During April and October 2002 two salvage excavations were conducted at the Barzilay Hospital in Ashqelon (Excavation 1––Permit No. A-3514*; map ref. NIG 157970–8015/61988–93; OIG 107970–8015/11988–93; Excavation 2––Permit No. A-3623*; map ref. NIG 15810–33/61910–30; OIG 10810–33/11910–30), in the wake of paving a road and a parking lot. The excavations, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Health, were directed by E. Kogan-Zehavi, with the assistance of Y. Huster (Excavation 2), H. Lavi (administration), V. Essman and T. Kornfeld (surveying), V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), M. Avissar (pottery reading), A. Pikovski (pottery drawing) and D.T. Ariel (numismatics).
A built tomb, dating to the Byzantine period, was partially examined in Excavation 1, as well as two Hellenistic amphorae used for interments that were found in a kurkar-dug pit.
A silo from the Crusader period was uncovered in Excavation 2.
The plan of the tomb is incomplete and unclear due to poor preservation and partial excavation (Fig. 1). The tomb, oriented north–south, was constructed in a layer of leveled kurkar. Its walls consisted of gray cement, small fieldstones, lime, ash and shells. The burial structure was probably rectangular, part of a main chamber (at least 3 m long, c. 2.5 m wide) that had two square niches (0.81 × 0.86 m) in its southern and eastern sides. The floor of the tomb was not entirely preserved due to the collapse of the ceiling and the walls. The southern niche was coated with white plaster and fragments of frescoes decorated with red and black stripes were discovered in the burial cell. It therefore appears that the tomb was plastered and decorated with bichrome wall paintings. The fill in the tomb contained fragments of pottery vessels that dated to the Byzantine period and included fragments of Gaza-type jars (Fig. 2:3) and bowls, among them two Late Roman C bowls, dating to the second half of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century CE (Fig. 2:1, 2). In addition, fragments of marble, glass and colored plaster were discovered in Loci 100, 102, 104. The excavation was suspended following the discovery of human bones in the tomb. The bones included at least two individuals, an infant 1.5–2.5 years of age and an adult 25–40 years of age. The distinct plan of the tomb can be reconstructed. It consisted of a main chamber with square niches in its walls. In 1913, a decorated tomb from the Byzantine period was discovered at Bet Guvrin. Although it was not excavated, it was documented and photographed (W.J. Moulton, 1921–22, A Painted Christian tomb at Beit Jibrin, AASOR, II–III:95–102).
The discovery of the tomb is not surprising and it should probably be considered part of the cemeteries from the Roman and Byzantine periods, located east of Tel Ashqelon.
Two amphorae (Fig. 2:4, 5) that dated to the Hellenistic period were exposed north of the tomb. The amphorae were deposited in the kurkar layer and covered. One amphora missing its rim was placed upside down, whereas the second amphora, set on its side with its rim facing south, was placed on top of the first one. Part of the second amphora's side and base were removed so that it could be mounted on top of the first amphora (Figs. 3, 4).
The second amphora had a special decoration of thick gray stripes drawn along its body and red-painted runs on its shoulders (Fig. 5). The amphora’s provenance was probably Brindisi, Italy and it is dated to the last quarter of the second century BCE (G. Finkielsztejn, 2000, Amphores importées au Levant Sud a l’époque hellénistique, in Fifth Scientific Meeting on Hellenistic Ceramics: Workshops on Chronological Problems and Sealed Contexts, p. 213, Pl. 111 b–e). The missing rim of the first amphora impedes its identification; however, based on its body shape and handles, it seems to have come from Ephesus (‘Atiqot 37:23–30).
Burial in amphorae is not a unique phenomenon and interments of this type were discovered in the nearby Afridar quarter (HA-ESI 110:97*).
Crushed bones that could not be identified and five iron nails (Fig. 2:6) were found alongside the amphorae. The nails probably belonged to some other item that was placed near the amphorae and did not survive.
A circular-built pit was exposed c. 20 m north of the Byzantine tomb. Its curved walls (diam. c. 2 m, depth c. 3 m; Figs. 6, 7) were coated with light brown plaster. The pit was filled with pale gray-brown earth that overlaid a fill of small stones (size 10–50 cm). The finds from the fill included fragments of marble, stone slabs, roof tiles, animal bones and a glass piece, as well as a coin and potsherds.
The pottery assemblage, dating to the Fatimid period, included an almost complete glazed bowl that is special due to its rich decoration and the fish motif in its center (Fig. 8:1), a bowl rim (Fig. 8:2), kraters (Fig. 8:3–5), a red-slipped bowl fragment decorated with a plastic ornamentation (Fig. 8:6), a jug (Fig. 8:7), jars (Fig. 8:8) and a pithos rim and handle (Fig. 8:9, 10). The coin (IAA 92344) is dated to the reign of Nur al-Din Muhammad (1164–1174 CE).
The pit seems to have been used as a silo, lying next to the remains of a building
(not excavated), part of whose walls were discerned c. 10 m northeast of the pit. The pottery recovered from the silo, after it was no longer in use, dated it to the Fatimid period. This dating, which indicates the time when the installation probably stopped functioning, corresponds to the end of the city, which was conquered and destroyed by Salah ed-Din in the year 1192 CE.
Other excavations had been conducted in the past within the precincts of the el-Jura site in Ashqelon. Northwest of the hospital, in the Lev Ashqelon neighborhood, a burial field, which contained pit graves with wooden and lead coffins and cist graves from the Roman period, as well as a burial structure with an arched roof from the Byzantine period, was discovered (ESI 20:120*–121*). A plastered burial structure with an arched roof, which had been plundered in antiquity and contained meager artifacts that dated to the Byzantine period, was excavated close by (ESI 18:113). Further discoveries included a built circular and plastered installation and a channel from the Byzantine period (HA-ESI 110:72*–73*), as well as a refuse pit from the Byzantine period (HA-ESI 110:98*). The author excavated a well at the site and found the remains of a temporary settlement that dated to the Early Bronze Age (Permit No. A-3507).
South of the hospital, at the en-Nabi Husein site, four burial structures from the Byzantine period, one of which had an arched roof, were discovered, as well as a circular plastered pit that was used in a liquid-related industry (HA-ESI 110:73*–75*). Other burial structures were exposed c. 500 m east of Tel Ashkelon, outside the el-Jura site (HA-ESI 113:125*–126*).