The Neolithic of the Holy Land: Excavations at the Neolithic site of Sha’ar Hagolan

Period: Late Pre-Pottery and Early Pottery Neolithic (7th-millennium BCE)
Code: NHL.EXC.23
Session: 01 - 23 June, 2023
Academic credits available: 9
Cost starting from: 3599 EUR/ approx. 3599 USD

The Project and the Course

General Information

Project type: Field school & archaeological excavation. Suitable for both beginner and advanced students who are interested in the Prehistory and particularly the Neolithic of the Near East.

The excavation started: 1949; Field school start: 2023

Site: Neolithic open-air settlement of Sha’ar Hagolan (Israel)

Project venue: The kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan in the River Jordan Valley near the Sea of Galilee. The kibbutz accommodates the Museum of Yarmukian Culture

Periods in the project's focus: Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic / Early Pottery Neolithic (7th-millennium cal. BCE)

Major field school topics/activities: Archaeology of the Neolithic period in the Near East; Excavation of the Neolithic settlement in Sha’ar Hagolan; Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Processing of finds and samples; Excursions to significant heritage sites in Israel.

BHF partners in this project:

Excavation co-directors & Field school coordinators:     

Dr Julien Vieugué - Permanent researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Field archaeologist - Specialist of the Early Pottery Neolithic period in the Southern Levant;  Anna Eirikh-Rose - Permanent researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Field archaeologist - Specialist of the Early Pottery Neolithic period in the Southern Levant; Dr Kamen Boyadzhiev - Permanent Researcher at the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Science. Archaeologist and specialist in Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in the Balkans.

Field school session available: 01 - 23 June, 2023

Application deadline: until the places are filled or until 01 May, 2023

Minimum age: 18

Number of field school places available: Minimum: 8; Maximum: 12

Project language: English

Academic credits available: 9 credits are available through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria.

Experience required: No previous experience is required.

Special requirements:

Participation in the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during intensive outdoor activities. The average summer temperatures in the area are 35-45°C (95 - 113° F). Participants should bring clothes and toiletries suitable for hot and sunny weather (shirts or t-shirts with sleeves, hats, and closed working shoes).    

A medical COVID-19 vaccination certificate might be requested from each participant. The participants should have medical insurance including COVID-19 treatment and repatriation. The participants should inform the project staff about any health issues, allergies, and food preferences.         

Participants are also expected to prepare for the dig by reading at least the BHFS readings that will be sent by e-mail before the beginning of the project. They will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.         

Archaeological Context & Period

The 7th millennium cal. BC represents a decisive stage in the long Neolithization process insofar as the Levantine populations definitively adopted a way of life based on sédentarisé, agriculture and livestock as well as pottery. This historical shift - the so-called Second Neolithic Revolution - occurred during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) to the Pottery Neolithic (PN) transition, which was characterized by deep:

  • Economic changes. Although it emerged as early as the PPN, the practice of pottery became widespread during the PN. What did the populations of the Southern Levant do with their ceramic vessels? Did they use them to store, transport or cook the various animal and plant resources exploited? The other major economic change that occurred during the 7th millennium cal. BC is the development of pastoralism. For what purpose did the communities of the 7th millennium begin to practice transhumance? Did they exploit the secondary products of the breeding, such as milk? Is there a link between the widespread adoption of pottery and the development of pastoralism during the PPN-PN transition?   
  • Social transformations. During the PN, we observe the emergence of villages structured in neighborhoods and streets. Why did the inner organization of the open-air settlements change during the 7th millennium cal. BC?
  • Symbolic changes. While they were common at the end of the PPN, the human burials became rare at the beginning of the PN. What did the populations of the Southern Levant do with their dead? Did they bury them outside the village or cremate them? In contrast, anthropomorphic figurines which were rare during the PPN became numerous during the PN. What did they represent for the Neolithic communities? Were they the evidence of ancestor cult or mother goddess devotion? Is there a link between the disappearance of skeletons and the appearance of human figurines during the PPN-PN transition?

