During July 2006, a trial excavation was conducted along the eastern fringes of the Khirbat Birkat Umm el-‘Idham antiquities site (Permit No. A-4850; map ref. NIG 19465–75/69178–80; OIG 14465–75/19178–80), prior to the construction of a fence south of Highway 57. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Department of Public Works, was directed by D. Masarwa, with the assistance of E. Bachar (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), T. Kornfeld (drafting), M. Shuiskaya (pottery drawing) and Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass finds).
Dressed building stones and potsherds from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods had previously been discovered on the site, which is located on a hamra hill and in whose vicinity tombs were recorded (J. Porath, S. Dar and S. Appelbaum, eds, Qadmoniot ‘Emeq Hefer, Tel Aviv 1985: Site 58). Architectural remains and part of a collecting vat from a Byzantine winepress were excavated c. 100 m north of the current excavation area (HA-ESI 119).
The current excavation area was damaged by a sewer line that crosses it and an electric pole in its southwestern corner. Three squares were opened and remains of an olive-press complex, severely damaged in the modern era, were exposed (Fig. 1). The recovered ceramic and glass artifacts indicate that the installation was used primarily in the Byzantine period, at its end and at the beginning of the Umayyad period, until the Abbasid period.
The negative of a crushing basin (L121) was discovered in a pavement of worn stones at the southern part of the area (L106; Fig. 2). A collecting vat (L113), in whose rim perforations were cut to access the oil draining from the crushing basin, was set to the north of the negative.
A section of a fieldstone-built wall with mortar and white plaster as bonding materials was exposed in the northern part of the area (W111; Fig. 3). The wall’s eastern face was plastered and its western face was cast. It seems that this was part of a crushing installation that was associated with the remains in the southern part of the area.
A room (L107; Fig. 4), whose wall foundations (W104, W109, W116; Fig. 5) were preserved a single course high atop brown soil, was exposed west of W111. Wall 104 was built of ashlar stones, whereas Walls 109 and 116 were constructed from fieldstones.
The ceramic finds from the layers of fill, relating to the olive press, included a jar (Fig. 6:1), the base of a juglet (Fig. 6:2) and a sprinkler (Fig. 6:3), which dated to the Byzantine period; a deep bowl (Fig. 6:4), jars (Fig. 6:5–10) and a jug rim with handle (Fig. 6:11) that dated to the end of the Byzantine period–beginning of the Umayyad period; and jars (Fig. 6:12–15) that dated to the Abbasid period. A jar without neck and rim (Fig. 7) that dated to the end of the Byzantine period was discovered on Floor 106.
The meager glass artifacts included fragments of bowls, bottles, a base of a small goblet with a beaded pedestal that dated to the Byzantine period and a broad funnel-rim with a wide wavy trail decoration that dated to the end of the Byzantine period–beginning of the Umayyad period.