During October and December 2003, salvage excavations were conducted on Bialik Street in Ramla (Permit No. A-4016*; map ref. NIG 187755–75/64750–75; OIG 137755–75/14750–75), prior to the installation of a sewer line. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ramla Municipality, was directed by G. Parnos, with the assistance of Y. Dangor and E. Bachar (administration), V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), I. Berin (drafting), Y. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), C. Hersch (drawing of artifacts) and A. Berman (numismatics).
The excavation area was located along the southern outskirts of the city, on the southern part of Bialik Street, between Zekharya and Yehezkel Streets. The excavation was undertaken in the wake of discovering human bones and clusters of Early Islamic and Mamluk potsherds during trenching that was overseen by Y. Elisha. Three excavation areas were opened along the street (Fig. 1): one square in Area A (2.5 × 2.5 m), at the southern end of the street; a row of squares in Area B, c. 30 m south of Area A, spread over a distance of c. 40 m (width c. 2 m) and another row of separate squares in Area C (overall length c. 30 m, width c. 2.5 m), c. 100 m north of Area A. Remains of a cemetery, ascribed to the Early Islamic period, were discovered in Areas A and B. Pits from this period that contained fill rich with potsherds and the remains of an installation that dated to the Mamluk period were uncovered in Area C.
Areas A and B
Twenty simple pit graves were discovered, mostly unlined and dug into dark brown soil and sometimes into virgin hamra. The layer of soil that covered the graves did not survive and thus, it is unclear if tombstones or covering stones were originally placed on the graves. The deceased were laid to rest on their right side in an east–west direction, with their heads in the west, facing south, as is the custom in Muslim burials. In most instances a single individual was found in each grave, with a single exception of a grave that contained the remains of two children (L128).
Area A. Four graves (Loci 109, 111, 112, 115; depth c. 0.5 m; Figs. 2, 3), c. 0.5 m apart and c. 1.3 m below street level, were exposed. Grave L109 (Fig. 4) contained an infant burial, 1.0–2.5 years of age, and had a depression in the soil above the head of the deceased, which could have been the base for a tombstone. Grave 111 contained an interment of an adult male, 25–40 years of age (Fig. 5).
Area B. The remains of fourteen graves (Fig. 6), c. 0.4 m below street level, were exposed. Their proximity to surface caused the state of preservation to be worse than that of the graves in Area A and some of them were found damaged. Eight graves (Loci 114, 116, 119, 120, 122, 123, 128, 131) were excavated in their entirety. Some of the graves were situated one atop the other. The bones of two individuals (Loci 105, 106) were found c. 0.3 m above a pair of graves: L114 was a burial of an adult individual of undetermined gender, 40–50 years of age and L116 was a female burial, 30–40 years of age (Fig. 7). Grave 120 contained an infant burial, c. 1 year of age (Fig. 8). The skeleton of an adult male (L122), 20–25 years of age was found moved aside, relative to the rest of the graves, possibly because of a later interment (Fig. 9). Another burial of an infant c. 2 years of age was in L123 (Fig. 10) and L131 was a burial of a child, 3 years of age (Fig. 11). Other graves severed each other; a grave that contained a pair of children, 1 and 3 years of age, placed next to each other (L128; Fig. 12), had cut through the western part of an adult’s grave (L129). All these features suggest that the cemetery was used over a prolonged period.
Most of the bones were in a good state of preservation and it was possible to reconstruct anthropological data, such as age and gender, as well as conduct a visual inspection for pathologies in the bone. However, some of the adults’ skulls were only partly preserved, precluding a morphometric study. The bones were examined in the field and were later turned over to a representative of the local waqf for reburial. An estimation of the individuals’ age was based on development phases and the eruption of teeth (in children) and degree of wear (in adult), using appropriate comparative data. The estimation of the adult individuals’ gender was based on the morphology of the skull and on measuring the vertical diameter of the proximal head of the femur bone. The bones represented at least 25 individuals, composed of seven infants, two children, one adolescent and fifteen adults, ranging from 20 to less than 60 years of age. This age distribution is common in the population of a historic cemetery.
Due to the fragmentary condition no pathologies were observed in the long bones of the deceased. The cranial vaults (porotic hyperostosis) and the roof of eye orbits (cribra orbitalia) were examined to identify anemia or damage caused by infectious diseases; however, the frequency of these injuries to the bones did not exceed that of the known average.
Right below the level of the modern street was sterile hamra soil (Fig. 13), in which depressions replete with fill that yielded an abundance of pottery vessels were found. Numerous pottery vessels that dated to the Abbasid period were uncovered in a large depression in the north of the area (L134; depth c. 0.6 m). A smaller depression (L132) was c. 7 m to the south and farther south was dark brown soil (L136) heaped together with fieldstones. The finds included fragments of pottery vessels from the Mamluk period. The southern side of an installation (L139; Fig. 14) that was dug into the layer of sterile hamra
was exposed at the southern end of the area. The installation included an ashlar stone that was standing on end, like a column, with fieldstones above and alongside it. East of the ashlar stone was collapse that consisted of fieldstones and a large amount of ash.
The artifacts in the area of the cemetery were quite meager and included isolated fragments of pottery vessels, among them bowls (Fig. 15:1, 2) and jugs (Fig. 15:3, 4) that were made of buff-colored clay and dated to the Abbasid period. An assemblage of pottery vessels from the Abbasid period in Area C (L134) included glazed bowls (Fig. 15:5–8), kraters (Fig. 15:9), cooking pots (Fig. 15:10, 11), jars (Fig. 15:12), jugs of buff- colored clay (Fig. 15:13, 14) and an animal figurine (Fig. 15:15). The installation in the southern part of Area C (L139) contained pottery vessels that dated to the Mamluk period, including a complete bowl (Fig. 15:16), a cooking pot (Fig. 15:17) and a glazed jug (Fig. 15:18).
The infant’s grave in Area A (L109) yielded a bronze earring (Fig. 16:1) next to the right side of the skull and a buckle (Fig. 16:2) was discovered in the fill that covered this grave. Two kohl sticks (Fig. 16:3) were found in Area C, L134 and in the southern part of the area, in the fill (L136) next to the installation (L139), two coins were retrieved. The first is Ayyubid, dating to the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE (IAA 75821) and the second is Mamluk from the end of the fourteenth century CE (IAA 75822).