During January–February 2009, a salvage excavation was conducted in Modi‘in (Kh. Abu Fureij; Zippor Compound, Lots 113 and 120; Permit No. A-5592; map ref. 20071–113/64677–711), prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Dona Engineering and Construction Company, Ltd., was directed by R. Toueg, with the assistance of E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian and B. Antin (surveying), A. Peretz (field photography), the Sky View Company (aerial photography) and T. Kornfeld (drafting).
The site is located on the lower Shephelah, in a region characterized by flat elongated spurs built of chalk and covered with nari, upon which numerous farming terraces and stone clearance heaps are visible (Fig. 1). Previous excavations and surveys at the site had revealed tombs, as well as hewn and built agricultural installations from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods, and limekilns from the Ottoman period (HA-ESI 110:50*–51*, 114:60*; HA-ESI 117; HA-ESI 122 Permit No. A-4876).
The current excavation was carried out along the edge of the site, on a spur oriented east–west that is characterized by exposed bedrock outcrops, interspersed with terra rossa. Two areas (A, B; Fig. 2) were opened and a limekiln from the Ottoman period, as well as stone clearance heaps, a terrace wall, a series of hewn basins and cupmarks and other isolated cupmarks, were excavated.
The area was located on the upper part of the spur’s western slope.
Limekiln (L104; diam. 2.4 m, depth 3.2 m; Fig. 3) was excavated at the western end of the area. The upper part of the kiln was dug into loess alluvium mixed with lime debris and ash; its sides were a pale red color that was apparently due to the extreme heat inside. The bottom part of the kiln was bedrock hewn and lined with hard limestone, some of which was found in the collapse (Fig. 4). The built sides survived to eight courses high in the northeast. A hollow in bedrock on the western side was blocked with construction that was preserved to the full height of the kiln’s hewn portion. Friable bedrock, red and gray in color due to intense heat, was exposed in places where the built sides were not preserved.
The kiln was found blocked with collapse that consisted of burnt, medium-sized stones mixed with lime and ash. Three well-preserved potsherds of a jug from the Ottoman period were found in the stone collapse. A layer of lime that overlaid a layer of ash was excavated below the collapse and above the bedrock floor. No wind tunnel (Y. Spanier and A. Sasson. 2001. Limekilns in the Land of Israel. Jerusalem [Hebrew]) was discovered and it probably remained hidden beneath the stone collapse on the northern side, which was not excavated.
A probe trench (L106) was dug in the surrounding debris north of the kiln, down to ground level. Dark fill mixed with ash and lime waste was excavated and several worn potsherds from the Hellenistic period were found, as well as a base of a buff-colored jug; these were probably not related to the activity in the kiln.
Dozens of limekilns were excavated at Modi‘in and its vicinity and numerous others are known but have not been explored; they are indicative of lime production on a large scale. Dating the kilns is problematic, although it seems that most of them date to the Ottoman period.
Stone Clearance Heaps. A stone clearance heap (L101; Fig. 5) was located c. 80 m southeast of the kiln. A probe excavated in the center of the heap revealed that the eastern side covered a terrace wall (W1), whereas a wall of small fieldstones (W2; Fig. 6) that was meant to keep the clearance stones in place was built on its western side. The bedrock beneath the heap was not leveled.
Two probe trenches were excavated in a large elliptical stone clearance heap (L105; Fig. 7), c. 40 m east of the kiln. This heap, set on bedrock of a precipitous slope, was enclosed within a wall built of medium-sized fieldstones.
Cupmark (L102; Fig. 6), hewn in a bedrock outcrop near Clearance Heap 101, had a small settling pit in its floor.
Terrace Wall. At the southern end of the lot, a probe trench was excavated across a terrace wall (W3; length c. 4 m; Fig. 8), which was built of large fieldstones and set on bedrock.
The area is located c. 200 m east of Area A, on a flat shallow saddle in the center of the spur, which was partially covered with alluvium.
Stone Clearance Heap. A large circular stone clearance heap (L150) was excavated at the northeastern end of the area. The heap was surrounded with large fieldstones placed in a semi-circle (W100) that were meant to prevent the clearance stones from scattering (Figs. 9, 10).
Rock-Hewn Installation. Clearance Heap 150 was placed on a relatively straight bedrock surface in which nine cupmarks (L151, L153–L156, L160–L163) were hewn; some were cut in natural bedrock depressions. Five of the cupmarks (151, 153, 155, 161, 162) had a sump in their center and the other four were very shallow. Five of the cupmarks (151, 153, 155, 160, 162) surrounded two adjacent rock-hewn vats (Fig. 11). The natural weathering of bedrock and the channels hewn in it facilitated the flow of liquid from the cupmarks to the eastern vat, which was elliptical and shallow (L157; 0.82×1.57 m, depth 0.59 m). The bedrock partition between the vats was somewhat low on the southern side and allowed liquid to flow from the eastern vat to the western one, which was square and deep (L163; 0.4×0.5 m, depth 2.5 m), with a narrow bottom part (Fig. 9: Section 1-1); it was probably quarried deeper due to a crack across it. The remaining four cupmarks were hewn on the edges of the bedrock surface; they were not connected to the two vats, although they were probably part of the overall array of cupmarks.
Vat 157 was found filled with alluvium that included an extremely worn fragment of a bowl from the Hellenistic period. This potsherd, probably found in situ, was eroded by the water that percolated through the stone clearance heap, in which case it is sufficient to determine that the installation ceased to be used in the Hellenistic period at the latest, similar to installations that had been excavated nearby (Permit No. A-4876).
The arrangement of the cupmarks around the vats and the channels that led to them raises the possibility that this was an agricultural installation intended for producing large quantities of fruit juice, which possibly flowed from the cupmarks to the shallow vat (157) that served as a settling pit and from there to the deep pit (163), which functioned as a collecting vat. It is tempting to suggest that this is an ancient winepress, yet there is no evidence to corroborate this supposition. The absence of finds makes dating the installation difficult. Among the concentration of cupmarks that were excavated throughout the country and in the Modi‘in region (HA-ESI 117, HA-ESI 119), none were found clustered around a pair of vats.
Cupmarks. Two deep cupmarks (L158, L159) were found c. 5 m northeast of the installations. The cupmarks, adjacent to each other, were hewn in a flat bedrock surface and had small settling depressions at their bottom. A single large cupmark with a shallow settling pit in its center was hewn in a bedrock surface (L152), c. 8 m southwest of the installation. Two cupmarks, c. 6 m southwest of the installation, were hewn in a bedrock outcrop (L165) that was split into three parts by natural weathering; the cupmarks were also fractured. Another surface, c. 8 m south of this bedrock surface, had three small shallow cupmarks hewn around the eastern side of a flatter cupmark (L166). A thin gutter allowed liquid to flow from the small cupmarks to the large one and from its western end to the bottom of bedrock where a vessel was probably positioned to collect the contents.