Twenty squares were opened in three areas (A–C, c. 500 sq m; Fig. 1). The antiquities discovered in the northern Area A included a compound surrounded by walls, which contained a winepress from the Roman period, three complex winepresses and agricultural installations from the Byzantine period and field walls from the Early Islamic period. A large church dating to the Byzantine period was exposed in the southern Area B and a rock-hewn winepress, a quarry and a road were uncovered in Area C, situated between and west of Areas A and B.
Agricultural installations and rock-cuttings were exposed in a compound extending across a large area at the top of the kurkar ridge. The compound was surrounded by walls on the north (Fig. 1: 1), east (Fig. 1: 2) and south (Fig. 1: 3), whereas on the west it was delimited by a large quarry. Two levels were discerned in the compound and three phases of use could be reconstructed, based on the excavation finds.
The first phase dated to the end of the Roman and the beginning of the Byzantine periods (third–fourth centuries CE). The entire area at the top of the kurkar ridge was leveled out, using quarrying and fill; walls built of partially dressed kurkar stones were set around it. Two walls, whose purpose is unclear, were built in a north–south direction inside the compound (Fig. 1: 4, 5). The inner walls, like the outer walls, were well-built of partially dressed kurkar stones. East of the quarry in the western part of the compound, an entirely bedrock-hewn winepress was exposed (Figs. 1: 12; 2, 3). The winepress comprised a treading floor, an intermediate vat and a plastered collecting vat.
The second phase dated to the Byzantine period (fifth–seventh centuries CE), at which time the compound was converted into an area of agricultural installations, including a complex of three adjacent winepresses (18 × 30 m; Figs. 1: 7, 8, 10; 3, 4). Each winepress consisted of a treading floor paved with a mosaic, an intermediate vat to its east and a collecting vat with a sump in its bottom. The intermediate and collecting vats and the sumps were paved with mosaics and their sides were lined with a thick layer of hydraulic plaster, applied to a base layer of lime mortar mixed with ground potsherds (Fig. 5). The collecting vats in each of the three winepresses were accessed by way of three or four built steps that descended from south to north next to the eastern side of the vat. Stone bases for a screw press were exposed in the middle of the treading floor in the southern (L124) and middle (L103) winepresses. The treading floors were close to the surface and therefore, poorly preserved. Nevertheless, three or four secondary surfaces that were enclosed within walls and contained small collecting vats with plastered sides and mosaic-paved floors, can be reconstructed in Winepresses 103 and 124. Remains of another secondary surface with a collecting vat were exposed north of the collecting vat in the northern winepress (L131). East of the collecting vat in Winepress 103 and next to its northeastern corner, a round depression that was connected to the collecting vat by a narrow channel (see Fig. 5) was exposed. The depression was used to place a jar that was filled with wine from the collecting vat.
Four hewn rectangular installations were discovered next to the winepresses and in their vicinity; each had two depressions in their long sides, opposite each other (Figs. 1: 6, 9, 11, 13; 6). Two of the installations (L127, L144) were adjacent to the treading floors of the complex winepresses, one was next to the treading floor of the rock-hewn winepress from the first phase (L157) and one was in the area south of the winepresses (not marked on the plan). The upper part of the sides in Installations 127 and 144 was built of partly dressed stones and gray mortar. Plaster remains were discovered on the sides of the southern installation. It is unclear what purpose the installations served; however, their location points to their use in association with the production of must and wine in the winepresses.
The third phase dated to the Early Islamic period (seventh–eighth centuries CE) when the winepresses were no longer used, their vats were filled with stones and soil, and a wall was built along the treading floors of the winepresses from the second phase (Fig. 1: 14, see Fig. 4). In addition, carelessly built new walls of larger stones, mostly in secondary use, were erected above the walls of the first phase. The entire area was turned into farmland and the walls were apparently meant to demarcate cultivation plots.
It should be noted that rock-cuttings, including cupmarks (Fig. 1: 15–19), basins and a bodeda (Fig. 7) were discovered in all the bedrock outcrops; however, it can not be determined to which phase they belonged.
A large flat platform was discovered and above it a very big church was built in the fifth century CE (Figs. 1: 20; 8, 9). The platform was surrounded by quarries on the north, east and south (Fig. 10). Burial caves that are characteristic of the first–third centuries CE (Fig. 1: 21–23) were hewn in the sides of the quarries. It is unknown when the quarries were hewn nor what was the purpose the stones carved in them; it is only clear that they predated the burial caves.
