During December 2007–March 2008, a salvage excavation was conducted south of Ramla and north of Moshav Mazliah (Permit No. A-5331; map ref. NIG 18732–67/64645–98; OIG 13732–67/14645–98), prior to paving Highway 431. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Netivē Ha-Yovel Company, was directed by A. Gorzalczany, with the assistance of Y. Elisha, T. Kanias, E. Kogan-Zehavi, R. Lavi, M.A. Tabar and Y. Arbel (area supervision), O. Ashkenazi and D. Mizrahi (registration and data entry), E. Bachar and S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), V. Essman, M. Isserlis, T. Kornfeld and M. Kunin (surveying and drafting), L. Yihye and H. Ben-Ari (GIS/GPS), T. Sagiv (field photography), R. Chen (metal detection), Y. Arnon (ceramics), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), M. Sadeh (archaeozoology), A. Salamon (geology), I. Ktalav (archaeomolluskology) and also Z. Greenhut, A. Re’em, P. Spivak and A. Shadman. Special thanks are extended to B. Begin, R. Amit and the staff of the Geological Survey of Israel, as well as to E. Ayalon, Y. Drey, S. Shalev, Y.Qartz, A. El‘ad and K. Cytrin-Silverman.
Stratum VIII (Middle Bronze Age)
Pits dug into the hamra soil were exposed. Especially noteworthy was a large pit (c. 2.0 × 2.8 m, depth 0.7 m; Fig. 3), probably an ancient refuse pit that contained a large amount of potsherds, animal bones, mud-brick fragments and several flint artifacts, including sickle blades. Potsherds and animal bones were also discovered within a layer of grayish yellow sand that contained many patches of ash and was located primarily on the hamra at the base of the site or on a layer of sand that overlaid the hamra. This sand layer was mainly found in the higher parts of the site’s ancient hill. The ceramic finds dated to the Middle Bronze Age (IIB?).
Stratum IV (Byzantine period; fourth-fifth centuries CE)
An installation built of flat mud bricks, which is characteristic of heating installations, was exposed, as well as meager stone walls that surrounded two enclosures and were built of stones, without bonding material (Fig. 4). One of the enclosures reached the eastern wall of the mud-brick installation and it seems they were related to each other. A thick layer of ash mixed with potsherds was discovered in this enclosure, which was delimited on the east by a low wall of one row of stones that had a niche protruding to the east. The enclosure, situated on the clean hamra soil that lies at the base of the site, was probably used for heating water or some other material for an industrial use. The ash layer in the enclosure also contained fragments of ceramic pipes, but no evidence of the inflow or outflow of water from the mud-brick installation was found.
Strata IIIa–IIIb (Early Islamic period; seventh–ninth centuries CE)
The site reached the peak of its prosperity during the Early Islamic period (Fig. 5), as had already been noted in the previous excavations. An extensive network of plastered water channels that were connected to plastered industrial installations and cisterns, some of which were large and very deep, was exposed in all the excavated areas. The most common installation was a shallow plastered rectangular pool, often with a small depression in its bottom (Figs. 6, 7). Some of the installations were built in pairs and triplets. Several round pools were discovered. All the pools were coated with hydraulic plaster of fine quality. Some of the pools were paved with a coarse white mosaic and in some pools was a bench of sorts, built along the inside of one of the walls. Most of the installations were repaired and reduced at one point or another for reasons unknown. It is impossible to determine for which industry the installations were used at this time, yet it can reasonably be assumed that it involved the use of liquids. Numerous septic pits, which were usually dug into the hamra, lined with fieldstones and covered with a vault that was sometimes completely preserved, were discovered at the site (Fig. 8). These septic pits were turned in a later phase into refuse pits that contained large quantities of excellently preserved pottery, glass and bronze vessels.
Bathhouses. The remains of two bathhouses, located at either end of the site (Areas I2, K1), were discovered in Stratum III (seventh–eighth century CE). All that was preserved of the two bathhouses were parts of the caldarium heating system. The eastern bathhouse (in Area K1) was built on a foundation of large stones that were placed directly on top of sandy soil. Several of the caldarium’s round columns, built of flat fired mud bricks and placed one on top of the other, were preserved in this bathhouse. Most of the columns sagged and the remains of the bases were mainly visible in the area. A small section of the room’s upper floor, which the columns supported, was also preserved. Columns in the caldarium of the western bathhouse (Area I2) were preserved as well, but unlike those in Area K1, these were built of limestone, upon which the effect of heat was clearly apparent. The use of stone columns in bathhouse caldaria was not widespread because the stones could not withstand the heat as well as the mud bricks. Some of the columns in the western bathhouse were round, some were pilasters and some stood on a base. The irregularity in the construction of the columns suggests that they were taken from another place and put to secondary use here. The caldarium’s northern wall and part of the northeastern corner were preserved. Between the columns in the room was a thick layer of ash and burnt material, as well as pieces of mud bricks that probably belonged to the upper suspended floor. Signs of later activity were discerned between the columns, such as the intentional blocking of openings. It seems that the building underwent renovations and its use was modified. The discovery of two bathhouses at the site in the seventh–eighth centuries CE indicates its importance during this period.
