During February–March 2006, a sampling excavation was conducted at Khirbat el-Hannuna (Nahal Meqorot; Permit No. A-4694*; map ref. NIG 15823–44/60382–409, OIG 10823–44/10382–409), prior to the construction of a separation fence around the Gaza Strip. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Defense, was directed by I. Peretz, with the assistance of Y. Drayyer (area supervision, photography), H. Lavi and Y. Ohayon (administration), A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv, Y. Israel, G. Seriy, Y. Baumgarten and Y. Haimi (photography), I. Berin (final plans), C. Amit (studio photography), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), Y. Bukengolts (pottery restoration), I. Lidski (pottery drawing), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), and G. Bijovsky (numismatics).
The site extends across gentle hills, c. 2 km west of Qibbuz Nir‘am. Previous records of antiquities in the area included an artificial tell, perhaps the hill on which a church was identified north of the excavation, building remains, architectural elements, water cisterns and fragments of pottery vessels that dated to the Roman and Byzantine periods (IAA Archive/Mandate, Folder 62). Probe trenching was undertaken at the site prior to the excavation. Two excavation areas (A, B; Fig. 1) were opened. Building remains and a pottery workshop from the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), as well as an irrigation conduit from British Mandate times, were discovered in Area A (102 sq m), the southern of the two. Refuse pits and remains of a wall from the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE) were exposed in Area B (c. 34 sq m).
Building Remains from the Byzantine Period (Fig. 2). Remains of a building (2.50 × 3.15 m) whose eastern part was not excavated were uncovered in Sq B2. The walls (W1, W3, W5; width 0.5–0.9 m), preserved one to five courses high (0.56 m), were built of small and medium-sized kurkar stones, mostly unworked, and mortar mixed with a small amount of dark green slag from a workshop. It seems that the inner face of W1 was slightly bent inward, possibly constituting the beginning of an arch. A thin layer of ash on top of a soil layer (L151) that could be the remains of a floor was exposed in the building. Debris from a pottery workshop, which consisted of numerous fragments of vessels that dated to the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), were discovered west of W3 and south of W5 (Loci 115, 136). Similar pottery fragments were found inside and on top of the building (Loci 108, 135). The assemblage included fragments of bowls and kraters (Fig. 3:1), cooking pots (Fig. 3:5), Gaza jars, jugs (Fig. 3:10) and sandal lamps (Fig. 3:15). A ceramic goblet (Figs. 3:12; 4) and two intact clay ampoules (Figs. 3:13, 14; 5) were recovered from the layers of fill above the building remains. The unusually large quantity of workshop debris near the building and the use of workshop slag in the construction of its walls indicate that the structure was founded after the workshop had commenced production (below) and it went out of use still within the Byzantine period.
Remains of a wall (W9) that was built of medium-sized, mostly unworked, kurkar stones (average dimensions 0.10 × 0.22 × 0.30 m) were discovered in Square B1. Another wall of similar construction probably abutted W9 from the west. A large amount of potsherds, mud-brick fragments and slag was discovered in the excavation. The ceramic finds dated to the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE) and included mostly fragments of Gaza jars, as well as a fragment of a goblet (Fig. 3:11).
A Pottery Workshop from the Byzantine Period (Figs. 6, 7). Parts of two pottery kilns with vaulted fireboxes were exposed. The northern kiln was oval (outer length 4.25 m, inner dimensions 2.50 × 3.80 m, depth 2.39–2.79 m; Fig. 8) and its western part was not exposed. The kiln was built into the ground, extending as far down as the kurkar bedrock, which served as the floor of the firebox (L143). Four arches (6, 7, 8, 13) were incorporated in the firebox side wall (W2; thickness 0.20–0.35 m), which was built of reddish pink-fired mud bricks (0.10 × 0.15 × 0.15 m, 0.1 × 0.2 × 0.2 m). The thin yellowish layer that covered the interior of the firebox was produced during the firing process. Arch 6, built of large mud bricks (0.10 × 0.15 × 0.40 m), was well preserved together with its pillar (length 2.5 m, width 0.4 m, max. preserved height 1 m). The fragments of white tiles, lime and pottery vessels, mostly Gaza jars discovered near Arch 6 (L125) could be, together with the upper course of Arch 6, the remains of the firing chamber’s floor. A well-built wall (W10; exposed length 3.9 m, width 0.6 m, exposed height 0.54 m) was discovered on the southern side of the kiln. The wall’s southern side consisted of two rows of kurkar stones (0.20 × 0.20 × 0.49 m), some of which were worked, and the northern side was built of unworked fieldstones, (0.30 × 0.36 × 0.45 m), bonded with mortar. Between the top of the wall’s eastern end and the top of its western end was a difference in elevation of c. 1 m; therefore, it is suggested that the wall was part of an unpreserved staircase, which led to the opening of the firing chamber. South of W10 was a layer of hard earth that contained small and medium-sized kurkar stones (L148) that could be the remains of the staircase or the staircase’s southern wall.
