Middle-Assyrian Occupation at Tell Fekheriye
The first evidence of a second Middle Assyrian building along the terrace was found in 2001 by the Syrian-German expedition in the southwestern corner of House I. Work was resumed in 2006 and continues until today, confirming the existence of further buildings with the same western facade and alignment as House I. Previously two buildings were identified in Trench C-III and in Trench C-IV, designated as House II and House III respectively (see 2009: Sounding C-III). However, the results from the most recent excavation show that we are dealing with several phases of one large building. Thus the architectural remains in squares 6644, 6744, 6643 and 6743 (Trench C-III) as well as those in squares 6642 and 6742 (Trench C-IV) will, from now on, be discussed under the name House II (Fig 16).
One of the main goals was to better understand the complex stratigraphic situation already observed during previous investigations, and to be able to establish a succession of building phases for House II covering all squares. Therefore, between the aforementioned squares, several bulks were removed after documentation in order to better understand the connection between the strata in the different excavation areas. A large-scale exposure of Middle Assyrian levels south of House I will promise further insight into the activities that took place in that part of the settlement clarifying the function of the site during the early westward expansion of the Middle Assyrian empire during the Late Bronze-Age.
During the 2010 campaign, investigations in the northern part (C-III) were supervised by Costanza Coppini, Mira Culibrik and Ines Heide and in the southern part (C-IV) by our Slovakian partners from SAHI under the direction of Drahoslav Hulínek, Jana Stehlíková and Friedrich Weigel.
The architecture of the building, as excavated so far, can be subdivided into at least three main phases, of which the youngest phase was first uncovered in 2006. By expanding the area available for excavation to the east and south in 2009 and 2010, it is now possible to give a preliminary evaluation of the building’s architecture over all three phases. It has to be noted, that the general layout is quite similar to that of House I. One room unit is situated to the west – this was the area first excavated – and a reception-room is located to the south. A production area lies to the north and there is probably an open courtyard in the centre. The eastern part of this building is, as is House I, still covered by the main mound (Fig 17 + Plan).
The reception-room (Room 7) to the south was not completely excavated during the 2010 campaign, although its function within House II is now clear. A door opening with a door socket stone connects this room with the courtyard (Room 6), similar to the situation in the reception-room in House I. The most remarkable thing about this passage is the threshold (Fig 18). It consists of a round terracotta disc about 100cm in diameter and 20cm in height. This ceramic object has a hole in the middle but its original function has not yet been determined. It is possible that in the earliest phase of utilisation a wooden pillar supported a lintel, although the passage would have then been so narrow and almost impossible to pass through, making this interpretation rather unlikely. The terracotta disc was probably reused as a threshold whereas its original function might have been connected to a pottery workshop installation or something similar. The area directly to the north of the doorway is covered with numerous shards, pebbles and larger cobbles. Its interpretation as courtyard is based mainly on comparing the general layout of the building to that of House I and secondly on the material accumulated in Room 6, which clearly indicates an open space. In the courtyard only the youngest floor level has been identified so far, but a succession of accumulation layers and ashy deposits point to a sustained period of decay, supporting the idea that the Middle Assyrian houses were not destroyed in a single abrupt event, but declined over a considerable amount of time.
It is probable that all rooms have several floors, this being the subject of investigation for the next season. Several phases of utilisation can be assumed based on the different rebuilding around the passage between both rooms. In a second phase the door opening was narrowed, the threshold was raised by two layers of mud-bricks and a new door socket stone was installed in the interior of the reception-room, probably corresponding to a higher floor level which was, however, very hard to identify. Yet later the door opening was completely blocked by mud-bricks and the passage between the two rooms must have again been substantially altered. For what reason, and how, the general layout and accessibility of the architecture has been influenced, cannot be said with certainty as only a limited part of the courtyard and reception-area have been exposed so far.
