The six rock-hewn installations are located at distances of 15–50 m from each other and at elevations from 275 to 255 m above sea level (Fig. 2). The installations, hewn in the nari limestone, were fairly worn from erosion. One of the installations is a circular olive crushing basin (Installation E), four are olive oil presses (Installations A, B, C, D) and one is probably a simple winepress (Installation F).
Installation E: Circular Olive Crushing Basin (Map Ref. 23696/73910).
The base of the circular limestone basin (L501; Fig. 3) located between Presses C and D to its north and northwest, and Presses A and B to its south, remained an integral part of the bedrock, while its sides were hewn out of the rock, leaving it free-standing above the surrounding rock surface (height c. 0.5 m; Fig. 4). The bedrock (L503) immediately to the southeast of the basin sloped down slightly, whereas on the northwestern side of the basin was a narrow gap (width c. 0.5 m), cut out between the basin wall and the vertical step in the bedrock (L504). The upper surface of the basin was flat (outer diam. 1.8 m); it had a partially damaged rim around its circumference (thickness c. 0.1 m, height 0.15 m), and a square sunken socket (0.23×0.23 m, depth 0.22 m) in its center. Although the bedrock surface surrounding the basin was uneven, an eroded rock-cut step and a couple of extant building stones in a row suggest that it was enclosed within a rectangular space (c. 6×7 m), which was at least partially walled in.
This basin was part of a rotary olive crushing installation, in which the preliminary stage in the production of olive oil—crushing of the olives into mash—was carried out. The olives were loaded into the basin, and an upstanding circular crushing stone, attached by a lever to an upright shaft set in the basin’s central socket, crushed the olives by revolving and rotating around the basin. If the area was walled and roofed, the pivot would have been set in a roof beam to stabilize it. The circular crushing stones in these installations were rotated by manpower or animal-power, the latter being more efficient and reflecting a more developed stage of large-scale oil production. The narrow 0.5 m wide passage between the basin and the vertical bedrock in our installation precluded the option of exploiting animal power. No round crushing stones were still extant in the vicinity of the basin.
Installations A, B, C and D: Levered Beam and Weights Olive Presses
The second stage of oil production was the pressing of the crushed olives. Four pressing installations of the levered beam and weights type were excavated, although not all of them were uncovered in their entirety. The installations were located at distances of 20–60 m from Crushing Basin E. The presses were hewn out of the bedrock, exploiting its natural sloping topography by cutting out a step to create a vertical rock face above a horizontal bedrock surface. The presses were basically of the same type, but exhibited some variations.
Press A (map ref. 236965/739035) was the largest press that comprised several elements (Figs. 5, 6). The bedrock step above the press curved around, defining a crescent-shaped area (length c. 20 m, depth c. 7 m) below it, into which the pressing installations were cut. The anchoring point of the press was a large elongated arched niche, cut into the vertical face of the rock step (L101; width 0.4 m, max. height 1.0 m, max. depth 0.55 m). Immediately below it was the pressing bed—a shallow hewn circular surface (L102; diam. 0.9 m, depth 0.2 m), in whose center a globular cavity (L103; surface diam. 0.35 m, max. diam. 0.5 m, depth 0.4 m) that served as a collection vat, was hewn. Two additional circular basins (L104, L105) were rock-hewn to the east of the press bed. Basin 104 was shallow (diam. 0.8 m, depth c. 0.4 m), and had an overflow channel into the considerably deeper Basin 105 (diam. 1.2 m, depth 1.1 m). A separate small cupmark (L107; diam. 0.25 m, depth 0.25 m) to the south of the press bed was probably a compartment for a weight (see below). The bedrock surface (L106) around the installation was rather uneven.
Press B (map ref. 23695/73905) exhibited similar features to Press A, having a curved bedrock step that formed a semicircular area around the pressing installation (Figs. 7, 8). The arched anchoring niche, cut into the vertical rock side (L201; width 0.5 m, height 0.8 m, max. uneven depth 0.8 m), was deeper and squarer than the niche of Press A. A shallow round press bed (L202; diam. 0.7 m, depth c. 0.1 m), surrounded by a shallow channel and set within a slightly large, square and shallow-hewn area, was carved out below the niche. This channel led into a globular collecting vat (L203; surface diam. 0.3 m, max. diam. 0.5 m, depth 0.35 m), cut into the center of the press bed. This installation included a single oval-shaped basin (L204; 1.1×0.7 m, depth 0.3–0.6 m) to the east of the press bed. The floor of Basin 204 was slightly lower than the base of the press bed, but no hewn channel was found in the intervening bedrock. The surrounding bedrock surface (L205) was extremely uneven.
