During July–August 2005 excavation was conducted at the tell of Ramat Rahel (License No. G-17/2005). The excavation, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg Theological Seminary, was conducted by the renewed archaeological expedition to Ramat Rahel, directed by O. Lipschits, M. Oeming and Y. Gadot (excavation field director). Participating in the excavation were B. Arubas (stratigraphic-architectural analysis and surveying), G. Cinamon (assistant excavation field director), L. Freud (registration), D. Davis (assistant registrar), N. Shimon, V. Zlatekovsky, L. Marom, G. Margalit, B. Babaiev and S. Zach (area supervision), A. Ahiman (administration), S. Pavel (photography), A. Sergey (director of volunteers and non-archaeological activities), F. Vanderwin (assistance in preparing the academic program), Y. Farhi (numismatics) and I. Taxel (ceramics).
This area, in the northern part of the site, is adjacent to what Aharoni foresaw to be the line of the outer city wall (Fig. 1), and borders on the areas previously excavated by Aharoni (1962) and Barkay (1984). Aharoni assumed that the eastern fortification line of the large expansion that was built together with the Iron Age palace passed here before it intersected with the northern casemate wall of the palace. The renewed excavation aimed to examine if the expansion was indeed constructed northwest of the palace as part of the Iron Age complex, to ascertain the existence of an outer fortification line at this spot and to determine whether remains of the Early Iron Age settlement phase (Aharoni’s Stratum Vb) occur in this area, since no information is available, except for numerous lmlk handles, fragments of pottery vessels and several wall sections.
Soil fill (depth c.1 m) throughout most of the area was discovered atop a layer of terra rossa soil (depth c. 0.5 m), overlying the natural qirton bedrock surface that was leveled after the nari top cover had probably been removed. Sixteen rectangular tombs (Fig. 2) were cut through the terra rossa soil layer and hewn into bedrock surface. Fifteen of the tombs were parallel to each other and oriented north-northeast–south-southwest (average size 0.6 × 1.9 m). The tombs were not excavated and therefore their exact date could not be ascertained. This burial field may have belonged to the Byzantine complex at the site (Aharoni’s Stratum II; fifth–sixth centuries CE). However, based on comparisons to other tombs, the pottery vessels and the relation of the tombs to other structures on the site, it is more likely that the tombs were from an earlier phase and should be ascribed to the Late Roman-period settlement (Aharoni’s Stratum III; fourth century CE). Along the eastern fringes of the area were sections of walls and a plastered drainage channel, incorporated into natural bedrock, as well as in deep, extensive rock-cuttings. Although Aharoni excavated in this area, a thorough publication is absent, making the accurate dating of the remains impossible. The plastered channel’s outlet was probably in an installation that was excavated by Aharoni to the south and did not survive. Based on the nature of its plaster, the channel predated the Hellenistic period. The wall sections to the east of the channel were built into a foundation trench, which yielded Byzantine pottery and therefore the walls cannot be earlier than this period.
The line of the citadel’s courtyard eastern fortification from the seventh century BCE, according to Aharoni, as well as the walls of buildings ascribed to the citadel phase or to an earlier settlement, were not found. Expanding the area to the east and north in the future will enable us to determine the following: Had this area been indeed part of an outer built courtyard, was it fortified by an outer wall and had a settlement existed there prior to the construction of the seventh century BCE citadel.
A north–south probe trench (5 × 25 m) was excavated in the middle of the expansion’s northern part, which, according to Aharoni, was erected and leveled when the citadel was constructed at the end of the Iron Age (Aharoni’s Stratum Va). The purpose of the excavation was to examine whether at some point in the history of the site, a wall that enclosed the northern side of the outer courtyard was built and fills had been deposited next to it, leveling the surface and creating a broad flat courtyard on the northern slope of the hill. Another aim was to investigate the original natural topography of the hill that had been completely altered because of the settlement strata and to explore the existence of settlement remains prior to the seventh century BCE palace and citadel (Aharoni’s Stratum Vb, which produced numerous lmlk handles, personal seals and pottery vessels).