Earthquake. Evidence of a major earthquake was discerned in Areas J2 and K1; it included cracks along the walls of installations, large sections of collapse composed of neat ashlar stone construction that had not been robbed, floors that had dropped and walls that curved in unexpected directions. Wall collapse, which had been intentionally covered over with soil and hamra to save the building stones from being plundered, was observed. It seems that the residents of the town were concerned with the quick restoration of the settlement’s activity. Especially interesting was a series of jars, some positioned upside down, which were discovered in situ, smashed inside a room that was apparently used for storage. The jars dated to the first half of the eighth century CE and they seem to have been all damaged simultaneously in the same event. The room was leveled and quickly refurbished in an attempt to regain its capacity for industrial manufacture as soon as possible. The renovation of the room included the construction of new walls, with which jars dating to the second half of the eighth century CE were associated and preserved intact (Fig. 9). It therefore seems that we have here a small, rare chronological window, which enables us to date the earthquake.
Indisputable proof of the earthquake occurrence was found in the balks of Area K1, where a fault in the layers of sand and hamra, which were split due to a fissure, stands out prominently (Fig. 10). One side of the layers in the section was lower than the other side. The fissure continued along several excavation squares and it caused a plaster floor and a column base that stood above it to sink 1.5 m. Such vertical movement of layers could only be caused by a powerful seismic event. An opposite fracture was discerned elsewhere on the site, where the movement was not only vertical but also horizontal, causing the layers to climb one atop the other.
It appears then that archaeological evidence of an earthquake, which occurred close to Ramla in the middle of the eighth century CE, can be pointed to for the first time. The dating is firmly based on the pottery and it is feasible that this is the famous earthquake of the year 749 CE.
Stratum I (eleventh century CE)
A noticeable decline in the intensity of the settlement occurred from the ninth century CE onward. Remains of a meager settlement, dating to the tenth–eleventh centuries CE and damaged by modern activity, were exposed. Several floors and walls stumps were revealed and large refuse pits that contained fragments of glazed pottery vessels were recovered from most of the excavation areas.
The material remains from the excavation were considerable. The pottery assemblage contained a large and diverse number of vessels, some of which were intact. Outstanding among them were the many imports, including vessels from Cyprus, China and Coptic vessels. The large quantity of Islamic pottery adorned with kerbschnitt decorations was also exceptional. The largest numbers of these vessels, which are a type of rare fine ware, were found in Area I. The rich glass assemblage was among the most diverse found to date in the excavations in and around Ramla. The bronze artifacts included excellently preserved bowls (Fig. 11), cosmetic containers and numerous coins. The stone vessels included basalt bowls with pedestals, hearth tools made of imported steatite and pounding tools. Other artifacts included zoomorphic vessels, mother-of-pearl shells, some of which were whole and probably used for inlays and jewelry, and numerous animal bones. The wealth of the site was also apparent in the large quantity of marble fragments that were scattered about, as well as the architectural elements that included columns, capitals, bases and frieze fragments, incorporated in secondary use in the buildings at the site.
A meager rural settlement probably existed at the site during the Middle Bronze Age. Industrial installations, mostly pottery kilns that dated to the Byzantine period were discovered. The site attained its peak in the Early Islamic period. During the Umayyad period, a farm that concentrated the industrial and agricultural work from the vicinity was apparently located at the site. After the earthquake in the middle of the eighth century CE, the site was renovated with the emphasis placed on industrial production. A very meager settlement was located at the site in the eleventh century CE and most of it was abandoned and not destroyed.
Table 1. The stratigraphic sequence in Ramla.
||Remains of a military installation
||Eleventh century CE
||Fatimid period (ninth–tenth centuries CE)
||Abbasid period (eight–ninth centuries CE)
||Transition period from the Byzantine to the Umayyad periods (seventh–eighth centuries CE)
||Byzantine period (fourth–fifth centuries CE)
||Roman period (first century BCE–fourth century CE)
||Persian–Hellenistic periods (fifth–fourth centuries BCE)
||Late Bronze Age (fifteenth–thirteenth centuries BCE)
||Middle Bronze Age (twentieth–fifteenth centuries BCE)