Volunteers dig up Byzantine-era tools at Usha during Sukkot

“Here in Usha, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin made decrees to enable the Jewish people to recover after the war against the Romans, and to reconstruct Jewish life in the Galilee.”

1400-years-old hammer and nails found found in Usha (photo credit: YAIR AMITZOR/ THE ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY (IAA))
1400-years-old hammer and nails found found in Usha
(photo credit: YAIR AMITZOR/ THE ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY (IAA))
While many used a hammer and nails to build their sukkah, one family spent Sukkot digging up those same tools from the Byzantine era at Horbat Usha, near the Kiryat Ata forest.
The family, from Turan in the Lower Galilee, heeded the call of the Antiquities Authority (IAA) and joined an estimated 8,500 volunteers who helped excavate at IAA sites around the country during the holiday of Sukkot. They dug up the 1,400-year-old hammer and nails, and, close by, the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal.This slag gave the IAA archeologists the clue that helped them conclude that Usha’s inhabitants didn’t just take the family donkey down the road to a Kol-Bo bazaar selling merchandise from afar – they themselves knew how to manufacture iron tools.
Yair Amitzur and Eyad Bisharat, directors of the excavation, said that only “about 20 iron hammers are registered in the IAA records,” of which “only six of them” are from the Byzantine period.
These finds add to what is already known about Usha. An earlier Jewish settlement dated to 1800 BCE has previously been uncovered in Usha complete with 2 ritual baths (mivkvaot in Hebrew), oil and wine presses. The mikvaot date from the Roman and Byzantine eras.
There are two main periods associated with the site at Usha. The first was the Talmudic period. According to the IAA website, after the failed Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE, the Jewish settlement transferred to the Galilee  and the Sanhedrin moved from Yavne to Usha, where it remained for ten years from 140 CE.
Significant historic persons were associated with Usha. Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel II was the rabbi of Usha and a disciple of Rabbi Akiva, and headed a popular council. The sages of Usha carried out religious rulings that mainly dealt with social and family issues, named after the place and were called “the Usha Enactments.” Among the Torah sages that resided in Usha were: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai and his son Elazar, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ilai, Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi, Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel II and Rabbi Yehuda Ben Baba.
“Here in Usha, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin made decrees to enable the Jewish people to recover after the war against the Romans, and to reconstruct Jewish life in the Galilee,” Amitzur, who also serves as Sanhedrin Trail director for the IAA, said in a statement. “The Jewish sources mention that Rabbi Yitzhak Nafha was an inhabitant of Usha, and his name ‘Nafha,’ meaning ‘the blower’ indicates that he probably worked as a glass manufacturer. The many delicate wine glasses, glass lamps and glass lumps indicate that Usha inhabitants were proficient in the art of glassblowing.”
Among the finds were also delicate fragments of ancient glass in shades of pale blues and greens. Another of the Usha finds is a small clay oil lamp with a depiction of a menorah.
The second period which the IAA lists as significant was when Usha was inhabited as a village settled during the Ottoman period during the late eighteenth century. The inhabitants fled the village following its conquest in 1948, and the remains of the buildings preserved are still there today.
Amitzur is also director of the Sanhedrin Trail, a cultural heritage project started by the IAA which crosses through the Galilee from Beit Shean to Tiberias, following the route taken by the Sanhedrin until they settled in Tiberias.