Excavations carried out by A. Golani in 1995–1996, when the marina was under construction, revealed remains of numerous pits alongside fragmented remains of a developed metallurgical industry on the crest of a kurkar ridge and on its east-facing slope. Remains of the Byzantine period, including a complete, looted tomb, a wine press and fragmented remains of a large building, were also identified in this area (Golani and Milevski 1999; Wallach 2003). The present excavation is contiguous with Golani’s former Area E2, found immediately to its northwest (Fig. 2), and consisted of 24 squares along a northeast-southwest axis (Figs. 3, 4). It yielded three strata (III–I), of which two (III, II) are occupation strata with mud-brick architecture, occupation surfaces, pits and other material-culture remains that may be attributed to an early stage of the EB I. The ancient topography of a mild slope facing southeast has been severely altered due to modern development. The EB I remains were on this slope, and several pits were found to cut into it (Stratum I).
Stratum III. Remains associated with the earliest settlement phase were identified in the southern part of the excavated area and included fragmented mud-brick architecture and several pits, alongside several beaten-earth surfaces. The surfaces often contained numerous burnt mud-brick material, and provide indirect evidence of copper processing. Numerous elements of copper processing were also discovered in the earlier excavations in Area E2, in the form of smelting installations and large quantities of industrial waste, such as burned mud-brick fragments, slag and prills, as well as some copper tools. The architectural remains, though difficult to define, may indicate the presence of a mud-brick enclosure wall (W814, W809, W816) in the central part of the excavation, and a portion of another small mud-brick structure in the southern part of the area (Fig. 5). A single 14C assay (RTD-7460) conducted on an olive pit from the bottom of a pit (L603) associated to this stratum yielded calibrated dates of 3,935–3,870 BCE (40.3%) and 3810–3765 BCE (27.9%).
Stratum II. The remains of Stratum II were identified throughout most of the excavated area. The main components of this stratum were found in the southwestern part of the excavation: a large built complex, possibly part of an enclosure, and several pits that seem to have been outside the enclosure.
The northeastern section of the excavated area yielded remains of a wide and slightly curving mud-brick wall (W804; 1.65 m) that may have delimited a large enclosed area (Fig. 6). The southwestern end of W804 was squared, forming an entranceway with another mud-brick wall, considerably narrower (W807; 0.6 m wide; Fig. 7). A left humerus of an adult human of undetermined sex was found next to W807, and an infant jar-burial was located adjacent to W807. The burial, found below a surface, at a level just below and next to the wall’s base (L601), consisted of a large and complete holemouth jar placed in the basal sands (Fig. 8). The removal of the upper portion of the jar exposed the fragmented remains of an infant (0.5–1.5 years old) lying on a north–south axis in a flexed position on its left side with the head to the north and facing west (Fig. 9). No burial goods were associated with this burial; however, a 14C assay (RTD-7459) conducted on an olive pit found with the burial yielded an averaged calibrated date of 3,780–3,715 BCE (68.2%).
Two mud-brick walls (W803, W802), perpendicular to W804 and set at a distance of approximately 4 and 8 meters, respectively, to its southwest, may represent the remains of a large entranceway into the enclosure. Wall 803 was lined along the outer edge of the third mud-brick course with small kurkar stones on all four sides (Fig. 10). This construction feature was probably intended to stabilize and strengthen the mud-brick wall and provide a better grip for the plaster that may have covered it. Three engaged pillars were revealed on the southwestern side of W803. Two were built of mud-brick, the third of small stones (Fig. 11).
Much of the southwestern corner of the excavated area, which is adjacent to the earlier excavations in Area E2, was found shaved down to the basal sands. In this part of the excavation, a concentration of several pits and a large silo (L577) were revealed, all dug into the sterile basal sands (Figs. 12, 13). The pits, which are identical to the numerous pits revealed in the earlier excavation of Area E2 (Golani 2004), lay directly outside the supposed course of W804. The large silo (Sq D9) had a rounded outline (Fig. 13). Its outer rim was ringed by a low wall of husmas soil, and its walls were vertical. The southwestern part of the silo was deeper than the northeastern one, creating a stepped interior. A 14C assay (RTD-7458) conducted on a piece of charcoal taken from the bottom of silo 577 yielded averaged dates of 3,500–3,458 BCE (15.4%) and 3,475–3,430 BCE (44.5%).
Stratum I contained rounded or irregular pits that cut into the earlier remains and were filled with sand. Some of these pits may have been natural, but others appear to have been manmade. These pits may date to the Byzantine occupation, which was partially uncovered in the previous excavation in Area E2 (Wallach 2003; Golani 2004).
The present excavation together with the previous work in Area E2 constitute an important contribution to the understanding of the early stages of the EB I occupation at the site of Ashqelon, Afridar. Previously, this occupation was identified in Area G (Braun and Gophna 2004), where two occupation strata were revealed, and in Area E (Golani 2004), where it consisted primarily of unstratified pits alongside the remains of a developed metallurgical industry. The current excavation extended Area E2 in the region adjacent to the pits that had been previously uncovered by Golani. The two stratified occupation episodes that were identified in the present excavation area now greatly augment the material-culture remains that may be associated with the early EB I at Ashqelon. In addition, the calibrated 14C dates from this stratified occupation tie in well with those attained from the non-stratified pits exposed in the earlier excavation, thus supporting their veracity.
The large wall in Stratum II that was tentatively identified as an enclosure wall also fits well with the information we have concerning the spatial organization of the EB I occupation at Ashqelon, where large domestic and industrial enclosures are separated by alleyways and large open spaces (Golani 2005; Baumgarten 2006; Golani 2007; Golani 2008a). The results of the present excavation appear to indicate a clear demarcation of activity areas: storage pits and metallurgical processing in the western part of the settlement, and a large habitation zone in the east, the two being separated by a large enclosure(?) wall.
The infant burial discovered in the present excavation is in accord with what is known so far concerning infant burials throughout Ashqelon during the EB I. Defining characteristics of these burials were their location in open spaces within the habitation areas—usually next to walls—in a flexed position and the head in the north. The adult humerus found nearby suggests that primary burials of adult once existed within the site as well, but the bones were subsequently removed for secondary burial outside its perimeter.