During December 2000, November 2001 and August 2002 salvage excavations were conducted at the antiquities site of Ramat Rah
el (Permit Nos. A-3340, A-3703; map ref. NIG 2203/6278; OIG 1703/1278; HA-ESI 118
), as part of a joint project, involving the Ministry of Tourism, the Antiquities Authority, the Jewish National Fund and Qibbuz Ramat Rah
el, to prepare the site for public visits. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by G. Solimany, with the assistance of V. Barzel, R. Abu Halaf (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying), R. Morin (surveying Area W), R. Elberger and A. Tsagai (conservation), C. Amit (studio photography), R. Vinitsky (metallurgical laboratory), R. Gat (pottery restoration), I. Lidski-Reznikov (pottery drawing), N. Katsnelson (glass), O. Shorr (glass restoration), C. Hersch (glass drawing), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), R. Kletter (figurines) and G. Barkay (stamped handles).
Three excavation areas (C, P, W; Fig. 1) were opened. Two squares were excavated in Area C, the first (C/N; 2.5 × 4.5 m) in the courtyard of the fortress, next to the Byzantine-period building and the second (C/S; 4 × 6 m) adjacent to the southern casemate wall of the fortress. Two squares (each 3.5 × 3.5 m) were excavated in Area P, near the southern side of the pool. Three squares were excavated in Area W along the route of the wall on the western slope of the tell. Five occupation strata were revealed in the excavation: Stratum I, the upper layer, is dated to the Early Islamic period; Stratum II—the Byzantine period; Stratum III—the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods; Stratum IV—the end of the Iron Age (seventh–sixth centuries BCE) and Stratum V, which could not be dated as very little of it was excavated. The results of the excavations seem to be consistent with those of Y. Aharoni’s excavations at the site (Y. Aharoni. 1962. Excavations at Ramat Rachel I, Seasons 1959 and 1960; 1964. Excavations at Ramat Rachel II, Seasons 1961 and 1962).
Stratum V. The excavation in Square C/N ascertained that the southern wall of the building from the Byzantine period had cut the white chalk floor of the fortress’ courtyard that dated to the end of the Iron Age. The wall was founded on an earlier wall that was oriented east–west. Below the white chalk floor was another wall (width 0.8 m), built of fieldstones and aligned southeast–northwest. Due to time constraints, the date of the walls and the relations between them could be determined. Nevertheless, the walls had definitely predated the chalk floor of the fortress’ courtyard.
Stratum IV. Square C/S was excavated for the first time; modern soil fill was found on surface. A room (2 × 2 m) in the casemate wall of the fortress was revealed below an occupation layer that dated to the Hellenistic period. The walls of the room (width 0.5 m) abutted the southern wall of the fortress. The inner northern wall of the room was missing as a result of later stone robbery and only the robber trench survived. The floor of the room was not preserved due to the later occupation of Stratum III. A section of the white chalk floor of the courtyard was excavated. The finds on the floor included jars from the end of the Iron Age and a stone gutter.
The white chalk floor of the fortress was removed in Square C/N. While dismantling the floor several artifacts were discovered, including a YHD stamp on a jar handle (another YHD stamp was found on surface in Area P), a head of a horse figurine, a fragment of another figurine and ceramic vessels that included bowls, a cooking pot and jars from the end of the Iron Age. The YHD stamp shows that the floor was also used in the Persian period.
Stratum III. A repair that had been made to the outer southern wall of the casemate wall was detected in Square C/S. Burnt layers of collapse were discovered on the compact earth floor in the room inside the casemate wall and on the chalk floor of the fortress’ courtyard. Fragments of jar rims, stone vessels, stone weights and three coins, two of Alexander Jannaeus (first century BCE) and one of Pontius Pilate (first century CE) were found on the earth floor, which overlaid the tops of the walls of the casemate wall. A circular installation built of small fieldstones was discovered on the earth floor; it penetrated one of the casemate walls and contained a complete jar. A pit (1 × 1 m), dug into the white chalk floor of the courtyard, contained a complete cooking pot. It stands out that the residents of this stratum destroyed previous walls and floors, disregarding the plan of the ancient fortress and bringing about a complete transformation of the site.
Stratum II. A settlement layer from the Byzantine period was exposed in the eastern square of Area P. A corner of two fieldstone walls and a room’s compact earth floor that was set on bedrock were discovered. A rock-hewn threshold was found in the eastern side of the room, whose plan was not exposed due to the limited scope of the excavation.
Stratum I. Building remains of the Early Islamic period were exposed in Area P. The walls were built above the walls of Stratum II, having a slightly deviated orientation. Three walls, constructed from medium-sized fieldstones and a floor of partially preserved thin flagstones, were exposed in the eastern of the two squares. The floor was set on a bedding of tamped soil mixed with plaster. Fragments of capitals, stones with dressed decorations, pieces of marble and a stone basin were discovered in the square. It seems that these elements were dismantled from the Byzantine-period church that had previously been exposed at the site. Remains of a room that included a wall built of ashlar stones and a flagstone-paved floor were exposed in the western square. The inward leaning of the ashlar-built wall could indicate the springing of a vault or the outcome of collapse. Stone collapse and the remains of a mighty conflagration (thickness 0.1 m) were discovered on the flagstone floor and throughout the entire square. A sounding below the flagstone floor ascertained that the pavers were placed on soil fill (thickness 0.1 m), which overlaid a layer of soft chalk, devoid of finds. In the eastern part of the sounding, a north–south oriented bedrock-hewn wall was probably part of a quarry that had been abandoned and covered over by later construction and whose date is unknown. Architectural elements that originated in Stratum II were also recorded in the square.
Area W. Three squares were excavated along the route of the city wall. The middle square (4 × 4 m), which was opened south of the city-wall section that had previously been excavated by Y. Aharoni, included the continuation of the city wall (length 4 m, width 2.8 m), which was built of medium-sized fieldstones and preserved a single course high. The eastern and western faces of the city wall were preserved, whereas the core of the wall was missing. The city wall was covered with a brown soil fill (thickness 0.1 m), which was mixed with potsherds from various periods. A large quarry was exposed in the southern square (6 × 8 m), where large stone blocks that had not been detached from bedrock (depth of quarry c. 1 m) were visible. Another quarry (5 × 5 m) was exposed in the northern square. It seems that the quarries were later than the city wall; the quarrymen probably dismantled the stones from the city wall for secondary use and quarried stones in bedrock beneath the city wall.