The assumptions made so far on the various economic, social and symbolic changes that characterize the so-called Second Neolithic Revolution remain, however, highly speculative due to the lack of consistent data on the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to Pottery Neolithic (± 6600-6200 cal. BCЕ) transition. Because it has a unique stratigraphic sequence (2m thick) covering the entire 7th millennium cal. BC, the eponymous village of Sha'ar Hagolan represents a key site for explaining the various changes that took place during this historical period.

The Site and the Excavation Project

Sha’ar Hagolan is a major stratified site dated to the 7th-millennium cal. BCE, located in the Jordan Valley. It extends over 20 hectares, making it one of the largest Neolithic villages in the Near East. Between 1989 and 2004, Yosef Garfinkel (Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) carried out a 3000 sq. m excavation aiming to explore the last Neolithic occupation phases of the village (6200-5900 cal. BCE). This large-scale excavation revealed the existence of real living quarters separated by streets, upsetting our knowledge regarding the social organization of the Yarmukian communities at the end of the 7th-millennium cal. BCE. It provided an impressive amount of Neolithic artifacts including 1 000 000 lithic pieces, 90 000 potsherds, 50 000 animal bones and more than 300 clay figurines, shedding new light on the economic and symbolic worlds of the society.

The current excavation project concerns the early occupation phases of the Neolithic village (6700-6200 cal. BCE). It aims to better understand the full development of the Neolithic way of life in the Near East (the so-called “Second Neolithic Revolution”), by questioning the human processes underlying the various economic (emergence of pottery, development of pastoralism), social (emergence of urban concept) and symbolic (scarcity of human burials, explosion of anthropomorphic figurines) changes that occurred during the 7thmillennium cal. BC. In other words, why did the Levantine populations make all these changes? When and How did it take place? To answer these historical questions, a meticulous excavation of the PPN-PN transitional layers following the palaethnographic approach elaborated by André Leroi-Gourhan will be undertaken. It will consist of carefully clearing out the successive Neolithic occupation floors by following the slope of the archaeological layers identified on the basis of sedimentary differences and/or concentrations of prehistoric artifacts.

The Field School

The NEOLITHIC OF THE HOLY LAND Field School project will start in 2023. The first season will aim to expose the latest occupation layers of the Pottery Neolithic period at Sha’ar Hagolan (Late Yarmukian) which are characterized by stone-wall terraced houses according to Yosef Garfinkel’s previous excavation.

The field school covers the following three modules:

  • Fieldwork which includes excavation of the Neolithic settlement, practicing basic excavation techniques as well as screening, sieving and sampling, and the implementation of archaeological field documentation by maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan/ground plan/cross-section, 3D positioning of findings, taking coordinates with a total station, and taking photographs at the site.
  • Lecture workshops and field training on prehistoric and field archaeology, finds and sample processing, as well as documentation.
  • Excursions to Acre and Nazareth. We will visit the Old City of Acre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the old site of Nazareth, one of Israel’s oldest cities with a rich biblical history and fascinating Christian and historical sites.

The field school is ideal for participants who are looking to develop some skills and competence regarding fieldwork, as well as finds and sample processing. They will be able to attend workshops on 3D intra-site modeling and documentation/GIS spatial analysis in Archaeology as well as Neolithic ceramics and flint studies.

The three-week session includes one quarantine day at Tel Aviv, one arrival day with orientation and introduction, 14 working days, 1 excursion day, 3 days off as well as a departure day.

Students who are required to prepare field reports and presentations for their universities can receive additional instruction and assistance.

All participants will receive:

  • E-projects handbook (in PDF version by e-mail)
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.
  • T-Shirt

The Team

Excavation co-directors & Field school coordinators:

  • Dr Julien Vieugué - Permanent researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Field archaeologist - Specialist of the Early Pottery Neolithic period in the Southern Levant. Research topic: “The emergence of the first pottery-making societies in the Southern Levant”
  • Anna Eirikh-Rose - Permanent researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Field archaeologist - Specialist of the Early Pottery Neolithic period in the Southern Levant. PhD research topic: “Jericho IX assemblages and the Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant”

Scientific assistant & Field school coordinator:

  • Dr Kamen Boyadzhiev - Permanent Researcher at the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Science. Field Archaeologist and specialist in Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in Bulgaria and the Balkans. PhD research topic: “Weapons and warfare in the Chalcolithic (5th millennium BCE) in Bulgaria”.         