The complete excavation, down to bedrock, of the probe trench had clarified the natural topography of the northern slope of the hill on which the site was established in the Iron Age. The two southern squares of the trench revealed the bedrock several centimeters below a layer of surface soil. As in Area A, bedrock surface was smoothed and lacking its nari top cover. It seems that the leveling and smoothing of bedrock was carried out across extensive parts of the site to exploit the nari outcrops for construction purposes.
A bedrock-hewn communications channel and a machine-gun emplacement, dating to the War of Independence or slightly thereafter, were uncovered in the middle square. The channel, which traversed the center of the area and damaged some of the ancient finds, contained a fill that consisted of potsherds, fragments of architectural elements and other artifacts, occasionally marked with registration numbers, which were discarded after the pottery reading during Aharoni’s excavation. The modern communication channel was hewn at the end of the hill’s gentle slope, which becomes precipitous farther north while bedrock is at an increasingly greater depth below the modern topsoil (max. depth of 2 m). At the north side of the probe trench, on the lower part of the slope below the modern communication channel, an Iron Age stone quarry was discovered. It supplemented Aharoni’s finds, who exposed similar rock-cuttings whenever bedrock surface along the western slope of the hill was examined and in a similar location to that of the current quarry. The pottery vessels recovered from the quarry indicate that it operated toward the end of the eighth or during the seventh century BCE. A jar handle bearing a personal seal impression ‘Ahaziah/TNHM’ and found in an unstratified locus, is attributed to the same period. Identical seal impressions are known from Mitzpe, Lachish, Bet Shemesh and another impression was purchased in the antiquities market (N. Avigad and B. Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals, Jerusalem, 1997:244–245 [No. 665]).
During the Byzantine or Late Roman period nine burial kokhim (average dimensions 0.60 ´ 1.78 m) were hewn in bedrock; six were oriented north-northwest–south-southeast and three were aligned east–west, with a slight inclination toward the north. This group of tombs was an extension of the burial field in Area A and should therefore be dated accordingly. Here too, the burial field was probably quarried after the bedrock surface was smoothed in the wake of earlier quarrying activity, which removed the nari top cover.
The presumed wall that delimited the citadel courtyard on the north was not found and no settlement remains or fill preceding the citadel were discerned.
The area in the southwestern part of the site was further excavated by M. Ben Dov (1963) and G. Barkay (1984), who exposed a large adjacent miqwe (ritual bath) where Aharoni reconstructed the southwestern corner of the Iron Age citadel (Fig. 1). The results of Aharoni’s excavation in this area were not published and the removed strata cannot be reconstructed. Several years ago conservation activities were undertaken in the center of the area and a statue was erected to mark the corner of the ancient citadel. The base of the statue and its concrete support were not removed due to safety precautions, planning and tourism considerations; hence, it was impossible to explore the underlying contexts.
Most of the finds in the area were connected with the system for conveying and storing water (Fig. 3), as well as an industrial installation whose purpose remains unclear. Remains of four plastered pools, two covered and plastered drains and a covered and plastered channel were exposed. It seems that the system of pools and channels had at least two phases.
The area of the pools was quarried down lower than the level of the citadel from the end of the Iron Age. The pools were hewn into bedrock and occasionally, were augmented with construction. Numerous layers of plaster were applied to all sides of the pools. The elevation of Pools 1 and 2 was higher than that of Pools 3 and 4, covering drains that conveyed water from the higher to the lower pools. It seems that the pools were part of a larger, multi-phase system, whose scope should be clarified when the excavation area is expanded next season.
The covered channel inside Pool 3 negated its use. It was cleaned during the previous excavations and cleaned again this season (Fig. 4). The channel (height c.1.55 m, average width c. 0.5 m) was bedrock-hewn and covered with large stone slabs and its walls were plastered. It is aligned east–west and extends for a distance of c. 9.2 m until it turns to the north at a right angle and continues for another c. 4 m, where it is blocked or the hewing was suspended. It is presumed that the long (royal) Iron Age cubit was used in the surveying and construction of the system. A square opening left in the ceiling of the channel, c. 7.5 m from its eastern end, was probably used for maintenance. The channel’s outlet was not located.
