Press Release: Significant Archaeological Finds at Horvat Kur Unearthed During the 2012 Field Season

During ongoing excavations on Horvat Kur in the Lower Galilee, archaeologists from the University of Bern, University of Helsinki, Leiden University and Wofford College, under the auspices of Kinneret Regional Project, uncovered a unique combination of synagogue features from the Byzantine period. In a cistern close to the synagogue, a wide array of intact Late Roman / Early Byzantine household pottery was found, including many types which had never previously been found complete.
Within the synagogue, a stone seat, with two steps leading up to it, was found in situ atop the bench along the southern wall. This seat was probably used by the leader of the congregation during its gatherings. It is the first such seat ever found in situ in Israel. In addition, in the center of the southern wall excavators found the remains of the podium (“bemah”) on which the torah shrine would have been placed. Several architectural fragments of the shrine were found, including a threshold in classical style, a finely decorated corbel stone, remains of a lion relief, and a rosette. All of these finds demonstrate the high significance of the podium in the synagogue, and the importance of the synagogue as a center of community and religious life.
Certainly the most spectacular object unearthed in the excavations, however, was a basalt stone, shaped like a low table and decorated with figurative elements on one side and geometric patterns on the other three sides. The Horvat Kur stone resembles a similar piece discovered a few years ago at nearby Migdal. The Horvat Kur stone is made of a different material (basalt), and it was found in a secondary, 6th c. AD context, i.e. integrated into a stylobate wall. But the stone certainly belonged to an earlier phase of the synagogue building. Scholars have been divided about the function of the “stone table” from Migdal: was it used as a “reading table” or stand for a lectern? The Horvat Kur stone may help answer these questions, although it may also lead to entirely new lines of research.
Officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority emphasize that these discoveries will more fully illuminate the features of synagogue life in Byzantine period Galilee. They will certainly stimulate the growing field of synagogue research.
The finds will officially be presented at the International Colloquium of the German Society for the Exploration of Palestine in Mainz from November 2-4, 2012.

On behalf of the 2012 Field Team: Jürgen K. Zangenberg (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Stefan Münger (University of Bern, Switzerland), Raimo Hakola (University of Helsinki, Finland), and Byron McCane (Wofford College, USA). For contact details see here.

Conference in Leiden: «Archaeology, Architecture and Liturgy»

"Archaeology, Architecture and Liturgy. The Synagogue of Horvat Kur in the Context of Ancient Galilean Synagogues"
International Conference, February 6 and 7, 2012 in Leiden

A very dense network of ancient villages and synagogues is emerging at the moment ion the western shore of the Lake of Galilee. One of them is located on Horvat Kur, currently under excavation by a team of Kinneret Regional Project from Bern, Helsinki, Leiden and Bucharest Universities ( Each of these sites has its own profile and each of the synagogues has its own story to tell about the culture and history of the ancient Galilee. Current excavations at Magdala (Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najjar), Khirbet Hammam 15 km south of Horvat Kur (Uzi Leibner from the Hebrew University) and an expedition at Huqoq only 5 km southwest of Horvat Kur (Jodi Magness from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), offer prime opportunities for comparative research. Read more...

A Big Thank You!

Many may not know how important and vital sponsors and supporters are in the archaeological business. Though our universities, faculties and institutes contribute a lot to Kinneret Regional Project, this endeavor would not be possible without the generous support we receive from various foundations, institutions, societies and private donors. In recent years we received considerable support from (in alphabetical order): 

  • Auswärtiges Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 
  • Deutscher Palästina-Verein
  • Deutscher Verein vom Heiligen Lande
  • Leids Universiteits Fonds
  • Finnish Cultural Foundation 
  • Finnish Institute of the Middle East 
  • Leiden University Funds (Byvanck Stichting)
  • Netherlands School for Advanced Studies in Theology and Religion
  • Romanian Cultural Institute
  • Schröter Stiftung
  • UniBern Research Foundation

