Area A
A massive structure (c. 30 × 50 m; Fig. 2) that contained numerous large ovens (average diam. 1.5 m, depth c. 1 m; Fig. 3) was exposed on top of building foundations, whose walls were almost entirely plundered, which dated to the Roman period (first–fourth centuries CE). Most of the ovens were adjacent to the northern and southern walls of the building; those in the north were better preserved than those in the south. A large number of pottery vessels were discovered inside the ovens. Some of the vessels were complete and some contained charcoal remains and organic material that was taken for analysis. A rich and diverse assemblage of pottery vessels was discovered in the building, including many imported from Egypt, Cyprus, North Africa and elsewhere throughout the Mediterranean basin. Prominent among the other finds is the large number of coins (several hundred), including coins from the city of Ashqelon and imperial coins. Based on the rich assemblage, it was determined that the building was used throughout the entire Byzantine period (fifth–beginning of seventh centuries CE). A large quantity of pottery vessels and coins was discovered in the Roman buildings on whose foundations the massive Byzantine structure was founded. It seems that the building was a khan, which provided road services and lodging to those arriving in Ashqelon from the north, along the Via Maris, as well as supplies to those departing the city northward along the same road.
A road that led to the church (see below) was exposed north of the khan. A drainage channel, which was apparently connected to a channel in the middle of the road that separated the building from the church, circulated the khan on the south.
Area B
A church, generally oriented east–west (with a deviation of 20°; 19.5 × 25.0 m; Fig. 4), was exposed on the middle of the slope, next to Area A. The walls and floors of the building were robbed after it was abandoned and its remains, which survived close to the surface, were severely damaged due to modern agricultural activity. The architectural plan of the church and the artifacts recovered from it allow us to date the edifice to the Byzantine period (fourth–fifth centuries CE). The church is a basilica that included an atrium, nave, two aisles, an apse flanked by two rooms and a baptisterium.
The Atrium (7.4 × 9.3 m) had two construction phases. The early phase was paved with marble tiles (0.2 × 0.2 m), just three of which were exposed in situ. A mosaic floor of medium-sized red, black and white tesserae that was partly preserved was built on top of the marble floor in the later phase.
The Nave (5.3 × 11.7 m) was paved with marble tiles arranged in various patterns. Columns that were built between the nave and the aisles had survived by their bases, which consisted of dressed kurkar stones coated with white plaster. A stylobate that began at an engaged pillar in a wall and contained four column bases that were plastered on their sides was discerned. A parallel stylobate that included a double column base (0.5 × 0.5 m) was exposed between the southern aisle and the nave.
The Aisles (2.2 × 11.7 m) were paved with marble tiles. The southern aisle was reasonably well preserved, whereas practically none of the northern aisle had survived. Collapse that was probably a gallery of the second floor was discovered on the floor of the southern aisle. The floor bedding of the gallery consisted of cement and small kurkar stones, probably set on top of wooden beams that did not survive. The negatives of tiles arranged in patterns similar to those in the aisle were visible on the bedding. Marble panels were exposed where the floor of the southern aisle abutted the church’s exterior southern wall.
The Apse was located in the eastern part of the church, flanked on either side by a room. It was built of kurkar and limestone and survived a single course high above the foundations. At the base of the eastern column in the northern aisle was a notch that held the chancel screen, which separated the nave from the bema. A plundered cist tomb, without covering slabs and oriented east–west (0.80 × 1.95 m) was exposed below the floor of the bema, which did not survive; the sides of the tomb were built of dressed kurkar and a few human bones were discovered inside. The room to the south of the apse was probably the diakonikon and the room to the north of the apse was only partially exposed.
The Baptisterium, oriented east–west (4.5 × 9.0 m) was built next to the wall of the northern aisle and a baptismal font (exterior dimensions 1.2 × 1.4 m) was discovered in its southeastern corner. The font, built of poured concrete and kurkar stones, was coated with hydraulic plaster on the interior. It was not possible to reconstruct its exact shape due to its poor state of preservation, but the bottom part of the font was rectangular with two H-shaped pillars. Based on its size, it seems that the font was used for baptizing children, but it may have been used to baptize adults as well.
A corridor (length 9.5 m, width 0.85 m) that led to the church’s northeastern room (6.8 × 7.0 m) ran between the northern wall of the baptisterium and the northern wall of the church complex. At the eastern end of the corridor was the base of another baptismal font that was probably fashioned in the shape of a cross (1.8 × 2.3 m). Its foundations were built of poured concrete and kurkar stones and the negatives of tiles that once lined it were visible in its center.