The system can not be dated as yet and its connection to the complex of buildings from the Iron Age can not be determined at present. If it can be proved that the system was part of the building complex from the end of the Iron Age, it will constitute a change in the plan of the citadel, as perceived by Aharoni.
The area, in the high western part of the site, is north of Area C1 and at the end of the spur, which looks out to the north, west and south. It rises above the entire upper part of Nahal Refa’im and dominates the main road, leading from Jerusalem to Bet Lehem, passing at the foot of the hill. The area lies on the western boundary of Aharoni’s excavation and slightly to its west (Fig. 1). Aharoni assumed that the western wall of the citadel from the end of the Iron Age was situated here. The aim of the excavation was to re-expose the remains of the citadel’s walls that Aharoni uncovered, to evaluate their plan and chronology and to examine if other contemporary remains were located west of the presumed closing wall. The excavation area will be expanded to the east in future seasons to investigate the relations between this part of the Iron Age citadel to the other remains from the end of the Iron Age (the palace and the courtyard).
Three rock-hewn tombs were exposed along the western fringes of the area. Two of the tombs were rectangular (0.5 × 1.9 m; 0.6 × 1.7 m) and similarly oriented to the hewn tombs in Areas A and B. The smaller third tomb (0.5 × 1.1 m) accommodated a lead chest (Fig. 5), which contained a child’s primary teeth, two pieces of gold and bone jewelry and four iron nails. The dimensions of the chest (0.5 × 0.8 m, depth 0.3 m) suggest it was used for the interment of a child.
Other parts of the wall (WC50; Fig. 6), which Aharoni believed delimited the citadel from the west, were exposed. The wall was built of small fieldstones whose placement formed a surface of uniform elevation. Where bedrock was low, three courses of stones were deposited and where the bedrock was high, these courses were incorporated in the base of the wall. No floor that could be associated with the wall was found. It can be reasonably assumed that the floor was at a higher level, which was not preserved and the wall visible today served as foundation below the floor level. At the same time, patches of crushed chalk were identified above bedrock, perhaps in an attempt to level and smooth it prior to its use as bedding for the floor. So far, no walls or floors west of WC50 were found and therefore, the extension of the Iron Age citadel to the west is not corroborated.
The area, in the southern part of the site, south of the qibbuz’ modern pool (Fig. 1) had not been previously excavated. It is located next to the palace from the end of the Iron Age, near the ‘Persian citadel’ that Aharoni reconstructed and in the line of the early citadel wall (Aharoni’s Stratum Vb) that Aharoni excavated. The purpose of our excavation in this area was to explore all of the phases of the tell’s stratigraphy, to locate the continuation of the walls from the Iron Age and the Persian and Hellenistic periods that were exposed in the adjacent areas of Aharoni’s excavations and to assess the plan of the site in these periods. It is assumed that this was the administrative center in the Persian and Hellenistic periods and the source for the numerous seal impressions that were found on the site from these periods.
Four squares were opened in the first season of excavations, revealing a dense assortment of walls and floors that were attributed to at least three phases of public construction. They were all characterized by the high quality of construction and impressive dimensions.
Large flagstones and sections of walls, dating to the Late Roman period (Aharoni’s Stratum III) and the Byzantine period (Aharoni’s Stratum II), were uncovered in the northern part of the area. A coin from the Abbasid period (Fig. 7) was found on top of the flagstones. This is, to date, the latest coin found on the site, dating its last occupation.
The walls of a large public building (Fig. 8), buried beneath a substantial stone collapse, were exposed in the southern part of the area. The full extant of its floor has not yet been revealed. It was discovered in a probe trench excavated in the eastern part of the building and was overlaid with a large chancel stone. A plastered installation, covered by particularly large stones, was incorporated into the floor. It is still too early to date the building or appreciate its plan. The expansion of the excavation area in the next season to the south and east will endevor to trace the walls of the building.