In July 2017, a salvage excavation was undertaken in Neighborhood D3 in Ramat Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-8056; map ref. 197732–94/622759–801; Fig 1) prior to development work. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was directed by A.H. Melman, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), M. Kahan (surveying), A. Rose (drafting), A. Peretz (photography), S. Tal (supervision), S. Dallasheh (logistic assistance), A. Shadman, Y. Zelinger and Y. Paz (consultants) and workers from Kuseifa.
Two excavation areas were opened (A, B) c. 110 m apart. Area A was situated at the top of a topographical saddle about 1 km north of Nahal Ha-Ela, and Area B was on a spur descending from the saddle to the northeast. The excavation in Area A uncovered a cave which served as a charcoal kiln. Area B yielded a rock-cut winepress with rock-cut cupmarks beside it.
The vicinity of the excavation was surveyed in the Ramat Bet Shemesh Survey (Dagan 2010). Previous excavations in the area unearthed a field tower c. 50 m southeast of the excavation (Permit No. A-7793) and a public complex from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods c. 250 east of the excavation (Permit No. A-7184).
Area A (Figs. 2, 3). The cave had a domed ceiling which partially collapsed and a stepped opening facing west. A trench (2.5 × 3.5 m; Fig. 4) was cut through the accumulations in the western part of the cave. On the bedrock was brown-reddish alluvium mixed with fieldstones (L110; thickness 0.8 m), which contained a small accumulation of nondiagnostic sherds. Above Layer 110 was scorched soil (L109; thickness 0.35 m), apparently evidence of the first phase of use of the cave as a charcoal kiln. Above Layer 109 was brown-reddish alluvium containing fieldstones and a few nondiagnostic sherds (L108; thickness 0.5 m), as in Layer 110. Above Layer 108 was a strip of white-grayish ash (L107; average thickness 7 cm), containing small chunks of charcoal. This was apparently the burning level of the kiln, where the temperature was highest and produced the light-colored layer. Above Layer 107 were the remains of the final level of activity in the kiln (L103): a large amount of scorched soil partially covered with blocks of rock from the collapsed ceiling that were burned on top, evidence that the activity in the kiln continued following the collapse. Most of the fallen rocks were found alongside the cave’s walls, especially the northern wall, where they were probably piled up to allow for the work to continue in the cave.
A small, hewn, ovoid cupmark was found on the surface of the rock near the southwestern part of the cave (L106; 0.20 × 0.37 m). A wall (W101; Figs. 5, 6) was found c. 1.2 m northeast of the cave beneath charcoal debris. The wall was built along an east–west axis out of medium-size fieldstones. The excavation focused on the southern face of the wall (L102), exposing its foundation, which was built of small stones set on bedrock. A layer of scorched soil abutted the foundation stones. Wall 101 was apparently built to retain the accumulation of charcoal debris.
Area B (Fig. 7) revealed a rock-cut winepress (Figs. 8, 9) exhibiting two phases of activity. The earlier phase comprises an irregular treading floor (L201; 1.2 × 2.0 m), which sloped toward a rectangular collecting vat (L200; 0.8 × 2.0 m, depth 0.5 m). In the later phase, channels were hewn around the treading floor (L202; average width c. 0.15 m), to deepen and expand the treading area, but this endeavor was not completed. To the south and east of the rock-cut channels were two hewn cupmarks (L203, L204; diam. 0.25 m), and beside the western perimeter of the winepress was a cluster of 15 shallow, ovoid ‘sandal cupmarks’ (L205; average diam. at widest point 0.22 m; Fig. 10). Ten of these cupmarks were hewn along an east–west axis, two were hewn along a north–south axis and the direction of the three others is unclear.
Absent material finds and a clear association with any nearby settlement, the remains from this excavation cannot be dated. Nevertheless, these remains resemble others discovered in the vicinity of Ramat Bet Shemesh. The kiln is one of a several kilns, for charcoal and other materials, discovered in the Ramat Bet Shemesh area. Most of them operated at some distance from settlements because of the pollution they created; the kiln’s west-facing opening of the kiln allowed the prevailing late afternoon and evening western winds to enter the kiln. The winepress is typical of the area and reflects its agricultural character through many periods. The hewing of channels around the winepress treading floor, which could have produced building stones, may attest to prolonged use of the installation and perhaps a change in its function over time. Clusters of ‘sandal cupmarks’ have been associated with settlements from the Chalcolithic period and the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (van den Brink 2008); hence the presence of such a settlement nearby cannot be ruled out.
Brink E.C.M. van den. 2008. A New Fossile Directeur of the Chalcolithic Landscape in the Shephelah and the Samarian and Judean Hill Countries: Stationary Grinding Facilities in Bedrock. IEJ 58:1–23.
Dagan Y. 2010. The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project: The Gazetteer (IAA Reports 46). Jerusalem.