Area A

The aqueduct to Ramla is known from historical sources. R. Gophna and Y. Kaplan documented a small segment of the aqueduct in 1950, which was uncovered during infrastructure works near the entrance to Moshav Petahya. In recent years, two salvage excavations were carried out by Y. Zelinger, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, along the route of the aqueduct (see HA–ESI 111:58*). A geophysical survey (A. Petersen and R. Wardill, Levant 33 [2001]) that was conducted in the region of Ramla in 1999 used ground penetrating radar, which detected several anomalies that were identified by the surveyors as the remains of an aqueduct. The present excavation adds important data on the location, direction and the construction technique of the aqueduct and other water works in the Early Islamic period.

 

Remains of the aqueduct were uncovered over a length of c. 150 m (segments A–F; Figs. 1, 2). Its general direction was east–west, with a moderate curve southward in its western portion. Beyond the limits of the excavation to the west, over an area of c. 170 m long, plaster and building stones were observed on surface, indicating further continuation of the aqueduct. The foundation of the aqueduct (width 1.5 m, height 1.2 m) was built of fieldstones bonded with mortar, upon which two parallel walls (width 0.4–0.5 m) were constructed from dressed limestone blocks. The walls were plastered on both sides and lined with an additional layer of fieldstones bonded with gray material. The plaster lining the interior side of the walls (thickness 1–2 cm) was red colored and contained quartz, potsherds and shells. A later plaster layer was distinguished, apparently part of repairs. It was a white-gray layer that somewhat changed the rectangular cross-section of the water channel (width 0.50–0.55 m), causing the connection between the walls and the floor to become rounded. Up to 0.6 m high within the channel, which was the elevation of the flowing water, layers of travertine had formed. Their thickness reached 5 mm in the earlier stage and less than that in the later stage.

 

External diagonal plastered lining was observed in Segment A, which was set within the alluvial soil. The lining came down on both sides of the channel from the top to its base. It was apparently intended to guard the channel from the accumulation of silt, expected in alluvial clayey environment. Owing to the lining, the original shape of the aqueduct was preserved in this segment. Contrary to Segment A, the aqueduct was distorted in Segments B–C, due to the shifting and collapse of the walls inward (Figs. 3, 4), decreasing its width to a few centimeters. The area of Segments B–C was characterized by heavy alluvial and clayey soils that shifted and swelled because of moisture absorption. It is feasible that once the use of the aqueduct ceased, the greater weight of the alluvial soils caused the walls of the channel to collapse inward, particularly if the channel was exposed and empty; the covering slabs in these segments were robbed, apparently in antiquity. A comparison with other segments where the covering slabs remained intact (see below) suggests that their absence may have contributed to the collapse.

 

The central segment of the aqueduct (D and part of E) was well preserved and all the covering stones (0.80 m long, 0.30 m wide and 0.12 m thick; Fig. 5) were found in situ. The center of the excavation area and westward in Segments E–F consisted of firm hamra soils that caused less damage to the aqueduct and preserved the original shape of the channel with its rectangular cross-section. Several probes were carried out in Segments D and E (Loci 118, 143, 148, 151, 158) to determine the depth of the aqueduct and its construction technique. It turned out that the aqueduct’s central segment was dug into the hamra soil. Foundation trenches were observed in L118 to a depth of c. 0.7 m. The aqueduct’s foundation rested on a bedding c. 0.2 m wider than the foundation itself. The bedding (1.5 m wide, 0.7 m deep) consisted of small stones bound in gray clay, superposing a layer of sand.

 

To preserve the desired slope of the aqueduct required for the regulated flow of water, the planners used different techniques according to the topographical conditions. In the eastern part, the aqueduct was built above surface, and in the central and western parts, it was dug into hamra soils and sand. Measurements taken along the aqueduct indicate that it maintained a reasonably fixed slant (1.2%), except for the central area where the ground had apparently shifted.

Manholes at a distance of c. 35 m from each other were exposed in Segments D and F. The mouth of the manhole in Segment D (Fig. 6) was entirely preserved. Its external wall was circular (diam. 1.3 m) and the internal wall was hexagonal (diam. 0.7 m); it rose up to 0.5 m above the covering slabs. The transition between the manhole and the aqueduct was a square opening, wide enough for the passage of men. The manhole was located in the area where the aqueduct curved 8° southward. The manhole in Segment F was poorly preserved. The construction of the manholes in places where the route of the aqueduct changed its direction is known from other aqueducts in Israel. The reason behind it was probably connected to the maintenance required at points of weakness where the likelihood of silt building up was imminent.

 

Initial calculation of the maximum flow in the aqueduct, based on the data from the excavation (the diameter and slope of the aqueduct) suggests a possible result of hundreds of cu m per hour. The spring of ‘Ein Yarda, to the east of Tel Gezer, does not issue a large amount of water today; its location makes it difficult to identify it as the aqueduct’s source of water. Surveys conducted in the region discovered six springs in the area of Abu Susha village, at the foot of Tel Gezer. These springs issue a low quantity of water nowadays, though it is assumed that it was much greater in the past. It is also possible that a number of springs were combined together to supply the amount of water that justified such a water system designated for a capital city with thousands of residents.

 

The ceramic finds indicate that the aqueduct went apparently out of use in the nineth or tenth centuries CE. This assumption is in agreement with the historical sources. Other finds from the excavation included a bronze weight, fragments of glass vessels, a few animal bones, bronze and iron nails and pieces of marble bearing two letters in Arabic that were illegible.

 

Area B

This area was located about 1 km east of Area A, along the route of Highway 6. Two excavation squares were opened (B1, B2), revealing architectonic remains.

 

Square B1. An installation (Fig. 7) that consisted of a pit (L518) and an expanse (L508) was discovered. The circular pit was dug in hamra soil (1.5 m deep) and its opening (diam. 1.9 m) was wider than its base (diam. 1.6 m). The pit's wall (W504; 0.15 m wide) was constructed from fieldstones bonded with gray mortar. The inner face of the pit was coated with three layers of gray plaster that combined a few small stones. A depression (diam. 0.55 m, depth 0.25 m) in the floor of the pit was lined with at least three layers of gray plaster upon a layer of wadi pebbles. The pit was discovered sealed, perhaps intentionally, with large fieldstones and soil, which contained ribbed potsherds dating to the Byzantine period (fifth century CE) and several white, industrial, mosaic tesserae (2.5 × 3.5 cm). Adjacent to south of the pit was an expanse of medium-sized wadi pebbles (L508). Although its preservation was poor, it was noted to have abutted the wall of the pit. Two walls (W506, W507) to the south of the pit formed a corner. They were built of medium-sized fieldstones and preserved a single course high. The area between the two walls was paved with two layers of wadi pebbles bonded with gray mortar. It is possible that the expanse was used for the laying of a mosaic floor. The two expanses and the walls were founded directly on the hamra soil. On the eastern end of the expanse was a small pit (L517; diam. 0.4 m), plastered and paved with wadi pebbles; its function could not be determined. Judging by the ceramic finds in the pit, it went out of use during the Byzantine period or at the beginning of the Early Islamic period. The installation may have been part of the agricultural hinterland of Tel Hamid (HA–ESI 110), located c. 500 m to the northeast of Area B.

 

Square B2. About 50 m northeast of Sq B1 was a rectangular building (1.9 × 2.5 m); its walls were built of undressed stones, except for one large stone on the inside part of the western wall that was preserved at least two courses high and perhaps served as a threshold. The accumulations within the building contained potsherds from the Byzantine period. The excavation of this square was not completed. Another building was uncovered 1 m to the north of the first building.