Most recently, however, co-directors Jürgen Zangenberg and Stefan Münger have received a significant grant from the White-Levy Program for Archaeological Publications for their project  «The Early Iron Age City on Tell el-‘OrÄ“me / Tel Kinrot (Galilee)». The grant is awarded for the academic year 2011/12, but may be extended for another two years until 2014. The prestigious White-Levy Grant for Archaeological Publications is awarded annually to 9-12 projects worldwide to support “research on terminated and unpublished archaeological field work from significant sites in the Aegean, Anatolia, Balkans, Iranian Plateau, Levant, and Mesopotamia”. The generous subsidy will enable Stefan Münger and Jürgen Zangenberg and the involved authors to publish the final reports of the Early Iron Age strata of Tel Kinrot, excavated by Kinneret Regional Project until 2008.

We are honoured to receive this prestigious grant and grateful towards the «White-Levy Program» and all our other – equally important – supporters of our work on the Northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Press Release: International Team Explores Rural Galilee and Finds Ancient Synagogue – Kinneret Regional Project Back in the Field!

Among many important discoveries, 2010 Kinneret Regional Project ( discovered an ancient synagogue, in use at around 400 CE.

Kinneret Regional Project (KRP, an academic consortium of the Universities of Bern [Switzerland], Helsinki [Finland], Leiden [Netherlands] and Mainz [Germany]) returned to the Galilee on June 21, the 2010 campaign will last until July 16 and is sponsored by the Universities of Bern (co-director Stefan Münger), Helsinki (co-director Juha Pakkala) and Leiden (co-director Jürgen Zangenberg).

New Discoveries at Horvat Kur
This year’s archaeological focus is the first systematic excavation on Horvat Kur, a village inhabited from the Early Roman through the Early Mediaeval periods located on a gentle hill 2 km west of the Lake of Galilee. 30 volunteers (mostly students of theology, religious studies and archaeology) and staff from the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Romania, Belgium, Spain, Israel and Germany explore the material remains of village life in Galilee, a region that features very prominently in Early Christian and Rabbinic tradition.

Already after two weeks of excavation KRP the hardships of digging in the blazing Galilean sun were rewarded. Archaeologists worked in two different areas.

In area A – situated on the hill-top – a narrow test trench dug in 2008 was expanded to a larger area (three squares, 5x5 m each), now being fully excavated. At this location, remains of an elaborately built monumental wall were discovered already at an early stage of excavation. This wall, preserved up to 80cm, runs North-South for at least 10m and clearly divides the excavated space into two different areas. To the west of it, a cobblestone pavement covered what we think was a small courtyard. In 2008 a large number of coins were found on the surfaces of this open space, indicating that the building represented by the above mentioned monumental wall might already have been in use at around 400 CE. During the 2010 campaign, another large amount of coins came to light in the same area which are likely to corroborate this dating once numismatic analysis of the newly found coin material is completed. Fragments of pilasters and other architectural elements were found close by in tumble, which will eventually contribute to the reconstruction of layout and design of the building.
To the east of the monumental wall we found a totally different situation, indicating that this space was inside the building. Here, a low bench made of hewn stones and covered with grey plaster, runs alongside the wall, only interrupted by an entrance roughly in the centre of its excavated part. The floor was made of grey, hard plaster. It will need to be checked in the future if there are additional floor layers below.

Taken all the available evidence together, it seems very likely, that KRP 2010 has discovered a part of the western wall of yet another ancient Galilean synagogue. Together with the well-known synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin (both ca. 5th / 6th c. CE) and the recently discovered ones at Khirbet Hammam (2nd / 3rd c. CE) and Magdala (1st c. CE), the new synagogue at Horvat Kur (tentatively dated to the 4th / 5th c. CE) adds new evidence for a very tight net of synagogues in a relatively small area on the Northwestern shores of the Lake of Galilee.