The western room unit is the best-explored part of the building so far. In the architectures original building-phase a corridor (Room 3) and three adjacent rooms can be observed. Room 2, which was already excavated in 2006, Room 1, which is the northernmost room that abuts House I and Room 4 in-between both aforementioned rooms. This area, which was only discovered during this field season, contains a paved bathroom with a toilet in its northern wall (Fig 19). This bathroom exhibits some rather strong similarities to the bathroom (Room 6) of House I, yet it is not paved with baked bricks but with flat stone paving tiles of different sizes. The toilet itself is made of half sized baked bricks and stones, and is connected to a cesspit in Room 1 by a ceramic waste pipe. Aside from the sewage pit, which is similarly constructed to the one in House I, another installation, a polygonal oven, speaks for a production or economic area. This oven is made of ten mud-bricks standing on edge, arranged in a circle and plastered on the inside. The whole structure was probably once domed, but now only the lowest row of mud-bricks is preserved.
In a later phase of utilisation the walls of the western room unit of House II were cut and the rebuilding shifted approximately one mud-brick further to the west. During rebuilding another minor change in the alignment of the architecture occurred. The strict north-south orientation was slightly tilted toward a more northeast-southwest axis.
In this period the exact layout of the northern part of this room unit is hard to reconstruct due to numerous younger cuts and intrusions. It is also not yet clear whether the function of Room 4 remained that of a bathroom – at least no corresponding installations have been excavated.
The northern part of House II features several phases and sub-phases. The oldest phase has not been fully excavated, yet one room (Room 5) seems to be intermediate. From a stratigraphic point of view it is located between the original and second building phase. Its fill is composed of very loose, ashy material and although no prepared floor level was discovered, several hardly traceable and closely succeeding tramples were identified.
At least during the original building phase and the subsequent sub-phase, kitchen and economic activities seem to have taken place here, again similar to the same general area in House I. Above that a floor consisting of beaten earth with some plaster traces and pebbles, as well as fragmented remains of mud-brick walls covers the whole area between the western room unit, the reception-room and northern outer wall. The area was, however, badly disrupted by later graves and pits (Fig 20).
As mentioned before, the 2010 field season revealed that the southern outer wall of the reception-area of House II, was situated just under the bulk separating Trench C-III from Trench C-IV. Thus we were able to allocate the architectural remains in the southern part of Trench C-III (squares 6643 and 6743) to House II and not, as previously thought, to House III, which now can be argued to start further to the south (see 2009: Sounding C-IV).
The exact integration of the area south of Room 7 is still hard to confirm, as parts of the bulk will have to be removed in the field season to come. So far, large parts of a multi-layered courtyard with a pavement of pebbles and shards, as well as large stones further south have been exposed. The area to the west is heavily cut by the foundations of a younger Byzantine building, yet a continuation of the western facade of the Middle Assyrian houses can be observed as far south as Area D (Plan). From a stratigraphic point of view these courtyards were part of the original building phase and the subsequent phase of House II. A separation wall in the southern part of the square isolates the area of the courtyard with large stone slabs and features the remains of two further rooms to the west, that are to be connected to the western outer wall (Fig 21).
It has to be noted, however, that in this square numerous levels of late Middle Assyrian occupation can be detected. Whether they can all be seen as a part of House II, or whether they will have to be assigned to yet another contemporary building, will be the subject of inquiries during the next field season, to be executed along with, the in-depth analysis of the fragmented remains of younger levels that have been heavily disrupted by later pits or graves.
For both Middle Assyrian buildings excavated so far, an administrative function can be postulated for the main occupation phase and probably during some of the later phases of utilisation. Not only in House I, but also in House II, some Middle Assyrian clay sealings with seal impressions have been excavated. One of them is a remarkably well-preserved impression of the seal of Aššur-iddin, of which many were found in and around Room 8 of House I. A clay tablet with reference to a limu-date at the end of the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I was already excavated from a secondary context in the 2009 field season but probably originates from House II (see 2009: Sounding C-III). Here an absolute date is given within the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I, supported by the pottery assemblage of Middle Assyrian standard forms from the Middle Jezireh IIA and B periods, which give an approximate relative date.
During the second building phase the layout of the ground plan remained almost identical with only a few alterations and a small shift in alignment. The main difference is that the levels in House I are distinguishable by the floor levels, whereas in House II the actual rebuilding of the architecture was done after the removal of the older walls.
Due to the significant similarities between both Middle Assyrian Houses I and II, one could almost speak of a Middle Assyrian terraced housing estate. Yet many details remain to be explored, for instance, the numerous rebuilding activities recognisable in House II, as well as the exact function and extent of administrative activities, domestic activities and others practices that took place in this building.