During November–December 2007, a trial excavation was conducted east of Tel Gamma (Tell Jemma; Permit No. A-5298; map ref. 147177–429/588375–501), after antiquities were damaged during the installation of a water line. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by Qibbuz Nir ‘Oz, was directed by V. Nikolsky-Carmel with the assistance of S. Talis, Y. Lender (administration), V. Essman (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), M. Kipnis (drafting), and A. Dodin (drawing of finds).
Remains of a building from the Byzantine or Early Islamic periods had previously been discovered south of Tel Gamma (HA 51-52:32 [Hebrew]). Remains of a built and plastered installation that dated to the Byzantine period and a nearby cistern were discovered southwest of the tell (HA-ESI 111:107*).
Three excavation areas were opened at the eastern foot of Tel Gamma (A–C; Figs. 1, 2). Remains of walls and a tabun dating to the Byzantine period were exposed in Area A (75 sq m). Area B (8 sq m) yielded no architectural or other remains. In Area C (50 sq m), remains of a stone wall and a paved surface with an installation above it dating to the Byzantine period, were discovered.
Area A. Three squares were excavated (D3–F3; Fig. 3). Part of a rectangular building (2 × 3 m) was exposed. Three of its walls (W1, W3, W4; width 0.6 m; Figs. 4, 5) were built of mud bricks, kurkar and wadi pebbles and preserved c. 0.21 m high. The floor of the building was composed of mud-brick material. Overlaying the floor (L113, L114) were fragments of pottery vessels from the Byzantine period, including numerous bowls (Fig. 6:1–6), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:7), an amphora (Fig. 6:8), Gaza jars (Fig. 6:9–14), baggy-shaped jars (Fig. 6:15–17) and a jug (Fig. 6:18). Wall 1 was abutted from the east by a floor (L116), also of mud-brick material. Three large flat kurkar stones were discovered on the floor near the wall and a tabun was set near them (L123; Fig. 7). The upper part of a jar, which was probably an installation of some sort, was discovered embedded in the floor north of the tabun. It seems that the area east of the building was part of an open courtyard. Potsherds from the Byzantine period, similar to those exposed inside the building, were discovered on Floor 116. Remains of another wall (W8) built of wadi pebbles were exposed beneath Floor 116. Wall 8 belonged to the early phase of Floor 116 and the tabun. Several potsherds dating to the Byzantine period were discovered in the excavation of the wall (L125).
A wall foundation (W2) built of kurkar was exposed in Square F3. The northern part of the wall was damaged by a ditch that had been dug by a tractor. This wall belonged to another building that was not excavated.
Area C. Two squares (M3, N3; Fig. 8) were excavated. A wall section (W31) built of roughly hewn stones was exposed. East of the wall was a surface built of wadi pebbles (L316). A round plastered installation (L313; Fig. 9) was discovered on the surface; the southern part of the installation was located beyond the limits of the excavation. A later refuse pit (L318) in the southern part of Surface 316 severed the surface and W31. The pit was filled with soft soil and contained several potsherds from the Byzantine period. Fragments of pottery vessels from the Byzantine period overlaid the pavement of Surface 316, including a bowl (Fig. 10:1), kraters (Fig. 10:2, 3), a cooking pot (Fig. 10:4), Gaza jars (Fig. 10:5–7), a baggy-shaped jar (Fig. 10:8) and a jug (Fig. 10:9).
The excavation area extended across a cultivated region and the ancient remains were severely damaged as a result of the agricultural activity. Architectural remains dating to the Byzantine period were discovered in Areas A and C, located c. 200 m apart. Two construction phases were found in Area A. Due to the great distance between the areas, it is clear that the remains discovered in each belonged to two different units that apparently existed in the sixth–seventh centuries CE. It is unclear if the remains in the two areas overlap in time. The excavation area is part of the Byzantine-period site, whose remains had previously been discovered south of Tel Gamma.