Scientific & Field school team:

  • Carine Harivel (PhD student at the University of Paris-Nanterre). Field Archaeologist and Pottery specialist.
  • Michele Miller (Researcher, Boston University). Field archaeologist and figurine specialist.
  • Brent Whitford (PhD student at University at Buffalo, SUNY) - Topographer and GIS specialist.
  • Yael Marco (Researcher at IAA) - Field documentation using a drone.
  • Niels Fourchet (PhD student in Aix-Marseille) - Architecture analysis
  • David Friesem (Professor at the University of Haifa) - Micro-morphologist
  • Marie Anton (PhD student at the University of Paris 1) - Physical anthropologist.
  • Marion Bernard (Researcher at EVEHA) - Field curator-restorer.
  • Natalia Gubenko (Researcher at IAA) - Lab' curator.
  • Maïa Tzur (Director of the Sha’ar Hagolan Museum) - Dissemination of the Sha’ar Hagolan excavation project on the social media.

The Program

The field school provides 135 hours of fieldwork/workshops/lab work, lectures/instructions and guided tours as follows:


Field work & instructions:      

  • Use of excavation tools including a total station
  • Practice basic working techniques
  • Identification of archaeological contexts
  • Creation of field documentation (including field journal, context sheets and labels, ground plans and cross-sections, photographs, etc.)
  • Identification and sorting of archaeological finds

Field instructions and training will take place at the site.           


Post-field work:      

  • Preliminary sorting & recording of prehistoric pottery and flint
  • Photos and drawings of prehistoric artifacts

Post-field work will take place at the kibbutz.



  • The emergence of Neolithic societies in the Near East: sedentary life, agriculture and livestock, pottery - chronology; causes and consequences (by Anna Eirikh-Rose & Julien Vieugué)
  • The 7th-millennium cal. BCE in the Southern Levant: a critical review (by Julien Vieugué & Anna Eirikh-Rose).
  • The site of Sha’ar Hagolan: past and current research (by Anna Eirikh-Rose & Julien Vieugué)
  • Excavation - Basic field methods and practices for excavation and documentation; 3D positioning of finds, features and structures (by Kamen Boyadzhiev, Anna Eirikh-Rose & Brent Whitford)
  • Excavation - Field documentation analysis & dating methods in prehistoric sites (by Kamen Boyadzhiev, Anna Eirikh-Rose & Brent Whitford).
  • Post-excavation - Basic methods and practices for remains processing (by Carine Harivel)
  • Post-excavation - Introduction to Neolithic pottery and flint studies (by Carine Harivel)

Lectures will take place at the Museum of Yarmukian culture at the kibbutz.

The Agenda


Frist day

Arrival date:      

Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm.

8.00 pm - Welcome dinner.

Second day

Morning: Introduction, Orientation

- Lunch

Afternoon: Lectures

7:30 - 8:30 pm - Dinner   


Working days

5.30 - 6.00 am - Breakfast

6.00 - 6.15 am - Walk to the site

6.15 am - 1.15 pm - Fieldwork including 1 break of 30 minutes & 1 break of 20 minutes for instructions

1.15 - 1.30 pm - Walk to the kibbutz

1.00 - 4.30 pm - Lunch and break

4.30 - 7.00 pm - Lectures & Find processing

7.30 - 8.30 pm - Dinner


Saturday & Sunday

Excursion schedule

8:00 am - Leaving for Acre, 3-hour walking tour exploring the old city market, Knights’ Halls, and the Templar's Tunnel.   

12:30 - 1:30 pm - Lunch.    

2:00 pm - Arriving at Nazareth. Start the tour at Mary’s Well, 3-hour walking tour which will include visiting the ancient caves at the center of old Nazareth, exploring the Basilica of the Annunciation, and finishing at the open-air bazaar.

Last day

Departure date:


8:00 - 8:30 am - Breakfast   

9:00 am - Departure. All students will be dropped off at the Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel by approx. 11:00 am   


* The shuttle costs is covered by the reimbursement payment.

