deeper into the hole, we reached a level where the basalt stones of the arch were not quite as tidy.  It was only after we stepped back and looked at the fill in the arch that we noticed a line of white that was a few inches thick.  This would have been a floor level of plaster that was not very distinct as we were digging but noticeable in the stratigraphy.  This was likely the floor level of the room when it was used as a bath house.  

Notice the white horizontal stripe in the fill a few feet up from the bottom.  You can see that the three levels of basalt ashlars above this line are very neatly arranged, while the ones below are not as carefully flush.

We continued to dig deeper until we hit a stone and plaster floor a few feet below the plaster floor line in the fill.  This was more distinctly a floor, but it was only in half the room.  The other half of the room continued down as a dirt layer.

A chunk of plaster from the flooring

The stone/plaster floor level in the upper portion of the picture.  The lower portion of the picture has no floor.  The dirt continues and we dig a bit deeper.

Floor on the left side, no floor on the right side.  Why?
As we continued to dig deep on the left side where the floor was absent, we hit an opening under the wall that took us by surprise.

The opening as it was first exposed. 
When we shone a flashlight into the hole, we discovered that it stretched back at least 10 feet and got deeper further back. As we continued to dig a bit more, we discovered that the hole stretched around from the one wall around the corner to the the wall with the arch.  The whole corner of the room was built over a deep hole.  This was a large cavity in the corner of this room.  This helped explain the absent basalt stone from the archway.  The missing blocks were right above this opening.  the foundation of the arch was undermined and at some point, these basalt rocks fell into that hole, probably due to the earthquake.
The suggestion was made that this was possibly  a Hellenistic cistern, used before the bathhouse was built over it.  The open flooring provided access to this cistern.  So that this floor level may have been from the time period before the bathhouse.
Because we were nearing the end of our dig season, and because our area supervisor was concerned about safety and the integrity of the structure as we exposed more of the cistern, we decided not to expose any more this season.  Instead, we covered over the hole and reinforced that corner as best we could with sand bags.
So we reached the bottom, sort of.  And we found answers, sort of.  There is always more to explore.  Each answer opens up two new questions.  This is just one room in the bathhouse (probably a service room, incidentally, for the furnace in the next room over), a complex of many rooms, each with their own surprises to be uncovered and explained.