In area C on the fringe of the topmost plateau of Horvat Kur, parts of two courtyards with work installations and a room full with dumped pottery from the middle of the 1st millennium CE came to light that allow fascinating insights into social and economic life in a Galilean village during this period. Recycled architectural elements (spoliae) and broad walls made of fieldstones or reused ashlars demonstrate how frequently village space changed to adapt buildings to the needs of their inhabitants. Future excavations will expose the entire structure and allow analysis of the use and organization of space of the inhabitants. The expedition will aim to unearth traces of earlier habitation to clarify the development of the village.

Remains from the domestic quarter in C and the public area in A will substantially add to our knowledge of ancient rural Galilee and thus substantially contribute to solve current research questions like population growth and economic status or cultural interaction of indigenous and external influences in rural Galilee throughout the classical period. In addition, the new finds and findings at Horvat Kur will contribute substantially to the ongoing, fierce debate about the chronology of Galilean synagogues.

Analyzing Finds from Tel Kinrot
KRP also continued its work on the material remains of Tel Kinrot, a large site situated directly on the shore of Lake Kinneret ca. 11 km north of modern Tiberias. To date archaeological investigations revealed settlement layers from the Chalcolithic throughout the Ottoman periods (ca. 5th millennium BCE to 2nd millennium CE). The site was under excavation by KRP until 2008. After that a small, in-lab team of experts continuously analyzed the finds and findings from the various settlement layers in order to prepare them for subsequent publication (for most recent articles on different subjects cf. the publications section on this site).
During the 2010 study season special focus was laid on the examination of the city layout and the analysis of the architecture in the domestic quarters dating to the Iron Age I period (11th and 10th c. BCE). In addition, the catalogue of the hitherto retrieved small finds, especially those relating to textile industry, could be further completed. As in previous years, the restoration of the uniquely well preserved pottery assemblage of the Iron Age I period was continued.

Future campaigns will return to surveying the region around Horvat Kur and record agricultural installations (already started in 2008), explore the many caves and cisterns on the site to better understand Horvat Kur’s water supply system and – of course – to continue excavations on the hill itself. A lot remains to be discovered on Horvat Kur!
After final publication of the results of the first phase of KRP’s activities at Tel Kinrot, fieldwork at this important site will be resumed. At the same time, the site’s preservation and conservation or restoration of excavated areas will be continuously pursued in collaboration with the authorities.

KRP will henceforth also be committed to its educational field programme for international students of all disciplines to bring them into hands-on contact with the history and material culture of a region that is at the foundations of both Judaism and Christianity.

All these activities, of course, require money; raising sufficient funds will therefore have top-priority to make our plans happen.

Kinneret Regional Project 2010 wishes to thank the Israel Antiquities Authority for granting the excavation license and various logistic support, the owner of the land on which Horvat Kur is located, the Deutscher Verein vom Heiligen Land, the Schröter Foundation (Neustadt/Germany), the Universities of Bern, Helsinki and Leiden for generous support and our colleagues Benjamin Arubas, Mordechai Aviam, Dina Avshalom-Gorni, Hava Katz, Uzi Leibner, Eric Meyers, Yinon Shivtiel and Yosef Stepanski for advice and encouragement.

Jürgen Zangenberg and Stefan Münger (acting field directors of Kinneret Regional Project 2010)
Raimo Hakola (representative of the University of Helsinki team), in Israel +972-52-6479265, in Switzerland +41-797549726, +358-504155260

For information about the Kinneret Regional Project, please consult:

The 2010 Field Season Is On Its Way

On June 21, 2010 Kinneret Regional Project resumed its archaeological activities. Apart from continuing to analyze finds from Bronze- and Iron Age Tel Kinrot and preparing them for eventual publication, the first systematic excavation was carried out on Horvat Kur, a village from the Hellenistic through Byzantine period. Follow these activities on our weblog: Our team consists of 30 team-members from The Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Romania, Belgium, Israel and Germany. In addition to them, 12 field archaeologists and other specialists work on the site and in the lab.