Reading Background    

Eirikh-Rose A. and Garfinkel Y. 2002 The pottery. In: Garfinkel Y. and Miller M. (eds.), Sha’ar Hagolan I. Neolithic Art in Context: 86-138. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Garfinkel Y. 1992 The pottery assemblages of the Sha’ar Hagolan and Rabah stages of Munhata (Israel). Paris : Association Paléorient (Les cahiers du CRFJ 6).

Garfinkel Y. 1993 The Yarmukian Culture in Israel. Paléorient 19,1: 115-134.

Garfinkel Y. 1999 Neolithic and Chalcolithic pottery of the Southern Levant. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology (Qedem 39).

Garfinkel Y. 2014. The Levant in the Pottery Neolithic and the Chalcolithic period. In: Renfrew C., Bahn P. (eds.), The Cambridge World Prehistory 3: 1439-1461. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garfinkel Y. and Ben-Shlomo D. 2009. Sha’ar Hagolan II – The rise of urban concepts in the Ancient Near East. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society (Qedem Reports 9).

Garfinkel Y. and Miller M.A. 2002 Sha’ar Hagolan I: Neolithic Art in Context. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Garfinkel Y., Ben-Shlomo D. and Korn N. 2010 Sha’ar Hagolan III. Symbolic dimensions of the Yarmukian Culture: canonization in Neolithic art. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

Garfinkel Y., Ben-Shlomo D. and Marom N. 2012 Sha’ar Hagolan: a major pottery Neolithic settlement and artistic center in the Jordan Valley. Eurasian Prehistory 8,1: 97-143.

Gopher A. 1998 Early Pottery-bearing groups in Israel: the pottery Neolithic period. In: Levy E. (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land: 205-221. London: Leicester University Press.

Gopher, A. 2012. The Pottery Neolithic in the Southern Levant: a second Neolithic revolution. In, Gopher, A. (eds), Village communities of the Pottery Neolithic period in the Menashe hills, Israel. Archaeological investigations at the sites of Nahal Zehora, Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology: 1525-75.

Gopher A. (e d .) 2012 Village communities of the Pottery Neolithic period in the Menashe hills, Israel. Archaeological investigations at the sites of Nahal Zehora. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology.

Gopher A. and Eyal R. 2012 The pottery assemblages at the Nahal Zehora sites: a summary. In: Gopher A. (ed.): 697-744.

Gopher A. and Gophna R. 1993 Cultures of the eight and seventh Millennia BP in the Southern Levant: a review for the 1990s. Journal of World Prehistory 7,3: 297-353.

Gopher, A. and Orrelle, E. 1996. An alternative Interpretation for the material imagery of the Yarmukian, a Neolithic culture of the sixth millennium BC in the Southern Levant. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6/2: 255-79.

Goren Y. and Gopher A. 1995 The beginning of pottery production in the Southern Levant: a model. In: Vincenzini P.V. (ed.), The Ceramics Cultural Heritage: 21-28. Faenza: Techna.

Goren Y., Gopher A. and Golberg P. 1993 The beginnings of pottery production in the Southern Levant: technological and social aspects. In: Biran A. and Aviram J. (eds.), Biblical Archaeology Today 1990: 33-40. Jerusalem.

Kafafi Z. A. 1993 The Yarmoukians in Jordan. Paléorient 19,1: 101-113.

Kafafi Z. A. 2001 Jebel Abu Thawwab (Er-Rumman), Central Jordan. The Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age 1 Occupations. Berlin: ex Oriente.

Nativ A., Gopher A. and Goren Y. 2012 Pottery production at Nahal Zehora II. In: Gopher A. (ed.), Village communities of the Pottery Neolithic period in the Menashe hills, Israel. Archaeological investigations at the sites of Nahal Zehora: 657-696. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology.

Nativ A., Rosenberg d. and Nadel D. 2014 The southern tip of the northern Levant? The Early Pottery Neolithic assemblage of Tel ro’im West, Israel. Paléorient 40,1: 99-115.

Rollefson G.O. 1993 The origins of Yarmoukian at ‘Ain Ghazal. Paléorient 19,1: 91-100.

Rollefson, G. O. and Kohler-Rollefson, I. 1993. PPNC adaptations in the first half of the 6th millennium B.C. Paléorient 19/1: 33-42.

