In the current trial excavation, north of the El-Khirba settlement remains, two rock-cut winepresses (L100, L101), a pressing installation (L106), a stone quarry (L103) and a burial cave (L107) were exposed.
Winepress 100 (Figs. 2, 3) was revealed on the hilltop. The installation consisted of a square treading floor and a large, round, shallow collecting vat (depth 0.64 m) to its east, with a hewn shelf in its northwestern part. East of the collecting vat was an enclosed rock-cut surface, where the grape clusters may have been placed prior to treading. A circular depression on which jars may have been placed was found next to the spot connecting the treading floor with the collecting vat.
Winepress 101 (Figs. 4, 5) had a rectangular treading floor and a square collecting vat (L104; depth 0.76 m) located to its south. A rock-cut shelf was situated in the treading floor’s northwestern corner. A hewn cupmark that probably served as a sump was quarried in the center of the collecting vat’s bedrock floor.
Pressing Installation 106 (Figs. 6, 7) was uncovered on the southeastern part of the hill. The installation comprised a fairly small rectangular surface and a rather deep elliptical collecting vat to its east. Two cupmarks in the treading floor were probably hewn in a later phase. A shallow circular depression, the function of which is unclear, was exposed in the bedrock west of the installation. Stone Quarry 103 (Figs. 8, 9) was discovered next to the installation; a small number of building stones were evidently produced here.
Cave 107 (Fig 10, 11) was discovered on the western part of the hilltop. At first, only the breach made by antiquities robbers was exposed. Later on in the excavation, the cave’s original opening was located; it was arched and hewn inside an ancient quarry. A rectangular entryway was revealed east of the opening, from which two steps led down into the cave. Through the breached opening one could see the ceiling; it was treated with white plaster embedded with ribbed potsherds.
Fragments of pottery vessels dating from the Byzantine and Umayyad periods (fourth–eighth centuries CE) were discovered on the surface and inside the agricultural installations. These included two bowls from the Byzantine period (Fig. 12:1, 2), a jar from the Umayyad period (Fig. 12:3), a fragment of a roof tile stamped with a cross-shaped impression (Fig. 12:4), as well as marble tiles and a fragment of a basalt millstone (not drawn). Although these artifacts were not discovered in datable contexts, they represent periods of intense activity in and around the El-Khirba site, and it seems that the hill that was examined served as that settlement’s agricultural hinterland.
Prehistoric Survey
Polina Spivak
As part of the trial excavation, flaked flint items were systematically gathered from the surface of three randomly selected squares (B3, C5, E4; each square 50 × 50 m; Fig. 13) in the grid spread across the hill. The flint items that were collected from the installations during the course of the excavation were added to this assemblage. An assemblage of c. 200 items (Table 1) was sorted. It was made of indigenous flint found as nodules and chunks of various sizes and shapes, mainly in the nari layer that was sometimes exposed in the vicinity of the hill (Fig. 14).
The assemblage appears to be homogenous from both typological and technological standpoints. All of the knapped items are sharp and fresh, and their state of preservation indicates that they underwent minimal displacement. Given the diagnostic items, most of the prehistoric activity at the site should be ascribed to the beginning of the Neolithic period (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A); however, no architectural remains, installations or an in-situ habitation layer were identified from this period.
The repertoire represents a typical flake industry. The ratio between blades and flakes is high (1:21), although judging by the cores and core trimming elements (Fig. 15) it seems that blades were actually the focus of production. Evidently only a minimal effort was made in shaping the cores, and most of them had a cortex preserved on at least one surface. The high incidence of bifacial tools (Fig. 16:1, 2) is remarkable (70% of all the tools). These include three types: axes, chisels and unfinished tools (pre-forms) that were discarded because of errors made while knapping. Debitage that is identified with the preparation of bifacial tools was also documented: narrowing flakes (Fig. 16:3) and tranchet flakes (Fig. 16:4) that are common in the bifacial tool industry of the PPNA. Most of the axes and chisels that were completed were broken and exhibit breaking patterns that are indicative of intensive use. In addition, a sickle blade characteristic of a later phase of the Neolithic period was found on the surface (Fig. 16:5). It should be noted that sickle blades and arrowheads that are typical of the PPNA were not found at the site.
Sites of a similar nature, where no settlement layer was found and the flint assemblage is analogous, were recently identified in the vicinity of Modi‘in, Zur Natan, Zofim and Shoham. At these sites, as at the Nesher Quarries, the flint assemblages are the only evidence of ancient human activity. It seems that these sites represent a specialized industrial activity that is based on the local production of bifacial tools and their immediate use. Interestingly, no settlement sites have been discovered to date that can be linked to these work sites.
Table 1. The Flint Assemblage
Primary elements
Core trimming elements
Bifacial tools
Other tools
Bifacial debitage
The remains revealed in the trial excavation are ascribed to two periods of time: a flint industrial assemblages, albeit devoid of settlement remains, dating from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A; and the remains of agricultural and industrial activity along with burial caves that date from the Hellenistic period to the Umayyad period. The latter finds are apparently connected to the nearby settlement of El-Khirba, where most of the activity occurred during these periods.