During July–August 2011, an excavation was conducted at Ramat Bet Shemesh (Neighborhood 1C, Lot 604; Permit No. A-6227; map ref. 1988/6235), prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was directed by Y. Billig, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), S. al-Amlah (metal detection), N. Zak (plans), I. Lidski-Resnikov (drawing of finds), C. Amit (studio photography), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), and D.T. Ariel and A. Berman (numismatics).
Three excavation areas (A–C; Fig. 1) were opened. An entrance to a large cave was exposed in Area A, a cavity in the bedrock was excavated in Area B and a rock-hewn winepress was revealed in Area C. The region had been surveyed in the past (IAA Reports 46:227–228, Site 286.4).
Area A (map ref. 19881/62364; Fig. 2). Two excavation squares were opened outside the entrance of a large rock-hewn cave; its interior was not excavated due to objections by extremist orthodox religious factions. One square was excavated next to the cave opening and the other was excavated to the north (L3). Collapse consisting of various size stones and dark brown soil fill was initially removed from the square next to the cave opening. It seems that these stones originated from the ceiling and sides of the cave that collapsed, from the walls that were dismantled in front of the cave and from the stone clearance in the area outside the cave. After its removal, the plan of the cave’s entrance became apparent. The entrance included a stepped passage that was probably paved with stones, which were not preserved; it descended south toward a small courtyard (Figs. 3, 4). The courtyard (1.64 × 2.05 m) was delineated on the east and west by walls (W51, W52) built of nari ashlars. Since the cave’s courtyard was hewn in soft qirton bedrock, its sides and floor were lined with slabs of nari. Another wall (W53) was built on the southern side of the courtyard next to the cave’s entrance. An opening (width 0.92 m) that had two large ashlar doorjambs, preserved in situ, was set in W53 (western doorjamb—0.65 × 0.80, height 1.55 m; eastern doorjamb—0.60 × 0.75 m, its upper part was broken). An impressive ashlar lintel (0.45 × 0.84, length 1.63 m) was discovered lying at an angle behind the opening. East of the opening, a fragment of a large round roll stone (min. diam. 1.57 m, thickness 0.31 m; Fig. 5) was discovered inside its track. The ceiling of the cave mostly consisted of hard nari bedrock while the cave’s interior was hewn in soft qirton. A hewn rectangular entrance shaft (0.75 × 1.15 m) was discerned in the western part of the ceiling.
Several body fragments of jars dating to the Late Roman–Byzantine periods were discovered in the bottom layer of soil that covered the courtyard (L4). Potsherds from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, as well as a large quantity of animal bones, were discovered in the upper blackish layer of soil that was deposited on the wall remains in the courtyard and between their collapsed stones. An intact handmade clay lamp that probably dates to the Mamluk or Ottoman periods (Fig. 6) was discovered beneath an enormous block of bedrock that had detached from the cave’s ceiling next to the opening; no comparisons of this lamp were found.
Several large elongated ashlars (max. length 2.1 m) were exposed on the surface in the northern square. They were mostly incorporated in a field wall (W50) that was oriented northeast-southwest. It is possible that these stones were robbed from the upper part of the walls near the cave’s opening.
Two coins were discovered in the excavation. One was found on the surface in the cave entrance; it is a coin of the Ayyubid sultan Al-Kamil that was minted in Damascus between the years 1218–1237 CE (IAA 138054). The other coin was discovered on the surface of the balk between the two excavation squares; it dates to the nineteenth century CE.
The ceramic artifacts discovered in the cave’s courtyard indicate two phases of use. The early phase is dated to the Late Roman–Byzantine periods. Based on the roll stone that was discovered in situ in the cave’s opening, it is assumed that the cave was probably used for burial by an affluent family in the early phase. The late phase is dated to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, when the cave and the courtyard were possibly used again.
Area B (map ref. 198825/623610). A cavity in the bedrock was inspected at the foot of a bedrock terrace. A field wall was built above the cavity. Just two body fragments of jars were discovered. This cavity seems to be natural.
Area C (map ref. 198840/623575; Figs. 7, 8). A simple winepress, hewn in a bedrock outcrop, was exposed. It consisted of a square treading floor (2.05 × 2.05 m) and a square collecting vat (1.05 × 1.10 m, depth 0.88 m). A small square depression (0.14 × 0.14 m, depth 5 cm) was hewn in the middle of the treading floor; it might have been used to secure a pressing installation. A hollow (0.85 × 1.75 m, depth 1.6 m), probably natural, was discerned slightly south of the winepress. A rock-hewn cupmark (diam. 0.48 m, depth 0.22 m) was discerned c. 2.5 m west of the winepress. Several potsherds that mostly dated to the Late Roman–Byzantine periods were discovered in the excavation, but they are of no help in dating the winepress.