The current excavations were carried out simultaneously in areas within three archaeological sites. This report documents the excavation conducted at Kh. Hammama (Areas C and D in the overall excavation). In Area C, on a gentle southward-facing slope to the east of the knoll where the former village lay, 100 squares were opened for excavation (total area c. 2500 sq m; Fig. 2). They yielded architectural remains dating from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, late Ottoman and the British Mandate periods, as well as finds from Iron Age II and the Persian period devoid of any architectural context. In Area D, on the north slope of the hill and close to its summit, 36 excavation squares were opened (total area c. 900 sq m; Fig. 3), revealing architectural remains from the Byzantine, Mamluk(?), Ottoman and British Mandate periods, as well as finds devoid of any architectural context from Iron Age II and the Hellenistic, Roman and Early Islamic periods. The surface layer in both areas was excavated down to where habitation levels or clear remains began to appear both manually and with mechanical equipment.
Hellenistic Period. Remains from this period were exposed only in the southeast of the area. They included at least one structure that was founded directly on the natural soil. The building’s walls (0.6–0.9 m wide) were built of mud-bricks with incorporated courses built of small fieldstones. Only the foundations of walls, from the floor level downward, were preserved (max. height 0.5 m), and therefore only meager, fragmentary remains of tamped-earth floors were discovered. The building contained rooms of various sizes and probably also a courtyard, but its plan is fragmentary, and it is impossible to tell whether it the remains comprise a single building or several buildings. Only one room was fully excavated (c. 2.5 × 3.5 m; Fig. 4). In its center was a smashed pottery jar in situ, alongside fieldstones and fragments of basalt grinding and crushing implements. The jar belongs to a late type of jars that have basket handles; it dates from the late Persian or early Hellenistic period (fourth century BCE), probably belonging to the earliest phase of the building. The floor of the room from the later phase was not preserved, and potsherds from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods were recovered from a layer of soil deposited directly on top of the jar. Another room retained part of a tamped earthen floor, in which the lower half of a Hellenistic-period storage jar was sunk. Fragments of two complete imported bowls from the same period (third–second centuries BCE) were retrieved above the floor. A noteworthy find was part of a large cylindrical clay stand, possibly an incense stand, discovered at the north end of the building. Although the excavation reached the natural soil in other parts of Area C, no further Hellenistic remains were encountered. It thus seems that the settlement during this period was located to the east of the subsequent settlement; an alternative explanation may be that the building discovered in the excavation was located at some distance from the center of the settlement, which lay to its west.
Roman Period. Fragmentary remains from this period were discovered in the west part of the excavation, beneath the Byzantine remains (below). They included wall segments and installations founded on natural soil; several date from the Early Roman period (first–second centuries CE), and others—from the Middle Roman and/or Late Roman period (second–fourth centuries CE). Part of a large circular or elliptical oven or kiln (diam. c. 1.75 m; Fig. 5) built of stones and fired mud-bricks was unearthed. The few potsherds found in its foundations date from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. Fragmentary sections of three walls (or two walls and a pillar), all built of small fieldstones, were found to the southwest of the kiln; only their foundation courses were preserved. Two circular ash stains discovered to the south of the walls were probably the remains of tabuns. The pottery found in association with all these remains dates from the Early Roman period at the latest. A second tabun, smaller in size, had fragments of Middle or Late Roman pottery vessels in and around it, including a cooking pot.
Byzantine Period. During this period, a sizable architectural complex was constructed on a northeast–southwest alignment. It contained a large building, which comprised a storehouse and a dwelling; these may have been two distinct but adjoined buildings. Two adjacent winepresses were discovered to the north of the building.
Two construction phases were identified in the building (c. 23 × 40 m; Fig. 6), but due to the robbery of building stones in later periods the preserved remains were mostly confined to the foundation level. The building’s walls were constructed of fieldstones and roughly hewn stones, and its floors were made of beaten earth, fieldstones or plaster. Its south wing had three large parallel halls—two rectangular and one square—that were probably storerooms. Retaining pillars, of which only the foundations were preserved, were built in the center of the square hall. The wall delimiting the three storerooms on the south was rebuilt at a later stage, slightly enlarging the building, and three square retaining pillars were incorporated in its outer face.