The church extended across a very large area, which, due to the limitations of the excavation, its size could not be estimated. Only part of its eastern end was excavated and probe trenches were dug in its center; its western end was not exposed.
Two walls (W27, W28; see Fig. 8) that enclosed the nave from the north and south were exposed in the center part of the church. A wall located next to the side of the northern quarry (W20) was discovered c. 8 m north of the nave’s northern wall. The purpose of W20 was to widen the platform that the quarries created and serve as a retaining wall for the side room on the north of the church. A water basin (L212) was exposed south of the nave, in another hall or courtyard, and a large cistern (L211; Fig. 1: 24) was located nearby. The cistern’s opening was covered with two vaults that had collapsed and their stones were discovered in the cistern. Many elements of marble and hard limestone, which were used for worship and for decorating the church and its bema, were discovered in the cistern, including fragments of a marble horseshoe-shaped table, small decorated chancel posts and fragments of a capital.
Two phases were discerned in the eastern part of the church.
The first phase: Three apses that faced south, east and north, in the shape of a cloverleaf, were constructed (see Figs. 8, 9). The walls of the apses (height 1.8 m, thickness 2 m) were built of ashlars. It should be noted that cloverleaf-shaped churches are rare in the country; only a few examples were discovered, e.g., the Church of the Nativity in Bet Lehem and the Church of John the Baptist in Jerusalem. The cloverleaf structure emphasized the space between the apses, where in most churches of this type, a sacred element existed. In our case, a crypt was discovered (see Fig. 8, marked in bright green) between the western end of the northern apse and the western end of the southern apse, where a saint, immortalized by the church, was probably buried. The crypt was entered from the west by way of a rectangular rock-cutting, covered with stone beams (see Fig. 9). A stone slab in the opening to the burial chamber was meant to block the entrance, but it was slightly shifted due to plundering in antiquity. Marks on the upper part of the stone slab indicate it was raised by means of a lever. The burial chamber was entirely hewn, and a single vault was cut in each of the chamber’s southern, eastern and northern sides. Each vault was decorated with three painted crosses, a large one in the center and two smaller ones on the sides (Fig. 11). In each of the vaults was a burial trough covered with large stone beams, some of which were moved or broken when the tomb was looted.
The second phase: The three apses were no longer used and their entrance was blocked. A new apse was built in their place at the eastern end of the nave, c. 13 m west of the ancient center apse. Only the foundations of the new apse survived and it seems to have been not as magnificent. A stone bench (W252; see Fig. 8) was built to the west of the new apse.
As said above, it is impossible to know how big the church was; however, judging by a large column drum (diam. almost 1 m) that was discovered in the stone collapse near the western end of the northern apse, the height of the building is estimated to have been in excess of 10 m.
Field walls (Fig. 1: 25–27) that dated to the Early Islamic period were discovered west of the church. The walls, built after the church was destroyed, were apparently meant to mark the boundaries of cultivation plots.
A rock-hewn road (width 2–3 m; Fig. 1: 28), which ascended from the trough west of the kurkar ridge toward the peak of the ridge, was discovered. A simple type of a rock-hewn winepress, consisting of a small treading floor and a collecting vat (Figs. 1: 29; 12), was exposed in the western part of Area C.
Agricultural installations and a church that dated from the end of the Roman to the Early Islamic periods were uncovered in the excavation. This area had been used in earlier periods for quarrying and burial. It seems that in the Byzantine period (fifth–seventh centuries CE), religious and agricultural activity flourished at the site; during the Early Islamic period (seventh–eighth centuries CE), when the winepresses and the church were no longer used, all the area was cultivated and after the eighth century CE, the area was almost completely deserted.
The most important find uncovered in the excavation is a very large cloverleaf-shaped church, which is not characteristic of a rural region and therefore, its appearance at the site is difficult to explain. The quality of the construction and the size of the structure seem to indicate that this church was planned and executed by a government entity, rather than as a local initiative.
The winepresses from the Byzantine period that were discovered north of the church indicate a highly developed industry of growing grapes and wine production, particularly white wine whose production requires an intermediate vat to filter the grape skins. It should be mentioned that the production capacity of the three complex winepresses is very large and demonstrates that the produced wine was used not solely for self-consumption but was probably marketed and exported.