During July–August 2006, a trial excavation was conducted south of Ramla and north-east of Moshav Yashresh (Permit No. A-4858; map ref. NIG 18650–66/64729–42; OIG 13650–66/14729–42), prior to the paving of Highway 431. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and funded by the Department of Public Works, was directed by A. Gorzalczany, with the assistance of O. Segal (area supervision), S. Ya‘aqov-Jam and E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian (surveying), T. Sagiv (photography), the Sky Balloon Company (aerial photography), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), A. Buchennino and V. Moyel (antiquities inspection), Y. Peleg (hydrological calculations), N. Zak (drafting), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory) and R. Kool (numismatics). Additional assistance was provided by A. ‘Asav, T. Kanias, R. Lupu, A. Re’em and A. Feldstein.
Cist graves that were part of a Muslim cemetery and a section of an aqueduct (Qanat Bint el-Kafir) were excavated. Prior to the excavation, probes were cut in the area under the inspection of Y. Zelinger, followed by a trial excavation (Permit No. 4674). The tombs are scattered in an olive grove near the aqueduct (Area A). A distance of c. 100 m was excavated of the aqueduct in a cultivation plot and two tombs that severed it were excavated nearby (Area B). Historical sources claim that the aqueduct was built in the Umayyad period by the caliph Suleiman Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, founder of the city of Ramla (716 CE). It seems to have conveyed water from the Abu Shushe springs near Tel Gezer to the city of Ramla. Other sections of the aqueduct had been excavated in the past near Qibbuz Na‘an and near Moshav Yashresh (HA-ESI
111:58*; 113:123*–124*; HA-ESI 117
, HA-ESI 117
). Several hundred meters to the east of the excavation an irrigation channel and agricultural installations were excavated (Permit No. A-4142). Excavations were also conducted to the northeast of the current area, at a site near Moshav Matzliah (HA-ESI 118
Area A. Eight cist graves (Loci 101, 105, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112) were excavated, out of dozens that were discovered during the antiquities inspection, preceding the excavation. The eight graves were simple pits dug into the ground (depth 1.4–1.6 m), without any lining and devoid of funerary offerings. The interred were placed on their right side in an anatomically articulated position, indicative of primary burial. They were lying in an east–west direction, the head in the west and the face looking south (Figs. 1–4). These graves were similar to four other graves exposed during the trial excavation (Permit No. 4674). Adults of both sexes and children were among the deceased, whose position in the grave is characteristic of burials in Muslim cemeteries and is known from numerous sites in the country, for example Kefar Sava (HA-ESI 117), Nes Ziyyona (ESI 18:73–74; ‘Atiqot 46:37–47 [Hebrew]), Herzliyya (HA-ESI 110:100*) and Kerem Maharal (HA-ESI 118).
Area B. The aqueduct was well preserved (Fig. 5), except for three places where it was damaged by olive trees and a section that was severed by a cement wall, which delimited the olive grove (Fig. 6). The aqueduct, generally oriented southwest–northeast, was exposed to a depth of 1 m below surface. The aqueduct was excavated into layers of hamra that overlaid a tamped dark clay layer of varying thickness. It was built of two parallel walls the consisted o fieldstones and bonding material (width 0.35–0.40 m) and a plastered channel between them. The channel was covered with limestone slabs (average dimensions 0.6 × 0.7 m), except for the last 20 m in the southwest where the capstones were probably looted in antiquity (Fig. 7). The aqueduct was damaged on its southwestern side, due to the ground having shifted, especially where it was clayey soil (Fig. 8). The lack of covering slabs had probably also contributed to the instability of the aqueduct; a similar phenomenon was discerned in excavation near Qibbuz Na‘an (HA-ESI 117). The aqueduct and the channel were excavated in three squares. In the northern square the aqueduct was exposed for a distance of 0.9 m (overall width 1 m, width of channel 0.35 m, depth of channel 0.8 m); in this section the covering slabs of the channel were not preserved. In the middle square, two layers of plaster were discovered in the channel; the second layer was probably a later repair. In the southern square, the aqueduct was excavated for a distance of 1.8 m. It was determined that the aqueduct and channel were narrower in this square than in the other two squares (width of aqueduct 0.9 m, width of channel 0.3 m). Two manholes were located along the aqueduct (Figs. 9, 10). The dimensions of the channel and the shafts precluded a person’s entry through them for the cleaning and repair. This is contrary to the manhole shafts in the aqueduct section near Na‘an and it is possible that the shafts flooded the channel with water to locate blockages in it. Checking the elevations at the two ends of the aqueduct ascertained that it was built with a 5% gradient, as Vitruvius suggested regarding the construction of aqueducts.
Two tombs (Loci 209, 210), which had cut through the foundation channel of the aqueduct and hence, postdated the conduit, were exposed in the northeastern part of the aqueduct. The interred were laid in an east–west direction, facing south. The individual in Tomb 210 was laid in anatomic articulation, indicating a primary burial (Figs. 11, 12). Tomb 209 yielded only the upper half of the skeleton and fragments of the cranium.
The section of the aqueduct exposed in the excavation is the northernmost segment revealed to date. The aqueduct entered the city of Ramla at this point and the current section is narrower than others uncovered in the past. It is probably a secondary branch of the aqueduct, which was possibly split into several branches before it entered the city, whereby each branch conveyed water to a different part of the city. After the aqueduct was no longer in use, or perhaps when it still functioned, the area north of it was converted into a Muslim cemetery. The cemetery can be ascribed to the Ayyubid-Mamluk period, based on a copper coin (fals) that was found next to Tomb 210. The coin was from the latter days of the Mamluk ruler Barqūq (1389–1398 CE; IAA 112746).