During June–August 2007, a salvage excavation was conducted in Ramla South, on the route of the access road to Moshav Matsliah (Road 4304; Permit No. A-5168; map ref. NIG 187450–84/646923–7051; OIG 137450–84/146923–7051; Fig. 1). The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Department of Public Works, was directed by A. Gorzalczany, with the assistance of K. Edre‘i and A. Kozlov (area supervision), E. Bachar and S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), V. Essman (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), R. Chen (metal detection), O. Ackerman (geomorphology), Y. Elisha (preliminary examinations, exposure and antiquities inspection), B. Ajami (safety consultant), P. Gendelman (ceramics), E. Kamaisky (pottery restoration), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), M. Sadeh (archaeozoology) and I. Ktalav (archaeomolluskology).
The area is characterized by hard hamra soil that shows signs of carbonates and iron oxide flooding, rendering it a lustrous red color. It was probably the result of a seasonal lake or constant contact between ground and water. Work along the route of the road damaged the later phase remains at the site and left cesspits in the area. Twenty-eight squares were opened, following the removal of a cement layer that belonged to a road from the time of the British Mandate.
The Early Phase (seventh–eighth centuries CE)
An extensive industrial area, which included numerous kilns that had mostly survived by their combustion chamber, was exposed. Two main types were identified: a round shaped (diam. 2.0–2.2 m) that had a central post, supporting the shelf with the vessels (Fig. 2) and an elliptical shaped. The kilns had various sizes (3.5–5.0 m); some were built over a pit dug in the ground and coated with clay and others comprised fired mud bricks on a stone foundation (Figs. 3, 4). One of the pottery workshops, which was bordered by a stone wall, contained six round kilns that were not all completely excavated (bottom diam. 5 m); they superposed the ruins of previous kilns. It seems that the pottery workshop functioned over a prolonged period of time, during which new kilns were built on top of earlier ones that went out of use. The hard fired walls of the combustion chambers (width 10–15 cm) had survived. Each kiln was surrounded by refuse layers from its cleaning. These layers were sometimes discerned above a kiln that went out of use. The foundation trench of a kiln’s wall was noted in one instance, penetrating into the debris layer of an earlier kiln (Fig. 5).
Six phases were identified in the kiln complex, dating to the time between the end of the Byzantine and the beginning of the Umayyad periods (seventh–eighth centuries CE), based on pottery vessels, mainly cooking-pot rims. Deformed vessels and wasters that characterize pottery workshops were noted in the ceramic debris.
Several coins and many potsherds, mostly of cooking pots that dated to the Late Roman period, were found near two of the kilns in the southern region. Potsherds from the Persian (Attic vessels) and Hellenistic (Rhodian handles) periods were also found, although out of any stratigraphic context.
The Later Phase (eighth–ninth centuries CE)
Sand deposits discerned in the trial probes indicated that the site was abandoned for a period of time. Following the gap, new square and rectangular installations, coated with gray–white plaster, were built. These were probably utilized for the production of linen (Tal O. and Taxel I. 2008. Ramla (South) – An Early Islamic Industrial Site and Remains of Previous Periods. Salvage Excanations Reports 5. Tel Aviv. Pp. 123-124; Fig. 6). Traces of color noted in several installations may indicate they have served for dying textiles. Other installations had signs of decreasing in size and in several others, small depressions in the corner of the floor were found.
Stone walls that delimited rooms were exposed in the southern part of the area and many sections of floors, which were partially related to the plastered installations (Fig. 7), were uncovered. Elsewhere, later walls that penetrated into the earlier phases and severed installations were discerned. Thus, for example, the foundation trench of a wall that had cut through the mud-brick wall of a kiln from the early phase was identified and in another case, a series of floors from the Abbasid period negated a kiln and sealed it. Ovens and stone installations for milling grain, some of which were architectural elements in secondary use, were found on the different floors (Fig. 8).
Cesspits of a well-known type in Ramla were exposed in the center part of the area.
They were square or rectangular, lined with small stones and several were covered with a stone vault. The cesspits and several refuse pits near them contained an impressive amount of artifacts, including complete vessels, coins, bronze vessels and small intact glass bottles; all dating to the Abbasid period (Figs. 9–11). It should be noted that apart from the cesspits and the refuse pits, no remains later than the eighth–ninth centuries CE were discovered in the area. However, these later strata could have been removed when the Mandatory road was paved.
A rich and diverse assemblage of ceramic artifacts, a recurrent phenomenon in the excavations of Ramla and its vicinity, was discovered. The finds include numerous cooking pots that are characteristic of the transition phase from the Byzantine to the Umayyad periods, frying pans, lids and jars. Numerous intact vessels were found, including bowls, cups, saqiye vessels, jugs, juglets and lamps, two of which standout: one bearing a Star of David decoration and the other is coated with a green glaze. Another lamp of the Roman period has a blocked filling hole, which indicates a failure during the production process. The rich glass artifacts included several intact perfume bottles. Thirty-nine coins from different periods were exposed, as well as stands, bronze vessels for filling oil lamps that typify of the transition phase, bronze weights, a tiny bronze bucket with a handle, kohl sticks and many nails. Numerous animal bones, which indicate the nutrition habits of the inhabitants and the sanitary conditions that prevailed at the site, were collected. Many architectural elements, including capitals, columns, stone weights of an olive press and marble slabs were discerned; they were mostly incorporated in secondary construction and in all likelihood, originated from ancient sites that were robbed in antiquity. The small finds included beads of faience, carnelian and lapis lazuli, two clay zoomorphic figurines, fragments of a stone measuring cup (from the Second Temple period), a carved bone handle, a decorated and carved bone spindle weight and a rare example of ancient pottery restoration that involved a glazed vessel, probably a bowl, whose parts were tied with strips of bronze (Fig. 12).
The results of the excavation and those of previous excavations at the site, show that two main periods are represented. The early period is the transition from the Byzantine to the Umayyad periods; dozens of kilns from pottery workshops that probably specialized in the production of four cooking-pot types were exposed. After a short settlement gap and during the Abbasid period, a different industry, which apparently involved the processing of linen and included many plastered pools that were made smaller in different phases, was established at the site. The rich finds at the site, which was probably abandoned during the eighth or ninth centuries CE, point to the commercial and industrial activity and the high standard of living, as reflected in the plethora of luxury items.