Ancient Hammer and Nails Found in Usha Dig

The 1,400 year-old iron hammer and nails that were found at Usha. (Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.)
Aerial view of the winepresses and the adjacent mikvah at Ancient Usha. (Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Israeli archeologists said on Wednesday that a hammer and nails they believe to be from the Byzantine period, about 1400 years ago, have been found in an excavation at Usha.

“About 20 iron hammers are registered in the Israel Antiquities Authority records, only six of them from the Byzantine period. We already knew that the Usha settlers extensively manufactured glass vessels, since we found many wine glasses and glass lamps together with glass lumps that were the raw material; the discovery of the hammer, the nails and the adjacent iron slag teaches us that they also produced iron tools at the site,” said Yair Amitzur and Eyad Bisharat, directors of the IAA excavation.

The discovery was made a family from Tur’an in Lower Galil, who took part in a recent dig at Usha, along with about 8,500 others. The main ‘workforce’ excavating the site are school children, youth and volunteers, who participate in the excavations. Over the past year, more than 15,000 youth and families have taken part in the educational venture at Usha, digging and exposing the fascinating past of the site.

Alongside these industries, complex pressing installations for the production of olive oil and wine indicate that the primary occupation and source of income of the Usha inhabitants was the large-scale processing of the agricultural produce of the olive trees and the vines that they cultivated on the surrounding gentle hill slopes. Adjacent to the oil and winepresses were exposed two rock-hewn mikvaos with plastered walls and steps, dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods, about 1800 years ago. The discovery of the mikvaos indicates that the Jewish press workers took care to purify themselves in the order to manufacture ritually-pure oil and wine.

According to Amitzur, “The settlement of Usha is mentioned in the Jewish sources many times in the Roman and Byzantine periods, as the village where the institution of the Sanhedrin was renewed, after the destruction of the Temple in Yerushalyim, and after the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE.”

The excavations at Usha are part of the Sanhedrin Trail Project that was initiated by the IAA, crossing the Galil from Bet Shearim to Tiverya, following the movement of the Sanhedrin sages who finally convened in Tiverya.

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