Stratum IX (Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period; 7000–6400 BCE). Remains from this period were discovered in all the excavation areas. The best preserved of these were discovered in Area D, beneath dark brown grumusol and 4–5 m below surface level. Traces of this period were also discovered in several probe trenches outside the excavation areas, suggesting that the remains of this settlement cover at least 60 dunams, extending between Highway 4 in the east and Area D in the west.
The stratum’s remains consist mainly of piles of burnt bricks and a few burnt stones (Figs. 5–8). Most of the bricks are elliptical and loaf-shaped (Fig. 9)—having one flat side and one convex side—although their form and firing are not uniform. Micro-archaeological tests conducted on some of the bricks showed that they were not fired at the site itself. They were therefore probably all brought there together for a purpose that has not yet been ascertained. A well-preserved elliptical installation (1.32 × 1.40 m, 0.48 m deep; Fig. 10) dug in the soil and lined with mud-bricks was also discovered in Area D; stones and fragments of burnt bricks had accumulated inside the installation. Near the piles of bricks and the elliptical installation in Area D were occupation levels, which contained charred cereal grains, animal bones and flint artifacts; the latter included bifacial tools, elongated arrowheads, spearheads, axes and sickle blades of various types. Flint-knapping debris was also recovered from Area D, showing that a limited flint-working industry existed at the site. Flint artifacts, including sickle blades, points and a few arrowheads, were found in the other excavation areas as well.
Stratum VIII (Pottery Neolithic period; 6400–5800 BCE). An occupation level discovered in Area D contained stone crushing implements and potsherds, including red-slipped burnished ware, vessels adorned with an incised herringbone motif and other pottery attributed to the Yarmukian culture. The Yarmukian culture is associated with the earliest use of pottery vessels in Israel and in the southern Levant. Some of the deeply denticulated sickle blades found in Area D may belong to this stratum. Potsherds from the period were discovered in Area B as well, though not in situ, indicating that the stratum stretches over a large area, but its extent could not be ascertained.
Stratum VII (Late Chalcolithic period; 4000–3500 BCE). Occupation levels were encountered in all the excavation areas. They contained numerous finds (Figs. 11, 12): in situ pottery vessels, including many storage jars, holemouth jars, cooking pots, bowls and pottery churns; flint tools, including Canaanite sickle blades, points, scrapers, and axes; stone vessels, including mortars, pestles, hammer stones and numerous grinding stones; and cylindrical stone objects of various sizes with through-holes. A large number of pits were unearthed beneath the occupation levels. Some of these were dug into the ground, others were hewn in the kurkar bedrock, and a few had their lower part hewn while their upper part was dug in the soil (Figs. 13–16). Some of the pits are cylindrical, some are bell-shaped and others are irregularly shaped. The openings of several of the pits were lined with kurkar stones or a combination of materials, such as fragments of bricks, potsherds and stones. On the floor of some of the pits were in situ storage jars, grinding stones, mortars and hammer stones. Potsherds, flint artifacts and animal bones were retrieved from the soil accumulations inside the pits. Some of the pits contained cereals, legumes, grape pips and olive pits. A circular installation made of fragments of storage jars joined together was discovered on the floor of one of the pits (Fig. 17); beside this pit were a stone mortar and a long sickle blade. The pits were probably used as granaries. A circular installation built of sandstone and blocks of unworked limestone discovered in Area D incorporated numerous grinding stones in secondary use (Fig. 18); the installation’s function is unclear.
The concentration of pits and the large quantity of jars and grinding stones indicate that during the Chalcolithic period this was a farming settlement that stored its agricultural produce. The few domestic vessels that were discovered, including bowls, holemouth cooking pots and churns, point to daily household activities that were practiced there, including food processing, cooking and churning butter. The site’s inhabitants apparently subsided on a mixed farming economy that included field crops, orchards and herding. The olive pits recovered from the pits show that olive trees were grown in the Nah
al Ayyalon region, or that olives were brought to the site from elsewhere. It is not yet clear whether the grapes found in one of the pits belong to a domesticated or a wild strain, but a botanical study may clarify this. Remains of other Chalcolithic-period settlements containing pits have been discovered in Lod, Azor, Yehud and Tel Aviv. These were probably rural farming settlements that lay along the lower Nah
al Ayyalon basin (Gofna 1970
(Middle Bronze II and Late Bronze periods). The excavation areas to the south of the tell yielded evidence of various activities that were probably related to the settlement located on the tell during these periods; a few remains from this settlement were discovered in previous excavations (Finkelstein 1990
). An aerial photograph of the tell (Fig. 19) shows earthen embankments that enclose it to form a rectangle, which were probably built in the Middle Bronze Age II.
Stratum IV (Hellenistic period; late third century and first half of second century BCE). Two kilns for the production of storage jar were discovered in Area C, c. 30 m apart (Figs. 20, 21). In both kilns, the bottom part of the kiln was set within a pit dug down to the underlying clay and hamra layer. The pottery kilns contained a lower combustion chamber and an upper firing chamber divided by a platform on which the pots were placed. The pottery platform, which was preserved in only one kiln, was built of burnt mud-bricks perforated with through-holes (see Fig. 21). In the other kiln, small pillars preserved on one side of the combustion chamber retained supporting arches for carrying the pottery platform (see Fig. 20). In both kilns a rectangular pillar was built in the center of the lower chamber to support the pottery platform. The flues in both kilns were built on the east side and led to a narrow, vaulted passage. The flues were blocked with a brick or with several large, fired bricks to regulate the incoming air and the firing temperature. The kilns were roofed with a mud-brick dome; the kiln domes were not preserved, as they collapsed into the kilns, where their remains were discovered. A concentration of jar fragments from the Hellenistic period found beside the kilns probably represents production debris.
