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Sepphoris, Israel


Director: Leroy Waterman

In the autumn of 1930, with private funds provided for excavation in Palestine, Leroy Waterman left Seleucia, visited Palestine, and secured a concession to excavate at the modern Arab village of Suffuriyye (the ancient Sepphoris). It is situated on a rocky mound above the adjoining plains four miles northwest of Nazareth. The historic fame and associations of Sepphoris had given it a high rank in antiquity, and its archaeological interest lay in the progression of civilizations that had made use of the site. Since the area most available for excavation consisted of the grounds of the village school, work was conducted during the summer recess in 1931.

The school had once been a fort commanding the summit of the hill and incorporated a large stone wall assigned to the period of the Crusades (ca. 1200). But stones for this wall were from still older buildings and cemeteries. In fact, according to a report by N. E. Manasseh, most of the cornerstones were Roman sarcophagi filled with rubble and dressed to adapt to Crusader masonry. In clearing away debris from around the fort, the traces of an older and larger building that appeared to be Jewish were uncovered. In addition, archaeologists found the ruins of an old Christian church, the floor of which rested on bedrock. Manasseh dates the basilica, apse, and baptismal font from the time when Christianity was still unrecognized and its rites practiced in secret. One of the chief architectural results of the expedition was the discovery and partial excavation of a very well-built Graeco-Roman theater on the northwest side of the citadel, which in its time seated from 4,000 to 5,000 people. Coins were found during work at the site dating from the 2nd century BCE to the 9th century CE, and there was some archaeological evidence of pre-Hellenic occupation. The two months' work on the site, according to Waterman's preliminary report, was to have been only a beginning, but the Depression prevented further excavation.