The Walls. Apart from small sections of the church’s outer eastern wall, only the foundations of walls that were built of kurkar and limestone—a few ashlars and mostly fieldstones—were exposed. The walls in the southern part were better preserved and white, red and turquoise plaster could be discerned on some of their parts. A poured concrete retaining wall (width 0.9 m) was built adjacent to the western part of the church’s southern wall, above which one could discern the negatives of ashlar stones that had been robbed. A layer of cement was preserved on the foundation of the church’s northern wall (length 16.6 m, width 0.85 m), in which the negatives of the wall’s ashlars could be discerned; these were arranged in two rows: the larger stones (average size 0.3 × 0.6 m) were set on the outer side and on the inner side were stones of different sizes, arranged as headers and stretchers.
Area C
Remains of three winepresses, a limekiln, a ruinous burial structure and parts of other buildings whose use is unclear were exposed. The winepresses were in various states of preservation and had different plans.
Winepress 1, the largest winepress, was almost entirely preserved (Fig. 5). This and another winepress will not be destroyed but rather conserved and reconstructed. The complex Winepress 1 was hewn in kurkar and comprised a work surface, pressing areas and two vats.
The work surface (5 × 6 m) was paved with different size marble tiles and stones in secondary use, with coarse white tesserae incorporated between them. An elliptical pit (0.5 × 0.6 m, depth 0.7 m) for a screw was cut in the surface pavement. The walls of the surface consisted of debesh, a combination of small stones and gray cement. Four fermentation cells were located around the work surface. The two cells south of the surface (1.25 × 2.70 m, depth 0.6 m), coated with pinkish gray plaster, were partly paved with stone tiles and partly coated with gray plaster; the two cells to the west of the surface were paved with large white tesserae. Lead pipes connected the floors of the cells to the work surface.
Potsherds covered with mortar were discovered above the cells’ floors and may indicate that a second story was located above them.
Two vats were exposed to the east of the work surface, a settling pit in south and a collecting vat in the north. The settling pit (1.22 × 2.30 m, depth 0.63 m) was paved with different size marble and limestone slabs that were apparently removed from a large building (the church in Area B?) and potsherds were incorporated in-between them. A fragment of a marble chancel screen (length 0.8 m) that was adorned with two medallions with grape clusters and an amphora was integrated among the slabs. The sides of the pit were coated with two layers of gray plaster. In the center of the floor was a round sump (diam. 1.15 m, depth 0.9 m) in whose floor of cement and potsherds a jar fragment was embedded for the settling of waste. The must flowed to the settling pit both from the pressing floor and, by way of a hole that was blocked, from the screw. The must flowed to the collecting vat (2.3 × 2.3, depth 1.15 m) through a lead pipe that was set inside a semicircular niche (diam. 0.5 m) in the northern side of the settling pit. The sides and floor of the collecting vat were also built of different size stones and marble slabs in secondary use and coated with gray plaster.
The finds from the winepress included mostly fragments of large jars, a few bowls, cooking pots and marble tiles that dated to the end of the Byzantine–beginning of the Early Islamic periods, as well as fired mud bricks and numerous animal bones.
The Limekiln (diam. 3 m, depth in excess of 3 m; Fig. 6), almost entirely preserved, was exposed c. 5 m north of Winepress 1. The kiln was hewn in kurkar and only its ceiling, which did not survive, was built above the surface. The kiln was lined with two layers of bricks; the exterior one (thickness 0.15 m) was coated with gray plaster and the inner one consisted of fired bricks that had a yellowish light brown hue (0.15 × 0.40 m). The opening (width 0.5 m) and part of its ceiling were exposed on the eastern side of the kiln. Based on its plan it seems that the kiln was used to produce lime. It was filled with fragments of pottery and glass vessels, roof tiles, disintegrated marble elements and a layer of beach sand rich in shells, below which was a layer of ash that covered the kiln’s kurkar floor. The finds from the kiln were dated to the end of the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE).
Building Remains. Three layers (Fig. 7) of building remains were exposed c. 15 m south of Winepress 1. The early layer included remains of an arched structure, probably a tomb, and was dated to the Roman period. The two upper layers consisted of an industrial winepress (3), overlain with a building that was destroyed when an orchard was planted; these remains were dated to the Byzantine period.
It seems that the site is connected to the local government and church system, which provided road and religious services to those arriving in and departing from Ashqelon along the Via Maris.