Refuse Usage and Architectural Reuse in the Field: A View from the Early Islamic Plot-and-Berm Agroecosystem to the South of Caesarea/Qaysāriyya (Israel)

Itamar Taxel, Joel Roskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Based on the mostly unpublished finds of a 1970s excavation and the initial results of a 2020 survey and excavation of the remains of an Early Islamic Plot-and-Berm (P&B) agroecosystem south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/Qaysāriyya, 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-58
Number of pages28
JournalCommunication and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Our project is currently supported by Gerda Henkel Foundation grant AZ 42/F/19 and Israel Science Foundation grant no. 355/20. Regarding the southern coast region, specifically around Ashkelon, one should mention the numerous artifact scatters termed by Huster (2015, 4–10) “patches” and interpreted as evidence for manuring agricultural plots by late Ottoman-period peasants while using artifact-rich refuse that was extracted from ancient multi-period sites. Although one cannot preclude the possibility that some of these scatters reflect indeed relatively recent manuring activity, it should be remembered that these scatters where not dated by other means, notably by Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) as in the case of the Caesarea and Yavneh P&B agroecosystems (see below). Therefore, and given the existence of Early Islamic P&B agroecosystems near Ziqim, it is not unlikely that some (if not most) of Huster’s “patches” are additional Early Islamic agricultural areas.

Funding Information:
We are grateful for Yosef (Sefi) Porath for allowing us to publish the full results of his 1970s excavations at the Caesarea P&B agroecosystem and for sharing his rich knowledge on the subject, and to Navit Popovich (IAA National Treasures) who located the excavation finds in the storehouses. Adam Ostrowski (University of Haifa) is thanked for preliminary GIS-based measurements of the Caesarea P&B agroecosystem, and Peter Gendelman (IAA) kindly provided updated maps of ancient Caesarea. Elena Delerzon, Moria Abu and Carmen Hersch (IAA) assisted in the preparation of some of the illustrations which accompany this article, and Susan Holzman edited the English text. Sarah Pariente, Helena Zhevelev and Natan Fragin (Bar-Ilan University Geomorphology and Soil Laboratory) are thanked for the soil analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Equinox Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Biotechnology
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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