The current excavation was undertaken in hope of locating a mausoleum, where the sarcophagus may had belonged.
An elongated area (c. 20 sq m) was excavated along the north side of a house. It yielded several partially dressed kurkar stones that were randomly arranged in a fill of sand, accompanied by a few Roman and Byzantine potsherds. The area was excavated down to sterile sand, at a depth of c. 2 m; no architectural remains or occupation levels were discovered.
The sarcophagus, which was found prior to the excavation began, was partially damaged by mechanical equipment during its extraction, although the lid was in a better state of preservation. The sarcophagus is made of hard limestone (external dimensions: 1.0 × 2.3 m, 0.9 m high) and is decorated in reliefs on all four sides. In the center of one of its long sides, apparently the front of the sarcophagus, is a figure dressed in a toga (Fig. 2); the upper part of the figure is damaged. It is flanked by two festoons of plant motifs, including cones and leaves, and bunches of grapes trail from the center of the festoons. Figures of winged angels (or cupids) hold the festoons at each end. The upper part of the angel-like figure on the left is damaged, but the one on the right is relatively well preserved, and its facial features and long hair are clearly visible. The upper corners of this side of the sarcophagus, like its other corners, bear bulls’ heads that are wrapped around the two corners.
Each of the two short sides of the sarcophagus is ornamented with a festoon of vegetal motifs suspended from the bulls’ heads (Figs. 3, 4). A bunch of grapes hangs from it, and a decorative feature appears above it: a five-petaled rosette on the one side (Fig. 3), and the head of Medusa surrounded by snakes on the other (Fig. 4). Perforated holes used to fix the sarcophagus lid in place are visible above the ornamental motifs on the two short sides; matching holes were found on the short sides of the lid.
The sarcophagus’s other long side (Fig. 5), probably the back, was damaged on the left. It is nevertheless possible to discern a decoration comprised of three festoons of vegetal motifs which reach the bulls’ heads—the two heads in the corners and two more, each a third of the way along the side. Here, too, grape bunches hang from the center of the festoon, and above them are four- and five-petaled rosettes.
The gabled sarcophagus lid has acroteria in the corners. One side of the gabled lid, which probably faced forward (Fig. 6), is adorned with the image of a man reclining on his left side with his left arm placed along the body and his right arm resting across his waist. The folds of the figure’s clothing and his bare feet are visible. The face is depicted schematically, with hollow eyes, while the hair—short and curly—is depicted naturalistically.
On the back of the lid, a grape vine with three leaves and three bunches of grapes on each side sprouts from both sides of a two-handled amphora (Fig. 7).
Each of the lid’s two gabled ends has a recessed triangle, shaped in accordance with the shape of the lid, with a protruding circular boss in the center (Fig. 8), and the hole for securing the lid below it.
Judging by its style, the sarcophagus dates from the Roman period (later half of the second–third centuries CE). Its ornamentation and the quality of its workmanship attest to the economic affluence of the deceased and his family, and, indirectly, of the city of Ashqelon’s during the Roman period. The sarcophagus was discovered in an area where dozens of Roman- and Byzantine-period tombs were previously foundan area that was probably one of the necropolises of the settlement that existed on the tell during these periods.