To the north of the storeroom wing was a series of rooms and perhaps courtyards of various sizes. Due to the poor state of their preservation and since the area was only partially excavated, the precise number and the full plan of most of the rooms are unknown. In certain places, floor levels from the earlier and later phases of the building were preserved, along with installations, such as tabuns, storage facilities and stands made of the upper part of Gaza jars inserted upside down in the floors. In the building’s earlier phase, a plastered channel (inner width c. 0.2 m) was constructed in its northern part. The channel sloped to the southwest, and included, at least for part of its length, a clay pipe; another pipe branched off the channel to the northwest. The channel’s full length is unknown, as are its beginning and end, and it is unclear whether it carried water for irrigation or for some other purpose. The channel became obsolete in the later phase, when a wall was built over it, and a new, wider channel (inner width c. 0.4 m) was constructed at the southeast end of the building. This channel cut through the building’s south wall, on a southwesterly gradient as did the earlier channel. It seems that the channel was added to the building in its later phase, only when the eastern storehouse went out of use and the area became an open plot. The full length and function of the later channel are unknown.
The finds discovered in association with the building’s two phases contained numerous pottery sherds, but very few vessels that could be restored, suggesting that the building was abandoned in an orderly fashion. Fragments of glass vessels, numerous coins and stone and metal artifacts were also recovered. The finds date from the fifth–seventh centuries CE, i.e. from the Byzantine period to the beginning of the Early Islamic period, when the building was abandoned. A few refuse pits and dumps inside and outside the building contained a large quantity of potsherds and a handful of other finds; these can be attributed to either its latest phase or the period following its abandonment.
Two adjacent winepresses were discovered to the north of the building (Fig. 7). They were probably constructed in the earlier phase of the complex and were used with no significant alterations until it was abandoned. The western winepress (c. 12 × 17 m), which was almost entirely excavated, consisted of a treading floor, four pressing or fermentation cells, a settling pit and two collecting vats. A large U-shaped courtyard surrounded the winepress to the west, south and east. The winepress was severely damaged due to the robbery of stones and other building materials during the late Ottoman or the British Mandate periods, as indicated by the latest finds discovered within it. The walls of the winepress were built of poured mortar mixed with fieldstones, and its inner elements were all coated with whitish hydraulic plaster. The treading floor was paved with limestone slabs set in a mortar bedding. In the center of the floor was a base for a screw press. The screw base and nearly all of the paving slabs were removed for secondary use, and the mortar bedding for the southern half of the treading floor was completely destroyed. Two pairs of rectangular pressing or fermentation cells were built along the north and west sides of the treading floor; they were linked by a short lead pipe. The must ran from the treading floor to a rectangular settling pit with rounded corners, of which only the west half was preserved. Two large octagonal collecting vats were built on each side of the pit, each including a circular sump with a depression in the center. The western collecting vat was almost entirely preserved; the eastern one was badly damaged. Each vat was accessed from the outer courtyard to its south via three plaster-coated steps. Two semicircular cells, separated by a pillar, were constructed opposite the west collecting vat; these may have served as work or storage spaces. Similar cells were probably built opposite the eastern vat, but they were not preserved. In the outer courtyard, sections of a floor bedding composed of small fieldstones and potsherds bonded with mortar were preserved. Winepresses with octagonal collecting vats are particularly characteristic of the southern coastal plain, and a close parallel to this winepress was discovered at the nearby ‘Third Mile Estate’ (Israel and Erickson-Gini 2013
:189–194, Plan 6, Figs. 18, 19). Once the robbery of building materials had ceased, the winepress was filled—perhaps even deliberately—with brown alluvial soil and yellow dune sand. The fills contained meager finds, the latest of these dating from the late Ottoman or the British Mandate period.
The eastern winepress was only partly excavated; it was apparently severely damaged in a later period. Its treading floor probably lay to the northeast of the western winepress, but the only remains consisted of a very small section of plaster flooring over a bedding of potsherds bonded with mortar. To the south of the treading floor was a square collecting vat with a circular depression in its center. An intact pottery bowl was sunk in its floor. This collecting vat has a much smaller capacity than the octagonal collecting vats in the western winepress, suggesting that the eastern winepress was used to produce a smaller quantity of wine, possibly of a different type than that produced in the western winepress. After the winepress was abandoned, the collecting vat was apparently used as a refuse dump, as suggested by the numerous pottery sherds from the Late Byzantine and the beginning of the Early Islamic period (sixth–seventh centuries CE) found inside the winepress around it.
