Squares 1–5
Layers of potsherd dumps (thickness 0.2–1.5 m; Fig. 3), sometimes separated by layers of sand and hamra, were exposed in the squares (2 × 3 m to 3.0 × 5.5 m).
The same variety of vessel fragments repeated itself in all the squares. A representative sample was found in Square 3 (L17); it included mostly deep bowls (Fig. 4:1–6), dating to the sixth–eighth centuries CE, a Late Roman Red Ware bowl (Fig. 4:7), ‘Gaza’ jars (Fig. 4:8–12), dating to the sixth–seventh centuries CE, except for one jar (Fig. 4:9) that is dated to the fourth–fifth centuries CE (Tel Aviv 30:147), a jar (Fig. 4:13), dating to the fifth–seventh centuries CE, two amphorae (Fig. 4:14, 15), dating to the fifth–seventh centuries CE and a handle (Fig. 4:16).
Square 6
Several stones that were found in trial trenches (4 × 5 m, depth 1.6 m) pointed to the presence of architectural remains, which were not discovered.
Squares 7–10
A church (c. 14 × 23 m; Fig. 5), oriented east–west was exposed; the following is only a preliminary description.
The walls (preserved height 0.2–1.0 m), built of dressed kurkar stones and bonded with hard cement, were coated with a layer of light gray plaster; they were damaged by agricultural activity at the site. The main entrance (width 3.4 m) was set in the church’s western façade (W8) and another entry was revealed next to its northwestern corner.
The interior of the church was divided by two rows of pillars into a broad nave (5.6 × 13.5 m) and two narrow aisles (width 2.2–2.5 m). The pillars, built of meticulously dressed kurkar stones, were abutted by mosaic floors, which were overlain with dozens of shattered ceramic roof tiles and evidence of fire, probably that of wooden beams.
A wall (W12), oriented east–west, was exposed 10 m southwest of W8. A partially preserved coarse white mosaic floor (L52; length c. 14 m; Fig. 6) abutted W12 from the north; part of the floor was exposed in a probe trench, c. 6 m north of W12. These remains apparently belonged to the atrium—a courtyard at the front of the church.
The remains enable the reconstruction of a single-story basilica church with a gabled roof that was probably built of wooden beams that supported ceramic roof tiles (Fig. 7). Worshippers entered the atrium on the western side of the church and then walked through a wide main entrance into the nave and a narrow entrance into the northern aisle. The liturgical part of the church in the eastern side was not preserved; chancel and altar table remains (below) point to its presence but indicate nothing about its plan.
The church was paved with mosaic floors, including a carpet in the nave, panels between the pillars and the atrium floor, which were partially preserved. Only the plaster foundation remained in the aisles and in the western part of the nave. The discovery of tiny tesserae with green, turquoise and gold-colored glass between them indicates wall mosaics that did not survive.
The nave was adorned with a carpet of populated grape tendrils, nine rows of which were exposed; except for one row, each consisted of five medallions. Despite the destruction, a composition that highlights the center vertical column can be discerned, whereby most of the motifs that populate the grape tendrils in the horizontal rows face it. The center vertical column is composed of grape tendrils that populate an amphora, a camel laden with probably jars of wine (Fig. 8), a large medallion populated with a circle of harmony, a platter that is probably overlain with a fish head, a large medallion that contains a dedicatory inscription (Fig. 9), a boat with jars of wine (Fig. 10) and a peacock with spread wings, facing forward. The circle of harmony medallion in the center of the mosaic creates an infinite circular movement that compels the faithful to stop and pause before the next step, continue eastward and stop again opposite the dedicatory inscription, set in the other large medallion. The horizontal reading of the inscription from left to right is as follows: “In the days of the most God-loving and most saintly bishop John, also this work of the mosaic was done, in the month of Dios of the year 615, in the fifth indiction year”. According to the Ashqelon calendar, Dios of the year 615 dates the floor to November–December 511 CE.
The ceramic artifacts, overlying (L21, L27, L29; Fig. 5) and underlying the floor levels (L34, L36), were poor and dated to the fifth–seventh centuries CE. Fragments of marble liturgical furniture that belonged to an altar table and two chancel screens, one solid and the other—an open lattice (Fig. 11), were found, as well as a silver-plated bronze cross that was probably an inlay. The glass finds included dozens of tiny glass tesserae, among them those made of gold, green and green translucent glass, and a lamp handle, characteristic of the Byzantine period. A bronze nummus (IAA 119683) dated to the end of the fourth century CE was found on the surface.
The Arab village remains hinder the ability to estimate the scope of the site, which is located alongside the international route from Cairo to Damascus. Viticulture and wine production became a principal feature of the settlement’s economy. An ancillary branch of this industry was pottery manufacture, particularly Gaza jars. The products were transported via the major coastal cities of Ashqelon and Ashdod-Yam, also overseas.
The church, identified with the church of Saint John, based on the inscription, was founded in the year 511 as a basilica decorated with wall and floor mosaics. The floor mosaic was adorned with a carpet of populated grape tendrils that incorporated scenes of typical genre with important symbolic motifs. The church was furnished with magnificent marble liturgical furniture and a silver plated bronze cross was inlaid in one of the architectural objects or liturgical fixtures. The church went out of use during the seventh century CE and in the same century its ceiling caught fire and collapsed. From then until the end of the Ottoman period, the church was abandoned, similar to other churches in the northwestern Negev.