The rounded southern kiln was built into the ground (outer diam. 2.6 m, inner diam. 2.25 m, exposed depth 0.8 m; Fig. 9) and its the southern side was not excavated. The side of the firebox (W11) was built of fired mud bricks that were larger than those of the northern kiln (0.11 × 0.31 × 0.32 m). One of the firebox arches was preserved almost in its entirety (Arch 12; length 2.25 m, width 0.4 m, preserved height 0.8 m). It was built of mud bricks, some of which were identical in size to those used in the side wall of the firebox and some smaller (0.1 × 0.2 × 0.2 m). A sounding above the level of the arches (L132) revealed white tiles that may have been part of the firing chamber floor. In the squares east of the kilns only a level of fine ash and potsherds was discovered.
The layers of fill inside the kilns contained pottery finds that dated to the end of the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), which represent the time when the kilns were no longer in use. The ceramic finds included fragments of deformed and unfinished vessels, combed kraters (Fig. 3:2–4), a few bowls, very few cooking pots, numerous Gaza jars that had various rims and bases (Fig. 3:6–8), a bag-shaped jar (Fig. 3:9), a flask, a lid, a sandal lamp and a handle that bore a potter’s mark (Fig. 3:16), as well as a few fragments of glass vessels, which dated to the Roman and Byzantine periods.
An Irrigation Conduit from the British Mandate
(Fig. 6). Numerous irrigation channels in the vicinity of the site are dated to the time of the British Mandate. The excavated channel (L114; exposed length 21 m, outer width 0.4 m, inside width 0.20–0.25 m, depth 0.25 m) was built of cement and kurkar.
It conveyed water from a nearby cistern or well to an orchard that was planted on part of the site. A few potsherds of gray clay Gaza jars were found on surface.
A large refuse pit, which contained brown, relatively soft soil that contained many fragments of pottery vessels, bones and large stones, was exposed in Sq G8. Overlying the refuse pit was a layer of firmly tamped, dark brown soil, which contained numerous potsherds of mostly Gaza jars and small pieces of kurkar that were probably debris from the pottery workshop. A dry construction wall (length 1.7 m, width 0.65 m) built of different sized fieldstones was exposed in Sq G7. A refuse pit was discerned above this wall. Other pits were discovered in Squares F7 and F8.
The numerous finds from the pits dated from the second half of the fifth century CE until the seventh century CE and included pottery and glass vessels, a fragment of a marble bowl (Fig. 3:20), two bronze coins and bones. The ceramic finds consisted mainly of Gaza jars, bag-shaped jars, kraters, LRC and CRS-type bowls (Fig. 3:17–19), closed cooking pots and juglets. The glass vessels dated primarily to the Byzantine period, but also included one fragment that may be dated to the Early Roman period and another fragment that dated to the Late Roman period. These two fragments may allude to the existence of some activity at the site during these periods. One of the coins, dated to the reign of emperor Valentinian II, was probably struck in the mint at Kyzikos in the years 383–392 CE (type – SALVS REIPVBLICAE; IAA 100480). The poorly preserved second coin could not be identified with certainty; yet, based on its shape, it should be dated to the fifth century CE (IAA 100481).
The excavation revealed what was probably part of an industrial zone that existed along the fringes of the site. The pottery kilns are characteristic of the southern part of the country in the latter part of the Byzantine period. Mostly Gaza jars were manufactured in these kilns, along with kraters decorated with combed patterns, and possibly also some smaller vessels, among them ampoules and goblets. It is possible that the building in Sq B2 was part of the pottery workshop, due to its proximity to the kilns. It also appears that the refuse pits were associated with the workshop.
During an antiquities inspection of construction works after the conclusion of the excavation, a wall (width 0.45–0.50 m) of medium-sized kurkar stones was exposed 10–15 m west of Area A, together with mud-brick material, slag from a pottery workshop and numerous potsherds that dated to the Byzantine period. These finds indicate that other pottery kilns were present at the site.