Late Ottoman and British Mandate Periods. After the Byzantine complex was abandoned in the seventh century CE, this part of the site remained unused for a long time. It was reoccupied only in the late Ottoman–British Mandate periods (nineteenth–early twentieth centuries CE), when shabby buildings were constructed; several stone-built wall segments and cement floors belonging to these buildings were preserved. This period also saw systematic plundering of ancient building materials. A map of the village from the time of the British Mandate shows that this area was covered with citrus groves that were cultivated by villagers from Hammama.
Byzantine Period. The foundations of four wall sections are attributed to this period; two sections may belong to the same wall. They were built of fieldstones and roughly hewn stones and founded directly on of the natural kurkar bedrock. A rock-hewn pit filled with ash was discovered next to one of the walls. All the walls were abutted by soil surfaces containing potsherds from the Byzantine period (fifth–seventh centuries CE).
Ottoman Period. During this period, possibly even as early as the late Mamluk period, several buildings were constructed; these were most probably dwellings belonging to the village of Hammama. At least four identified buildings were founded, either on the remains from the Byzantine period or on soil fills. The occupation of the buildings continued, with alterations, until the late British Mandate period. The unearthed buildings were built on a northeast–southwest alignment, except for one structure built along a northwest–southeast axis. The walls of the buildings, most of which were preserved a few courses high, were built of fieldstones and ancient dressed stones in secondary use. The floors were made of crushed soil, slabs of kurkar or beachrock, plaster or cement. Except for one room (below), none of the buildings’ rooms were fully excavated; in some of the rooms, entrances with stone or cement thresholds were preserved. The cement thresholds represent a phase of renovation or construction that took place during the time of the British Mandate.
A building discovered in the south of the central excavation area contained an elongated room with two openings in its eastern wall. In the northern half of the room was a raised platform (height c. 0.3 m). The walls of the room and the front of the platform were coated with a thin layer of white plaster (Fig. 8). This was apparently a living room and/or guest room in one of the houses in the village, and the platform was a mastaba (‘bench’)—a common traditional Arab architectural feature used for dining and sleeping on.
British Mandate Period. As noted above, all the buildings from the Ottoman period probably continued to be used up to 1948. Some of the excavated rooms contained elements characteristic of the British Mandate-period, particularly cement floors that were painted red. Some of the cement floors abutted walls associated with an earlier construction phase and probably replaced soil or plaster floors; a few abutted new walls. A section of a floor made of marble slabs and fragments of basalt vessels in secondary use was also attributed to this period, as were sections of a clay floor, some canceling an earlier, Ottoman-period wall. Almost all the rooms in these buildings were covered with a thick layer of black ash and remains of burnt organic matter, such as wooden beams and mats, attesting to an intense fire that occurred either in the process of taking control of the village during the War of Independence or shortly thereafter.
The many finds attributed to the Ottoman period—particularly the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries CE—and to the British Mandate period include potsherds and a few intact or complete vessels, clay tobacco pipes, glass and metal artifacts, coins and ammunition.
This is the first excavation conducted at the historical village of Hammama, and its results contribute greatly to the study of the site and to our understanding of the Ashqelon region. The earliest construction phase identified in the excavation dates from the Hellenistic period, although it is reasonable to assume that the settlement began in the late Persian period. These findings augment the growing body of data on settlement in the Hellenistic period in and around Ashqelon. At the end of this period, during the Hasmonean period, the site probably lay unoccupied, but it was settled again from the Early Roman to the Late Roman periods; however, its character and extent during these periods are unknown. During the Byzantine period, activity at the site increased significantly, and structures were erected both on and at the foot of the hill. The winepresses attest to the importance of wine production in the settlement’s economy. It seems that after the Muslim conquest, during the seventh century CE, the settlement size was significantly reduced, but its extent and importance increased again from the late Middle Ages onwards. Very few finds can be attributed to the Mamluk or the early Ottoman periods, prior to the seventeenth century CE. It is therefore difficult to determine whether the excavated remains belong to the ancient nucleus of the village of Hammama or to an expansion of the village, established no earlier than the eighteenth century CE. From the nineteenth century to the end of the British Mandate, most of the settlement lay on the hill, while the surrounding plain was used for agriculture.