During August–September 2005 a trial excavation was conducted at Dhahr el-Khirba, on the eastern bank of Nahal Ayyalon, within the precincts of Ben Gurion Airport (Permit No. A-4557*; map ref. NIG 189531–40/655600–20; OIG 139531–40/155600–20; Fig. 1), in the wake of damage to antiquities caused during the installation of a communications infrastructure. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Israel Airports Authority, was directed by E. Haddad, with the assistance of E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), C Amit (studio photography), M. Avissar (ceramic consulation), M. Shuiskaya (drawing of finds), N. Katsnelson (glass) and D.T. Ariel, G. Bijovsky and A. Berman (numismatics).
Prior to the excavation, part of a damaged ancient wall built of medium and large-sized fieldstones was visible on the surface, and potsherds dating to the Early Islamic period were collected. A trial probe was conducted along the planned route of the underground infrastructure where ancient remains were discovered. Remains of a large winepress dating to the Late Byzantine and Early Islamic periods had been exposed nearby (HA/ESI 116:38*
Two squares (R1, R2; Fig. 2), 5 m apart, were opened along a north–south axis; two strata were identified in them. The first stratum was Mamluk in date (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE), exposing a refuse pit (Fig. 3) and remains of a stone pavement (Fig. 4); the second, dating to the end of the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods, yielded building remains.
In the northwestern quarter of Square R1 a section of pavement made of medium-sized fieldstones (1.3 × 1.9 m; L103) that is attributed to the Mamluk period on the basis of ceramic finds was exposed. These included a bowl treated with a yellow glaze on the inside and a pale green glaze on the rim (Fig. 5:1) and sherds of hand-made vessels decorated with geometric patterns (Fig. 5:2, 3). It seems that the northeastern continuation of the pavement, which was discovered c. 0.3 m below the surface, was damaged during the excavation of the communications infrastructure.
Southeast of the pavement, at a depth of 0.5 m, a section of a wall (W120) that was preserved two courses high for a distance of 2 m was discovered. The wall, aligned north–south, was built of large fieldstones, some of which were roughly hewn. A corner was exposed (Fig. 6) in the southern part of the wall; its northern part was also destroyed during the excavation of the communications infrastructure. In the northern part of the square, above the wall, flat fieldstones that were probably used as a pavement were exposed. The soil fill that abutted the wall from the west and south contained pottery, including bowls (Fig. 5:4, 5), juglets (Fig. 5:6, 7) and a storage jar (Fig. 5:8) that dated to the end of the Byzantine period and the Early Islamic period.
In the western part of Square R2 part of a refuse pit (L108; Fig. 3; width 4.5 m, depth 1.5 m) that also dated to the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE) was exposed. The pit contained friable gray soil fill mixed with ash and sherds. Small and medium-sized fieldstones were exposed in the middle of it. The latest pottery found in the pit dated to the Mamluk period and included hand-made bowls (Fig. 7:1, 2) and cooking pots (Fig. 7:3–7 decorated with painted geometric designs, storage jars (Fig. 7:8, 9) and fragments of imported vessels: bowls from the Crusader period (Fig. 7:10, 11), a fragment of a Port St. Symeon bowl (Fig. 7:12), a Cypriot bowl sherd (Fig. 7:13), as well as a cooking pot (Fig. 7:14). The earliest potsherds exposed in the refuse pit were a bowl (Fig. 7:15) and a cooking pot (Fig. 7:16) from the Early Islamic period.
In a probe that was excavated to the north, below the pit, soil fill (L127 and L136) contained bowls (Fig. 8:1, 2), a jug (Fig. 8:3) and a Gaza storage jar (Fig. 8:4) that dated to the seventh century CE (the end of the Byzantine period–beginning of the Early Islamic period) together with a bronze Arab-Byzanto coin (641–697 CE; L127; IAA No. 113493) that is an imitation of a coin from the time of Constans II. A round lead pendant was also found depicting an enclosed cross with concentric circles at the end of its branches and in its center (Fig. 8:5; L136). A similar object was discovered in the excavations of the nearby Shoham by-pass road (Cradle of Christianity, pp. 143, 222e). On the pendant from Shoham, which is dated to the sixth century CE, part of a loop for connecting it to a chain is clearly visible. The loop on the object from the current excavations may have broken off or, perhaps less likely, it was an inlay and not a pendant.
Below this layer, a section of an east–west oriented wall (W140; length 2.75 m; Fig. 9), which was built of large fieldstones, were exposed. It seems that one of the wall’s stones was in secondary use; its semicircular contour indicates that it was most likely part of a column or base. The wall was abutted on the north by a floor of plaster, ash and light-gray charcoal (L142). South of the wall the bedding of a floor (L141) that consisted of fieldstones and wadi cobbles was preserved; between and above them were a Late Roman C bowl (Fig. 10:1) that dated to the beginning–middle of the seventh century CE and many body fragments of ribbed baggy storage jars (Fig. 10:2–4). The fragments of the bag-shaped storage jars were mostly set in place with their convex side facing down; this is probably a technique that was meant to trap moisture so that it would not penetrate into the partially preserved floor. A bronze half-follis (IAA No. 99754) that dates to the reign of the emperor Maurice Tiberias (596/597 CE) was found between the stones of the floor bedding. A probe was excavated (L144) north of the wall (W140), below the floor bedding. The potsherds found there were mostly reddish, ribbed body fragments belonging to baggy storage jars that are not sufficiently diagnostic to date the floor; however, based on two of the rims they seem to belong to the Byzantine period (Fig. 10:5, 6).
Part of a bronze buckle (Fig. 11) was also found in the soundings that were conducted prior to the excavation.
The glass artifacts (Loci 101, 124, 142) were in a very poor state of preservation, making restoration impossible. Based on the quality of the material it seems that the fragments are representative of the Byzantine, Early and Late Islamic periods. The Byzantine types included plain vessels, cups, bottles, wine goblets and an oil lamp with handles. Some types also continued into the Umayyad period. Fragments of small bracelets that probably dated to the Late Islamic period were also found. In addition to the glass vessels and bracelets, remains of glass industrial debris were found.
The ceramic artifacts, together with a fals of Sha‘ban II (1363–1377 CE; IAA No. 99755) that was minted at Tarabulus (found on the surface level), indicate there was also a settlement at the site during the Mamluk period. The presence of imported bowls that date to the Crusader period is surprising in their quantity relative to the rest of the pottery vessels; this is indicative of a well-to-do population. Settlement remains from the Mamluk period in the vicinity of Ben Gurion Airport are known from the excavation at Giv‘at Dani (ESI 19:44*), as well as at Jisr Jindas located at the northern entrance to Lod, which dates to the time of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars. It seems that the site was inhabited from the Late Byzantine–Early Islamic period until the Mamluk period and that a Crusader presence should be sought nearby. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that the trial excavation was of a limited scope and therefore insufficient to accurately characterize the nature and duration of the settlement that existed there.