Two coins of Antiochus IV minted in Akko (173–168 BCE) were retrieved from an accumulation of fired bricks inside one of the kilns. Two other coins, of Antiochus III and Antiochus IV, were discovered nearby. The kilns also yielded animal bones and fragments of Hellenistic-period pottery, both local and imported from Cyprus, Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea; these finds may be associated with the daily life of the potters who worked there. Another kiln from the Hellenistic period was discovered in the excavation of Gophna, Porat and Ayalon, carried out near Area B in 1976 (Permit No. 654).
The workshops discovered in the excavation were located c. 300 m south of the tell, along Nahal Ayyalon, which provided the levigated clay and water required for pottery production. The distance from the tell was obviously intentional: to ensure that the smoke, the smell of burning and any pollutants are carried downwind to the southeast and away from the settlement that most probably set on the tell during this period.
Stratum III (Roman period). Numerous fragments of storage jars characteristic of the late first and early second centuries CE were discovered in the north of Area C. This large concentration of jar fragments, all belonging to the same type, and the absence of any other types of pottery may indicate that a pottery kiln existed here during this period, and that the jar fragments constitute production debris from the kiln. A surface layer of kiln debris and ash was discovered in the north of the excavation area (not excavated), possibly indicating the presence of another kiln. An intact Early Roman storage jar with no accompanying finds was discovered in Area A.
Stratum II (Byzantine period to mid-twentieth century CE). Potsherds from the Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods were recovered from the excavation areas. Area A yielded four parallel walls, 0.15–0.30 m apart, built of a single row of mud-bricks, possibly the remains of irrigation channels. Fragments of Early Islamic pottery found in the soil deposit that covered the walls suggest that the walls pre-date the Early Islamic period. It is thus apparent that agricultural activity took place in the vicinity during these periods.
Three straight, unlined channels (max. length 12 m, width 0.7 m, depth of one channel c. 1.5 m), dug into the soil on a northwest–southeast alignment, were discovered in Area C. The deposits inside the channels yielded a few potsherds from the Hellenistic period. It seems that these trenches were dug mechanically, probably in the late Ottoman period or during the British Mandate.
Area A, on the summit of the dune, contains the ruins of a rectangular structure whose foundations were built of concrete made of zifzif (coarse sand), as were the houses of the village of el-Kheiriye, which was destroyed in 1948 following Operation Hamez; the building can bee seen near the well in an aerial photograph from 1946.
Stratum I (latter half of the twentieth century CE). From the 1950s to the present day, the land surrounding the excavation areas has been intensively farmed, first with field crops in the 1950s and then with citrus orchards in the 1960s. Over the past two decades, most of the area has been converted into land for irrigated crops. Area C contained asbestos and iron pipes, as well as drainage pools from the Hiriya transit camp that was located nearby in 1951–1956. Numerous finds from the transit camp were discovered in Areas A and B. Most of the excavation squares in Areas A and B also retained marks of tillage furrows and troughs made by agricultural equipment, from the surface level to a depth of 0.5 m (see Fig. 16). Area B contained the foundations of concrete fence pillars with a paved gravel road to their west, as well as channels dug for plastic irrigation pipes. Rapid modern development severely damaged the ancient remains, especially those of Strata IX–V.
The excavation areas extend along the north bank of Nahal Ayyalon, south of Tel Bene Beraq. The remains from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (seventh millennium BCE: Stratum IX) consisted of piles of burnt mud-bricks alongside occupation levels containing flint implements and animal bones. The large quantity of bricks discovered over a large area covering nearly 60 dunams is a phenomenon that, to the authors’ best knowledge, is unknown at other sites of this period in the Levant. An occupation level, pottery and crushing implements were discovered from the Pottery Neolithic period (Stratum VIII), but the extent of the stratum is not known. After a settlement gap, the site was reoccupied in the late Chalcolithic period (late fifth–early fourth millennium BCE; Stratum VII). Numerous storage pits and fragments of dozens of pottery vessels and flint tools date from this period, probably belonging to a late phase of the Ghassulian culture. The remains and finds in this stratum show that the settlement subsided on a mixed farming economy that included field crops, orchards and herding. Following another settlement gap, a new settlement was established on the tell in the Middle Bronze Age II (early second millennium BCE). It continued throughout the second millennium BCE into the Late Bronze Age (Strata VI–V). The tell’s rectangular shape was probably determined by the construction of the earthen embankments that enclosed it. The excavation areas to the south of the tell yielded evidence of activity that was apparently connected to the settlement on the tell. From the Iron Age I and II and the Persian period, only potsherds were retrieved, probably indicating that a settlement existed on the tell during these periods. Two Hellenistic-period (Stratum IV) kilns for the production of storage jars were discovered to the south of the tell, near the streambed of Nahal Ayyalon. In the Roman period (Stratum III) there may also have been a jar-production workshop at the site, judging by the large concentration of jar fragments that was uncovered. The Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods (Stratum II) yielded potsherds and remains of irrigation trenches, attesting to agricultural activity on the fringes of the tell during these periods. Remains of the Arab village of el-Kheiriye (Ibn Ibraq) and the Hiriya transit camp, which was built following the establishment of the State of Israel, were also discovered, including agricultural remains from these settlements.