Western Funerary Structure. The structure was built of local kurkar stones (average width 0.35 m) and was divided into three vaulted tombs (1, 2, 7; Fig. 3) arranged beside each other in a general north–south direction. Each of the vaults were aligned along an east–west axis; their openings were fixed in the east. Tombs 1 and 2 survived in their entirety, whereas only the remains of the beginning of the vault were found in Tomb 7. The facades of Tombs 1 and 2 shared a common pilaster (width of the building stones 0.3 m).
All of the surfaces of Tomb 1 (width 2.85 m, height 1.5 m) were treated with light gray plaster mixed with crushed shells. Its opening (width 0.6 m, height 0.9 m; Fig. 4) was blocked by two roll-stones, also made of kurkar (0.4–0.5 × 0.6 m). The inside of the tomb was not excavated.
The entire width of the eastern façade of Tomb 2 (2.90 × 3.65 m) was open. The inside of the tomb was full with sand; it was excavated to a depth of 1.5 m from the ceiling. The inside of the vault was treated with light gray plaster mixed with crushed shells. A rounded opening (diam. 0.65 m) was cut through the top of the vault, indicating that the tomb was plundered in the past.
Tomb 7 (2.05 × 3.20 m) lies adjacent to Tomb 2, to its north. It is smaller than Tombs 1 and 2, and was preserved to a maximum height of 0.65 m. The walls (average width 0.30–0.45 m) were constructed of small building stones (average size 0.2 m). The poorly preserved vault remains span the full width of the tomb. The inside of the tomb (1.3 × 2.6 m), which was filled with sand, was not excavated.
The three tombs constitute together a single funerary structure that was constructed in two technical phases. The vaults of Tombs 1 and 2, which share a common pilaster, were built first, and Tomb 7, which adjoins Tomb 2 on the north, was built in a second phase but is clearly related to the adjacent vaults. Both the façade of the funerary structure, which ended in a straight line, and the nature of its construction were uniform, rendering the three tombs the appearance of a single unit. Judging by the ceramic artifacts in the fill that abutted the vaults and their openings (L108)—an imported African Red Slip bowl (Fig. 5:1) and a Beit Natif lamp (Fig. 5:4)—the structure can be dated to the mid-fourth – early fifth centuries CE.
Eastern Funerary Structure. The structure was almost square (5 × 6 m; Fig. 6) and like the western structure was built of local kurkar stones and lime-based mortar mixed with crushed shells. A barrel vault oriented along an east–west axis covered the structure and was supported on its walls (W3—max. preserved height 1.25 m; W4—preserved height 0.7 m; W5—preserved height 0.85 m; W6—height 0.9 m; average width of the walls 0.7 m). Although most of the vault was destroyed, its lower part is apparent on Walls 3 and 5, except in the northeastern corner of the structure. The inside of the structure was treated with light red plaster, sections of which were preserved on the walls. It seems that the entrance to the structure was fixed in the middle of its eastern wall (W6) so that it opens onto the corridor that divided the structure in two; however, no evidence remained of the opening due to the wall’s poor state of preservation. One step (W12; width 0.7 m) led from the opening to the corridor (length 4.4 m, width 0.75 m). Two troughs (length 2.0–2.1 m, width 1.20–1.25 m, preserved height 0.2 m) treated with pale red plaster and separated by partitions (width 0.26 m) were installed on either side of the corridor. The ceramic finds collected above the troughs and beside W4 (L102, L104) included mainly Gaza jars (Fig. 5:2, 3), suggesting that the structure should be dated to the sixth century CE.
The two funerary structures revealed at Horbat Ashdod-Yam were built at two different times during the Byzantine period. The western funerary structure, consisting of three vaults, is dated to the mid-fourth – early fifth centuries CE. Similar vaulted tombs are known from in the southern coastal plain. The excavated vaulted tomes add information on the distribution such tombs during the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, from which more than one hundred such tombs have been exposed so far. This type of tomb is unique to the southern coastal plain of Israel, and was in widespread use by the affluent population.
When the eastern funerary structure was built in the sixth century CE, the masons were fully aware of the western structure. Although it was covered with a vault similar to the those in the western structure, the eastern structure represents a different type of burial structure, one comprising five spaces: a corridor and four burial troughs.
The tombs most probably belonged to the Byzantine-period city of Azotos Paralus, or Ashdod-Yam, whose buildings are depicted on the Madaba Map. The remains of the city are hidden beneath the sand dunes and the Ashdod-Yam fortress. The tombs, which belonged to the city’s cemetery, attest to the cultural richness of Ashdod-Yam in the Byzantine period.