Refuse Usage and Architectural Reuse in the Field

A View from the Early Islamic Plot-and-Berm Agroecosystem to the South of Caesarea/Qaysariyya (Israel)


  • Itamar Taxel Israel Antiquities Authority
  • Joel Roskin Bar Ilan University



Caesarea, Early Islamic agriculture, water harvesting, Plot-and-Berm agroecosystem, aeolian sand and dunes, refuse management, anthrosol, architectural reuse


Based on the mostly unpublished finds of a 1970s excavation and the initial results of a 2020 survey and excavation of the remains of an Early Islamic Plot-and-Berm (P&B) agroecosystem south of ancient Caesarea/Qaysariyya, this study discusses the agricultural incorporation of refuse in a pristine aeolian sand environment. The P&B agroecosystem, characterized by anthro-terrain/earthworks of sunken agricultural plots delimited by sand berms, comprises an innovative initiative to cultivate dunefields on a high groundwater table. The key element for the sustainability of this unique agrotechnology was refuse. The refuse, extracted from nearby town dumps, included ash, carbonate, trace elements and artifacts. It was probably sorted into small artifacts and grey loam. It was then brought to the fields, not only combined to stabilize the erodible and initially unvegetated berm surface until today, but also partly altered the physical and chemical properties of the sand and increased its fertility, mainly in the plots, to form sandy loam anthrosols. The pristine aeolian sand substrate enabled a clear and quantitative stratigraphic and pedological differentiation of the refuse additions. The transportation of human waste to the fields and its incorporation into the natural sediment to form an anthrosol formed part of the “waste stream” of Caesarea’s Early Islamic population. Such human-modified soil environments by means of manuring, gained a specific signature and would have been considered “soil places” which became part of the local onomasticon of placenames and probably created “cultural soilscapes.” The clear aeolian sandy substrate makes the P&B agroecosystems an excellent case study
on soil enrichment by refuse, and enlightens us about the relative amounts and methodologies of refuse extraction, sorting, transportation, and incorporation.

Author Biographies

Itamar Taxel, Israel Antiquities Authority

Itamar Taxel received his Ph.D. in archaeology from Tel Aviv University in 2011. Currently he is the head of Pottery Specializations Branch at the IAA Archaeological Research Department. He is involved with various fieldwork and research projects on behalf of the IAA, Tel Aviv University and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. His fields of specialization include aspects of material culture, settlement patterns, economy and daily behavior of southern Levantine populations in classical and Islamic times. Itamar has authored and co-authored four monographs and numerous articles and book chapters on the archaeology of Early Roman to Late Islamic Palestine.

Joel Roskin, Bar Ilan University

Joel Roskin received his Ph.D. in physical geography from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 2012. Joel’s research focuses on aeolian-fluvial interactions, dune and dunefield evolution, geoarchaeology and ancient agriculture. He is investigating their relations with the palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimate and the utilities and constraints of raw (portable) luminescence signals for relative dating of these settings. Joel also tries to find time to develop the discipline of military geosciences. He was the Earth Scientist at the Analytical Lab of the Israel Antiquities Authority and today is a faculty member of the Department of Geography and Environment, Bar-Ilan University, Israel.


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How to Cite

Taxel, I., & Roskin, J. (2022). Refuse Usage and Architectural Reuse in the Field: A View from the Early Islamic Plot-and-Berm Agroecosystem to the South of Caesarea/Qaysariyya (Israel) . Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 9(1), 31–58.