Press C (map ref. 236962/739115; Fig. 9) differs from the former two; it is a ‘double’ installation, with two arched anchoring niches (L301, L306) located at right angles on two vertical rock faces (Figs. 9: Section 1-1; 10). The rock of Niche 301 in the north (width 0.5 m, height 0.5 m, depth 0.4 m) was flaky and worn; the shallow rounded press bed below it was worn and had a slightly curved surface (L302; diam. 1.0–1.3 m, depth c. 0.2 m), in whose center was a small sump (diam. c. 0.2 m, depth 0.15 m). To the east of Press Bed 302 was a hewn rounded basin (L305; diam. 0.9 m, depth c. 0.4 m) whose floor was c. 0.35 m higher than the press-bed floor. Niche 306 on the western side was taller and its rock was in better condition (width 0.5 m, height 1 m, depth 0.4 m). Beneath the niche was a trapezoid-shaped press bed (L303; 1.2×1.2 m, depth c. 0.4 m), with a small sump in its center (diam. 0.15 m). A rounded basin (L304) with a sloping floor and a shallow sump at its lower end (diam. 0.9 m, depth c. 0.35 m) was hewn south of Press Bed 303. The floor of Basin 304 was c. 0.4 m higher than the adjacent press-bed floor. Unlike Presses A and B, no central collecting vats were hewn in the press beds of Press C. It seems that the expressed oil collected in the sump of Press Bed 303 itself and then flowed into a lower unexcavated cavity, lying immediately to the southeast.
Press D (map ref. 236930/739120) consisted of fewer elements (Figs. 11, 12). The arched niche (L401; width 0.4 m, height 0.8 m) was hewn above an uneven amorphous press bed (L402; diam. c. 1.8 m), which was excavated to a depth of c. 0.6 m without reaching the bedrock floor. It is possible that this press bed was secondarily hewn for another purpose, possibly a water cistern. The surrounding bedrock was very uneven.
The Functioning of the Presses
Following the preliminary crushing of the olives, the second stage in oil production was the expression of the oil from the olives in a press. A wooden beam anchored in the arched niche and weighed down with hanging stone weights pressed the baskets of crushed olive mash placed on the rock-cut press bed, thus squeezing out the liquid. The expressed liquid, the lees and the oil in Presses A and B flowed straight down into the hewn globular-shaped central collection vats located in the center of the press beds. The two adjacent round basins in Press A (L104, L105) were probably both auxiliary collection vats, into which the oil was either ladled from the central vat, or into which the oil simply overflowed. However, since there were no hewn channels that could have facilitated this process, it may have been a messy and inefficient system. Alternatively, it is possible that Basin 104 was, in fact, a slightly lowered working surface on which the press operator stood. Press B had only one auxiliary basin for the overflowing oil. These basins or vats would also have been used in the third and final stage of oil production, namely the separation of the oil from the lees, whereby the lighter oil would float above the heavier water, and then, ladled into jars.
The two perpendicularly located niches in Press C could not have been in use contemporaneously. The fact that the rock of the northern niche was extremely fractured and flaky suggests that it, and the press bed below it, were probably never used. The press probably functioned with the western niche and its underlying press bed also served as the primary collection vat. The oil flowed through a rock-cut channel into an additional basin that was probably located here, just to the east, but was not excavated, or was transferred to the adjacent auxiliary vat (L304). The olive mash could be stored in the separate basin (L305), prior to the pressing process.
Press D exhibited a press bed below the anchoring niche, but the collecting vat seems to have been hewn out subsequently for a secondary purpose, possibly a cistern.
In the course of the excavation, Press A was refitted with a wooden beam and stone weights, and was activated by the children (Fig. 13).
Winepress F (map ref. 236935/739100; Fig. 14) was simple and consisted of a rectangular rock-hewn basin (L601; 0.6 × 1.2 m, depth 0.55 m) next to a fairly leveled bedrock surface (L602; Fig. 14: Section 1-1), which may have served as the treading floor. A possible channel may have directed the expressed liquids into an additional basin, which was not excavated (L603). Although lacking any significant features, the presence of this winepress indicates that other food processing activities were carried out on this slope.
