The Beisan Expedition

Originally Published in 1930

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THE first report has been received from Mr. G. M. Fitz Gerald, Director of the Museum’s Palestine Expedition, which has resumed excavations at Beisan. Work was begun on September seventeenth and in the first five weeks most gratifying results were obtained.

A sarcophagi with the lid ajar, in a crevice of rocks
Plate II — Sarcophagi Found by the Museum’s Beisan Expedition
Image Number: 30018

As stated in the November Bulletin, attention is being concentrated this year on the cemetery that lies north of the River Jalud, which separates it from Tell-el-Hosn where the bulk of the excavation has previously been carried on. The tombs are cut into a barren slope at the foot of which runs an irrigation canal and which is crowned by the Byzantine town wall. The previous excavations in this area had shown that these tombs, cut into a soft rock one above the other, would present a complicated plan and much confusion of objects contained in them, and that for many centuries they had been subject to systematic violation and robbery. This was again found to be the case, but some noteworthy objects have nevertheless been obtained.

Thirty tombs and graves have so far been excavated. Nearly all of them have proved to be of Roman or Byzantine date and are either of the loculus type, with small burial-places opening out of a long central chamber, or of the arcosolium type characteristic of the Christian period. The first tomb to be discovered was, however, of a third kind, also well known in this cemetery: namely, a ledge of rock on which lay five of the pottery sarcophagi of the “slipper” type, with lids representing human heads, a type which has been associated with the Philistine or other Egyptian mercenaries of about the twelfth century B.C. These burials had evidently been looted, but a scarab and some rude figurines, as well as some stirrup vases and other sub-Mycenaean pottery, were found with them.

A gold necklace of interlocking pattern chain pieces with a circular medallion in the middle
Plate III — Gold Necklace Found by the Beisan Expedition
Museum Object Number: 31-50-212

It is regrettable that very scanty remains have been found of other Iron Age or Bronze Age tombs. There can be no doubt that early burials once occupied what are now mere ledges of rock, but in digging tombs of later periods, the earlier ones were looted and in many cases were further destroyed by landslides.
The principal finds in the Roman and Byzantine tombs consist of lamps, glass vases, and small objects of bronze. Among the latter is the nude figure of a boy; an extremely graceful terra-cotta figurine is also noteworthy, as are some gold earrings and coins. In many cases, the weight of the sarcophagi has caused them to fall through the floor into tombs on a lower level; such a case is shown in Plate II.

Wholly unexpected and of great importance was the discovery of a building on the summit of the cemetery slope just under the old town wall. A stone gateway was first uncovered leading into a room paved with a mosaic floor. On the threshold the mosaic bears a Greek inscription obviously of the Byzantine period.

Beyond, part of a pattern was revealed, including figures of birds in square panels. The walls of this room have been traced and extend about ten by fifteen metres. Adjoining it to the east are six other rooms all paved with mosaics, one of which, having an apse towards the east, appears to be a chapel. A grave and another mosaic room lie to the north of the main hall; other rooms to the west have not yet been excavated. It seems most natural to regard this building as a monastery, though it would be premature to speak positively on the subject.

In a room adjoining the “chapel,” from which the pavement had been removed, a very interesting find was made of a gold necklace, shown in Plate III, a bracelet of the same material, and ten gold coins of the Byzantine Emperors Maurice (A. D. 582-602) and Phocas (602-610). It is not improbable that these objects were concealed under the floor of the room at the time of the Persian invasion at the beginning of the seventh century.

Cite This Article

"The Beisan Expedition." Museum Bulletin II, no. 2 (December, 1930): 39-46. Accessed July 25, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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