An impressive Iron Age II fortress and settlement, built on the summit of a steep ridge overlooking the Jordan valley near Nahal Tabor stream.
On Horvat Ziwan (Khirbet ez-Zawiyan) are ruins of an impressive Iron age II fortress and settlement, built on the summit of a steep ridge. Rising over 100m above highway #90, it commands the views of the Jordan valley south of the estuary of the Nahal Tabor stream.
The ruins of Horvat Ziwan are located on a ridge, south of the valley of Ein Ziwan spring. The site is at an altitude of 109m under sea level, 100m above the highway below. It is 1.5km east of Kokhav Hayarden – Kaukab el Hawa (Belvoir) Crusader fortress.
Biblical times (Iron Age II)
Majority of the ceramics recently collected on the site were dated to Iron Age IIa-b – 10th-8th century BC – the period of the Northern Israelite Kingdom. The city was was probably abandoned following the Aram-Damascus or Assyrian conquests, and since then it was left untouched.
The ancient city was protected by 2-3 peripheral walls, with a small settlement on the lower east side of the fortress. A raised area, on which the fortress was built, has a elongated shape, covering an area of ~6 dunams. It rises east to west, measuring 80m long by 70m wide. Inside the fortress are two dozen small structures built of basalt stones, some of them probably grain silos. The inner (upper) wall around the raised fortified area is a casemate type – parallel walls with a space between and with internal chambers. Possible remains of a tower are visible on its north eastern foothill. The access road was probably along the southern foothills.
A figurative illustration is shown here, viewing the site from the north east side. It is based on initial findings, and will be updated after an excavation is conducted and provides accurate details.
Figurative illustration of Horvat Ziwan during the Biblical times
The Biblical city is identified by some scholars as Beth Pazzez (בֵית פַּצֵּץ), a site that appears in the list of Issachar cities (Joshua 19:17,21):
“…for the children of Issachar according to their families….and Remeth, and Engannim, and Enhaddah, and Bethpazzez”.
Cities and roads during the Canaanite and Israelite periods are indicated on the Biblical Map below. Horvat Ziwan is marked with a yellow circle, 1.5km south of Nahal Tabor. Biblical Anaharath, is identified at Tel Rekhesh upstream on Nahal Tabor.
Map of the area around the site – from Canaanite/ Israelite to Roman period (based on Bible Mapper 3.0)
The location of Horvat Ziwan was strategically important during the ages, overlooking several major routes:
- A major North-South highway along the Jordan valley passed below the site. David Dorsey (“The roads and Highways of Ancient Israel”, 2018) marked it as Bronze/Iron age ‘A3’.
- Another major route, ‘T5’, was a west route along the valley of the Tabor River (‘T5’), connecting to Tel Rekhesh and beyond. Its steep descent was guarded by Horvat Ziwan and the nearby Horvat Zavon (850m south).
- Towards east, a river crossing was located 3km from the site, passing thru a ford on the Jordan river near Tel Kittan.
- Roman period
An ancient Roman highway used the same North/South route connecting Beit She’an to the Sea of Galilee. Many Roman milestones were found along the route. For example, the milestones found near Tel Issachar.
The Peutinger Map (Tabula Peutingeriana) is a medieval map which was based on a 4th century AD Roman military road map. The map was made in the 13th century, and copied from an older map. The map shows the major roads, with indication of the cities, and geographic highlights (lakes, rivers, mountains, seas). Along the links are stations and distance in Roman miles (about 1.5KM per mile).
In the section shown below is the area of the Jordan valley, drawn in a rotated direction (south is left, north is right). The major cities appear on this section are: Beit Shean as Scytopoli, Acre as Ptolomaide, Tyre as Tyro, Sidon as Sydone, Tiberias as Tyberias (including the Sea of Galilee as La(cus) tyberias). The roads are shown as brown lines between the cities and stations. The location of Tel Ziwan is marked with a yellow circle on the side of the Roman road between Beit Shean and Tiberias – which is XXIII (23) Roman Miles (34 km).
A section of the Peutinger map – yellow circle marks the site
- Crusaders period
A large Crusaders fortress, Belvoir, was constructed 1.5km west of Horvat Ziwan, on the high mountain (400m above the height of Ziwan). The Crusaders valued the location of this place, probably for the same reasons that the Iron Age builders of the fortified Horvat Ziwan had: the proximity to major roads and to river crossing points, and the heights that provided both a natural protection and great visibility of the area around it.