Rosenberg D. and Garfinkel Y. 2014 Sha’ar Hagolan IV: The Ground-Stone Industry: Stone working at the dawn of pottery production in the Southern Levant. Jerusalem: the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel Exploration Society 29).

Vieugué, J., Garfinkel, Y., Barzilai, O. and Van den Brink, E. 2016. Pottery function and culinary practices of Yarmukian societies in the late 7th millennium cal. BC: first results. Paléorient 42/2: 97-115.


Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities


Project venue: the Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan is situated in the river Jordan Valley, close to the Tzemach Beach on the See of Galilee in northeast Israel. The Museum of Yarmukian Culture is located on Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan in the north of Israel.

The nearest air terminals: Ben Gurion Airport at Tel Aviv, Israel

How to get there: All participants will be transported by bus/shuttle from Tel Aviv to kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan. 

Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need to apply for a visa before traveling to Israel if they stay less than 90 days. A tourist visa (B2) will be delivered to them upon their arrival at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport. Citizens of all other countries may need to apply for a visa before traveling. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page. Israel Antiquities Authority can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program.


Accommodation & Meals     


Accommodation: Comfortable rooms at the guesthouse at Shaar Hagolan kibbutz with three beds, bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, A/C and free Wi-Fi. Rooms for two and single rooms are available for additional charges.

Meals: The participants will be provided with three meals. Breakfast at the site, lunch at the kibbutz dining room, and diner at the guesthouse. In addition, there will be coffee/tea and cookies at the guesthouse and a fruit break at the site.


Free Time & Trips       

Free time: Films, sports games, swimming in the communal swimming pool and countryside walks as well as beach activities are the options for free time in the evenings and weekends.


  • One excursion to Akko (Acre) and Nazareth (hometown of Jesus Christ)
  • One evening trip to the Sea of Galilee


Technicalities & Practicalities


Insurance: The reimbursement payment does not cover medical costs. It is mandatory to arrange your own insurance before your trip to Israel. The insurance must cover as a minimum the following risks: medical treatment in case of an accident or disease, specifically covering COVID-19 as well as costs related to evacuation and repatriation.

Vaccination: Vaccination against tetanus is mandatory.

What to bring?

Southern Levantine climate - in particular in the Jordan valley that is below the sea level - includes very hot summers (from 35° to 45°C) every day. No rain is expected.

  • A pair of working shoes (walking/running shoes) suitable for excavation
  • Sun hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects)
  • Sunscreen
  • Medication: only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Israel.
  • A travel adapter for electronics

Excavation & documentation tools and materials, as well as work gloves, are available at the site!


The Cost   

All field schools are conducted as non-profit projects by the Balkan Heritage Foundation, Bulgaria. Their costs, including students' costs related to participation in the field school are covered by the reimbursement payments made by field school students.


BHFS project reimbursement payment covers: Educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project handbook or readings, issue of Certificate of Attendance, administrative costs, travel related to the fieldwork and the excursions included in the field school program plus relevant entrance fees.


BHFS project reimbursement payment does not include: travel costs to and from the field school or related to activities not included in the field school program; medical products and services and any expenses related to medical quarantine (food delivery, accommodation, etc.).


The costs in USD are approximate. Please check current exchange rates!


Early Bird Cost - until March 1, 2023:


Early Bird Cost for three-week project session is 3599 EUR/ approx. 3599 USD


Regular Cost - after March 1, 2023:      


The Regular Cost for three-week project session is 3999 EUR/ approx. 3599 USD   


All students registered for BHFS season 2020 shall contact BHFS Admissions office at b[email protected] for further information about the conditions of their participation in season 2023. 

Reimbursement Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- Online transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.      
Wise money transfer

For further information contact Admissions Office at: [email protected]!

Academic credits   


New Bulgarian University grants 9 ECTS credit units for attending the field school. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee of 600 EUR for EU students and 900 EUR for Non-EU students.    

Details: Regulations for Obtaining Transcripts of Records.    

Participants in the field school who do not need academic credit units are not expected to pay for them.




The Neolithic of the Holy Land: Excavations at the Neolithic site of Sha’ar Hagolan

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