The Pottery (Fig. 15)
The pottery evidence was minimal, as only c. 25 diagnostic rim fragments were collected from Presses C and D and no potsherds were found in Presses A, B, E and Winepress F. Dating the presses on the basis of these potsherds is unreliable, since they were not recovered from sealed contexts. Nonetheless, the potsherds from Presses C and D dated predominantly to the Late Hellenistic period, with a few sherds from Iron Age II and a few from the Roman period. The Iron IIA–B potsherds included a triangular rim cooking pot (Fig. 15:1) and a few storage jar rims (Fig. 15:2–4). The Hellenistic pottery included an imported bowl with red-slipped incurved rim (Fig. 15:5), two coarse basins (Fig. 15:6, 7), a cooking pot with an everted rim (Fig. 15:8), several bag-shaped storage jars of buff ware with rounded rims (Fig. 15:9–11) and part of a stamp on an amphora handle (Fig. 15:12). Although extremely limited in quantity and forms, it was observed that the Hellenistic potsherds were more characteristic of the second century BCE, rather than of the late second to first centuries BCE.
The Dating of the Installations and the Olive Crushing Basin
The levered beam and weights oil press appeared in the Land of Israel during the Iron Age and continued in use to the Hellenistic period (Frankel 1999:62–66). A technical improvement that appeared in the course of the later Hellenistic period was a pair of heavy stone piers that stood on either side of the press bed, and whose function was to stabilize the pile of baskets and to keep the beam raised when necessary. These piers are first found in Israel in the second century BCE industrial oil presses at Maresha (Kloner A. and Sagiv N. Subterranean Complexes 44 and 45. In A. Kloner. 2003. Maresha Excavations Final Report I, Subterranean complexes 21, 44, 70 [IAA Reports 17], pp.51–72), and they are also evident in the Hasmonean-period first century BCE presses at Gamla (Goren D. Areas B and D. In D. Syon and Z. Yavor. 2011. Gamla II The Architecture. The Shmarya Gutman Excavations, 1976–1989 [IAA Reports 44], pp.121–125), becoming an integral element in the Roman period oil presses. The screw mechanism was another technical improvement that was introduced in the later Roman period, firstly replacing the weights, and subsequently replacing the beam, although it seems that some beam and weights oil presses still functioned down to modern times. The absence of both the upstanding piers and the screw mechanism in the Horbat Binit central collectionoil presses indicates a dating range from the Iron Age to the Persian to Hellenistic periods. The rotary crushing basin technologyhowever, was not found in the Iron Age, when the olives were crushed or pounded with rollers or mortars, nor have any examples from the Persian period been found. It seems that this rotary technology was introduced in the Hellenistic period (Frankel 1999:69). The crushing stone could be rotated by man-power or more effectively by animal-power, but as explained above, the limited space around the Horbat Binit rotary crushing basin precluded the exploitation of an animal, thus possibly reflecting an early stage in the technology, or small-scale production. Since the crushing basin was found in close proximity to the beam and weights presses, only twenty meters from Press C, it is a fair assumption that the crushing basin and the presses were in use contemporaneously. It is feasible that the preliminary olive crushing stage would have been carried out in the possibly communally-owned basin, and that the subsequent oil pressing stage would have taken place in the individual family-owned presses, where the oil would have subsequently been separated and stored. If this is the case, both the rotary crushing basin and the adjacent associated oil presses at Horbat Binit may be dated to the Hellenistic period. Additional noteworthy factors in these pressing installations are the absence of a unified design and the irregular finish of the rock-hewing that probably reflect an individual or family-scale production, predating the larger industrial techniques of the Roman period. The Hellenistic dating is also compatible with the limited second century BCE pottery evidence from the installations.
Frankel (1999:62–63) has demonstrated the regionalism of the olive presses in the Iron Age, the central collection vattypebelonging to the south of the country, including Judah, as opposed to the more widespread lateral collection vat type employed in the north and along the Phoenician littoral. This basic distinction between southern and northern types is also considered relevant in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and it has been proposed that the appearance of the southern central collection vat type in the north reflects the introduction of Judean olive oil production techniques into the Galilee. The discovery of the Hellenistic presses with the central collection vats raises the possibility that there was a Hellenistic Judean settlement at Horbat Binit by the mid-second century BCE, considerably predating the Hasmonean conquest of the Galilee in 104 BCE. This proposal has important ramifications for the beginning of the Jewish settlement in the Galilee, an issue that could be further clarified by the excavation of Horbat Binit itself.
The round rotary olive crushing basin together with the levered beam and weight presses at Horbat Binit should most probably be dated to the Hellenistic period. The attribution of the central collection vat to a Judean origin raises the possibility of associating the Horbat Binit presses with the influx of a Jewish population from Judea in the Lower Galilee in the second century BCE, prior to the Hasmonean conquest of the Galilee.