An Ottoman railway passed in parallel to highway #90, 1km away from the site, on the way to cross the river 3km North East of the site. See remains of this railway near Tel Yissachar.
The site was examined in the PEF survey (1866-1877) by Wilson, Conder and Kitchener. A section of their map is shown below. The site, Kh. ez Zawiyan, appears near a split of two Roman roads passing at its foothills: one leading north to Tiberias, the other east to a river crossing above a bridge (Jisr el Mujamia – modern Gesher). The survey team merely wrote about the site: (SWP Vol 2, p. 125): “Foundations of buildings, apparently modern”. Another ancient site is close by south of the site – Kh. Umm Sabony (Horvat Savon) – another Bronze/Iron age town.
Nahal Tabor stream is “Wady el Bireh” north of the site, and it flows into the Jordan river on the right.
Jordan River crossings were mostly based on crossing fords. They appear on the map as Mak.t – short for Makhadet – Arabic for ‘ford’. Two fords are marked here:
- a river crossing at Mak.t el Kitaf edh Dhahak (near Tell abu el Jemel – Tel Shushan).
- a river crossing at Mak.t esh Shekh Kasim – near Tell esh Sheikh Kasim (Horvat Zer).
Part of Map sheet 9 of Survey of Western Palestine,
by Conder and Kitchener, 1872-1877.
(Published 1880, reprinted by LifeintheHolyLand.com)
- British Mandate
A 1940s British map shows the area around the site with more details. The site is marked here as Kh. ez Ziwan. It overlooked the Beit Shean-Tiberias road which passes in the fields east of the site. A spring (‘Ain ez Zawye) is located in the valley north of the site. Another ruin was located north east of the stream, named Kh. ez Zawye.
British survey map 1942-1948 – https://palopenmaps.org topo maps
License: public domain under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1998
A Kibbutz, Neve Ur, was established in 1948 in the valley, 1km south east of Horvat Ziwan. It was named after Ur Chaldees – named after Abraham’s city before leaving to Canaan (Genesis 11:31): “…and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan…”.
A new project, based on pumped storage hydropower method, is being built north of the site, using the 400m height difference between the heights and the valley to generate electrical power. Water is raised from a lower to an upper reservoir, and released down to generate electrical power.
Horvat Ziwan is today a secluded ruin that is seldom visited.
(a) Aerial Views
A drone capture this view of the site, with a view towards the east. The site was protected by 3 peripheral walls, with a raised fortress in the center, and a small settlement on the lower east side of the fortress.
The fortress has steep foothills on 3 sides. On its weaker west side the builders of the fortress strengthened the defense by raising a higher wall and cutting into the natural slope of the ridge. Remains of the base of the wall is seen along the western edge. Behind it was a casemate wall, typical of Iron Age II fortifications.
In the background, below the site, is highway #90 (Beit She’an to Tiberias). This was also the route of the ancient south-north trade roads.
Inside the fortress are two dozen small structures built of basalt stones, including grain silos. The inner (upper) wall around the raised fortified area is a casemate type – parallel walls with a space between and with internal chambers.
According to our survey, the site was not in use since it was abandoned, with some walls still standing up to 1m high. This is a unique preservation of an ancient Iron Age site.
(b) Access to the site
We first ascended by foot from the valley of the Ein Ziwan spring, on the north side of Horvat Ziwan. The spring was flowing during the summer, keeping the trees alive. The ascent up to the site was difficult due to the steep climb and the summer heat (40 degrees Celsius).
A better approach to the site was found on the next visit to the site, driving halfway up along a dirt road on the south side (seen here). This seems like the original route of the access road to the site, although it did not reach all the way up.
We then continued climbing by foot up the steep southern slopes.
A view of a lower peripheral wall and the western side of the fortress is in the following photo.
On the south west side of the middle peripheral wall are probable remains of a corner tower, seen in the photo below with a view towards the south. The Iron Age access road may have used this side for the ascent and entry gate.
A view of the lower terrace, looking to the west, is in the next photo.
High above in the far background, 1.5km west and 300m higher, is the top of the mountain where the Crusader fortress (Belvoir) and Meir Har-zion’s farm (“Ahuzat Shoshana”) are located.
