In February 2019 we conducted the second season of excavations at al-Sinnabra, following last year’s discovery of two rows of columns belonging to what appeared to be a hypostyle hall. This season we tried to find more of this hall and identify its borders. After an initial, somewhat frustrating period of work spent largely in identifying the extent of modern interventions (in particular, a system of irrigation pipes inserted at the same level as the hall), we were able, by the conclusion of the season, to make major progress by identifying a third row of bases, as well as an eastern border. Taken together with the northern qasir wall, the outline of the three-rowed hall begins to emerge, possibly bordered by a courtyard on the north, where no bases could be traced. The breadth of the hall still needs to be established, as our probes in the western part of the building may not have reached the foundations, which often are found to be preserved well below the floor level. A separate probe along the eastern face of the qasr revealed a previously unknown element there – possibly a processional walkway.
The 2019 Season
In February 2019 the second excavation season in al-Sinnabra was conducted. The aim of this season was to trace more remains of the hypostyle building that was partly revealed last year. Following the finds of last year we concentrated in two areas related to the two rows of column bases. In addition to a narrow probe in the large spoil heap covering the western part of the hall (which revealed no traces of construction at floor level), one excavation area was opened in the northern side and the second on the southern and eastern side of the previously discovered column bases. After a week of work in the northern area, we understood that it was damaged by modern interventions and erosion. Therefore, we concentrated our efforts on the southern part of the hall and on its eastern border.
The concentration on the south side of the hall, between the previously exposed columns and the qasir wall, below the level of the gravel pavement, was rewarding, as a third row of column bases was exposed here. This row is composed of three reused marble bases and two built bases. The bases were built at similar intervals to those of the two northern rows and they are aligned with them. On the same lines of the bases, three west-east walls were also exposed (fig.1, w2-4), emerging from a north-south wall (fig.1. w1) that extended from the northern tower of the qasr and marks the eastern edge of the hall. A fifth wall, running from east to west, was also exposed (fig.1, w5). Damaged at three points by the column bases, this wall probably predates the hall (fig.2).
Fig.1. Ground plan with the remains of the two excavation seasons.
Fig.2. Column bases, looking east.
The intervals between the bases are approximately four meters, corresponding to the intervals within the rows and between each of them. This rhythm creates bays of four by four meters each. On the same four-meter interval, the northern wall of the qasir is situated. Therefore, we suggest that the northern qasir wall was a common wall for both structures, with its southern face facing the main basilica of the qasir and the northern one bordering the structure standing on the north (fig.3).
Fig.3. Air view of the trenches.
The bases, the east-west wall and the northern wall of the qasir partly cut and were partly built on earlier walls that can be dated to the Hellenistic era due to the ceramic assemblage. This layer was covered with a layer brown earth mixed with small pebbles. This earth and pebbles layer was exposed on the same level of the bases and in some cases, it even covered them. Coins of the Arab-Byzantine type were found in this layer.
The reconstruction of the remains can be shaped to a hypostyle hall composed out of, at least, three aisles parallel to the northern wall of the qasir. Wall 1 can stand as the eastern border of this hall. In the current conditions, the northern and the western borders are missing. Three trenches that were opened on the western side failed to find any trace of more bases or a border wall in this side. This may still be hidden in the large spoil-heap of the excavations of the 1950s. Moreover, severe erosion on the northern side seems to rule out the possibility of finding any related traces.
During the conservation of the site throughout the year some traces of a north-south wall were revealed on the eastern edge of the mound, parallel to the qasir wall. Therefore, a small trench was opened to track this wall. This wall seem to be a retaining wall to a walk way that extended along the eastern border of the qasir (fig.4).
Fig.4. Eastern walkway and supporting wall, looking east.
As reported last year, in February 2018, during our excavation season, a team of conservators launched a long-term maintenance project that lasted for almost a year. Among other things, they have brought to light some forgotten corners of the site, including the Umayyad bathhouse and parts of the palace itself (fig.5).
Fig.5. General view of the qasir, from the west, after the conservation works. The bathhouse is at top right, above a large Bronze Age structure.
During the conservation works, the bath was cleaned and some details were revealed in them, mainly of the central pool and the two bathtubs on the south side of the main room. Moreover, the cleaning works revealed two building stages of the western wall (fig.6). It seems that an extension was attached to the lower course of the wall that came to create a base for the benches along the wall. This addition even covered the edges of the marble pavement, in this manner preserving some of the marble tiles, one of which bears a Greek inscription.
Fig.6. Detailed plan of the bath after cleaned by the conservators.
Dr Tawfiq Daʿadli
Dep. of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Art History
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem