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: To be announced
Academic credits available: 9
Cost starting from: To be announced

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: To be announced

Application deadline: To be announced

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 will 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.         


COVID-19 Safety measures: All participants should read our updated Terms & Conditions regarding BHF's COVID-19 Safety policy.

Archaeological Context & Period

The beginning of the Pottery Neolithic (EPN) represents a decisive stage in the history of Levantine populations, characterized by deep economic, social and symbolic changes. This period, linked to the development of the first pottery-making societies in the Near East, is accompanied by the establishment of a patchwork of cultural entities during the 7th-millennium cal. BCE. After the "Dark Faced Burnished Ware," potters’ societies emerged in the Northern Levant around 6900 cal. BCЕ, the "Yarmukian" potter’s communities appeared in the Southern Levant around 6200 cal. BCЕ, when the Neolithic way of life spread into the Balkan peninsula. For half a century, very controversial debates have been maintained about the processes underlying the emergence of the first pottery-making societies in the southern Levant. In the 1950-1960s, some researchers explained the rapid introduction of pottery by the migration of potter populations from the Central Levant. The hypothesis of a demic diffusion mainly relies on the discovery of a large amount of pottery at the very onset of the PN (Munhata in particular). In the 1990s, other specialists advocated a gradual adoption of pottery by local PPN populations, following repeated contacts with the neighboring potter communities. The hypothesis of cultural diffusion is in particular supported by the presence of a few ceramic vessels within the PPNC layers (such as Ain Ghazal). The assumptions hitherto made on the emergence of the first pottery-making societies in the southern Levant remain, however, highly speculative because of the lack of consistent data on the very beginning of the EPN (± 6600-6200 cal. BCЕ). Because it includes exceptionally well-preserved stratigraphic layers (3 m thick) dating of the PPN-PN transition (6700-5900 cal. BCE), the eponymous site of Sha'ar Hagolan represents a key open-air settlement for reconstructing the history of the earliest potter's communities in the southern Levant.

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 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 100 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). The main objective is to identify the origin of the first potters' groups who lived in the Jordan Valley. In other words, were they indigenous communities integrating the practice of pottery or migrant communities that introduced this new technology? In the first case, from which Mesopotamian potters' populations did they acquire this new know-how? In the second case, which Mesopotamian potter populations are involved? To answer these anthropological questions, a meticulous excavation of the PPN-PN transition layers following the principles elaborated by the famous French prehistorians André Leroi-Gourhan and Jean Perrot will be undertaken. It will consist of carefully clearing out the various 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 candidate at the University of Paris-Nanterre (UPN). Field Archaeologist - Pottery specialist.
  • Avi Levy - PhD candidate at the Ben Gurion University (BGU). Field Archaeologist - Lithic specialist.
  • Brent Whitford (PhD student at University at Buffalo, SUNY) - Field documentation including Topography, Photogrammetry and drawing.
  • Dr Fanny Bocquentin (CNRS Researcher) - Physical anthropologist.
  • Marie Anton (PhD student at the University of Paris 1) - Physical anthropologist.

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 & Avi Levy)
  • Post-excavation - Introduction to Neolithic pottery and flint studies (by Carine Harivel & Avi Levy)

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

The Agenda


Frist day

Arrival date:      

All students shall arrive by 12.00 at noon at the Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, conduct a COVID-19 PCR test on arrival at the airport and get self-quarantined for 24 hrs at a recommended hotel (these rules may be changed. The BHFS will provide ongoing updates on COVID-19 rules and restrictions in Israel to all enrolled students).      


*The reimbursement payment does not cover the first night accommodation and PCR test costs!

Second day

12:30 pm - All students with negative PCR test results will be picked up by a shuttle to Shaar Hagolan kibbutz. Lunch on board.

2.30 pm - Arrival at the kibbutz and check-in

4:00 - 7:30 pm - Introduction, Orientation and Lectures

7:30 - 8:30 pm - Dinner   


* The shuttle cost is covered by the reimbursement payment.

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 a visa to visit Israel for up to 90 days. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. 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 and COVID-19 (according to the policy of the country) 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   

In order to participate in this educational project the BHFS expects all participants to reimburse their related costs, i.e. B&B accommodation (hotel + breakfast per day), tools, materials, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and other administrative costs. All participants are invited to support the project realization through donations. Information about all related costs will be published as soon as the WHO organization announces the end of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Reimbursement Transfer Options:

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

For further information contact Admissions Office at [email protected]

Academic credits   


New Bulgarian University grants 9 ECTS credits for attending the three-week session. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional fee paid to the university. For details: Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.




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

Apply now