(c) Western side
The drone captured this view from the north west side. The builders of the fortress cut into the natural slope of the ridge creating a moat and building a higher wall.
A closer view of the western wall is next.
Behind the wall is a second line of a wall – creating a casemate type wall.
A section of the visible casemate wall, above the western side, is seen below.
All the walls in the site are made of roughly cut basalt fieldstones. The basalt stones served as base of a sun-dried mud brick wall that increased its height, but now has crumbled and fallen.
Note that the archaeological measuring stick, seen on the bottom right side, has 10cm black and white bars.
Another view of the casemate wall, with archaeologist Ayelet Goldberg-Keidar who conducted this survey:
(d) North side
The north side of the fortress overlooks the valley of Ein Ziwan spring. The spring probably provided water to the fortress. Today its waters feed a small ‘jungle’ along the valley.
Behind the valley is the pumped storage hydropower station, which is currently (2022) built to harness the height difference between the mountain and the valley to create electricity.
Although this side is naturally protected by the steep foothill, a casemate wall was built along the north side. This photo shows several chambers that were built along the wall.
(e) South side
The south side is also protected by a casemate wall. This photo is a view towards the east.
Another view of the southern wall, looking west:
(f) Eastern side
The eastern wall of the fortress has also a line of casemate wall. This view is towards the south.
The fortress is built on a raised area, with an elongated shape, measuring 80m long (east-west) by 70m wide (north-south). It is protected by a casemate wall from all sides.
The surface of the raised area is dotted by a large number of enclosed chambers.
With the weed covering the structures, it is hard to asses the detailed plan of the ruin.
Nevertheless, measurements were made to provide a preliminary plan of the ruin.
The walls of these structures are made of rough basalt rocks.
Some of the walls of the structures were preserved to a meter or more high.
What was the purpose of these chambers? Perhaps, some were used for accommodation. Others grain silos and water cisterns. They may have also be used for storing goods. Only a detailed archaeological dig could provide answers.
(h) Lower Eastern side
On the east side of the raised fortress was another stepped platform, as seen on this aerial view.
This platform seems to have been an area where a small settlement was built. Traces of ruins and an abundant number of ceramics indicate this possibility. Perhaps, the settlement covered other areas around the fortress. A ceramic survey of the area around the site could provide more clues.
In the photo below is a view of this area under the fortress. Ayelet is seen here sitting near a bush that may have grown over a cistern or underground cavity.
Closer to the walls of the fortress is a pile of stones. It may have been a tower.
(i) Ceramics study
While it was hard to find any ceramics on the top of the fortress, the lower east side revealed plenty of ceramic fragments that assisted in dating the site. These were found in porcupine holes. The mammals dig into the ground, pulling out dirt and pottery fragments, making it easy to sift thru the soil and pick up the ceramics.
After a quick survey of the porcupine excavated areas, we grouped the ceramics in the photo below. They were all dated to Iron Age IIa-b – 10th-8th century BC – the period of the Northern Israelite Kingdom.
Note that all ceramics were left on the site.
The following photos focus on several pottery samples:
8: Loom weight?
This piece has a hole pierced through. It may have been a loom weight, used as part of the weaving textile process. Such weights were used to hold in tension the vertical threads in a vertical standing loom. This technology started in the Early Bronze period, while during the Iron age it was used in a large scale textile production [link].
(j) Aerial Video
Fly above and around the site with this YouTube video.
Video and photos captured on Sep 2022
Etymology (behind the name):
- Tel (Tell) – mound (See more on the story of a Tel).
- Makhadet – Arabic: Ford
- Khirbet Zaiwiyan – Arabic: ruin of tares (darnel – a type of weed) – [PEF names dictionary, p.163]
- Horvat Ziwan – Modern name, based on the Arabic name
* External, archaeological links:
- Crossing the Jordan river during the Biblical period – north versus south – David Moster, Aram 29 (2017), pdf
- Late Bronze Survey in Jordan valley – James Mark Schaaf (545 pages, 2012, thesis, Univ S. Africa); great resource!
- Bergman & Brandsteter Arch. surveys in Beit She’an valley (1940-1941:86-90, Hebrew)
* External, other links:
- Pumped storage Kokhav Hayarden – Power station north of the site
* Internal links:
BibleWalks.com – exploring the ancient sites of Israel
This page was last updated on Oct 17, 2022 (new page)