Tel Yavne (c. 60 m asl) is located in the southeastern part of the city of Yavne, on the central kurkar ridge in the southern coastal plain. The tell is ovoid, rising to its highest point on the northeast. The railroad runs near the tell, to its east. Nahal Soreq flows to the east of the tell, then turns west and flows to its north, where it creates an alluvial plain. Many surveys and excavations were conducted on and around the tell, most of them salvage excavations (for a comprehensive description of the research, surveys and excavations on the tell, see Taxel 2005; Fischer and Taxel 2007; Kletter and Nagar 2015). These surveys and excavations revealed that the tell has been continuously settled from the Middle Bronze Age
II up to the present. The periods in which settlement at the site reached its zenith were the Bronze Age II, when the settlement exceeded the area of the tell, the Hasmonean period, and especially the Byzantine period, from which more remains were discovered on and near the tell than from any other period. The Early Islamic period saw a decline in settlement on the tell. In the Crusader period, Yavne became a seigneurie (district) of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and a fortress and a church were built there. During the Mamluk period, a mosque was built over the church, with a prominent minaret that can still be seen on the tell and is one of the city’s landmarks. During the Ottoman and British Mandate periods, the settlement began to flourish again, and the area of the tell was densely occupied with the dwellings of the Arab village of Yibna (Zissu, Baruch and Levy-Reifer 2015). In recent years, a number of excavations have taken place around the tell (Yannai 2014; Feldstein and ‘Ad 2014; Nadav-Ziv 2020) revealing remains and finds from the Roman to the Ottoman periods. The remains from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods attest to the use of the area south and east of the tell as an industrial zone during those periods.
The excavation was conducted in four areas opened south and east of Tel Yavne (A, B, C, G; Fig. 2). Areas A and B (Fig. 3) extend south of the tell and the railroad tracks, immediately to the south of Yannai’s (Yannai 2014) excavation, while Areas C and G extend east and north of the tell and the railroad tracks.
Area A, which will be described below, comprises c. 106 excavation squares, which were divided into four sub-areas (A1–A4; Fig. 4). The excavation of Area A revealed remains of a wall and sherds from the Chalcolithic period (Stratum V); remains of a built winepress from the late Iron Age(?) and the Persian period (Stratum IV); a large and unique built industrial winery from the Persian period (Stratum III); three pottery kilns from the late Persian period (Stratum II); and an installation and pottery kiln, probably from the Hellenistic period (Stratum I).
The excavations in Areas B, C and G will be published separately. In Area B, several rooms and a massive building from the Byzantine period were found, as well as pottery kilns from the Early Islamic period. In Area C were remains of occupation layers from the Hellenistic period; mosaic floors of industrial installations from the Byzantine period; a winery, building remains and pottery kilns from the Early Islamic period; irrigation channels that post-date the Early Islamic period; and dwellings of the Arab village that existed until 1948. Area G yielded the foundations of an impressive public building, with a nearby deep, covered drainage channel that ran under a street paved with a compact fill of small sherds, as well as pottery kilns and buildings from the Byzantine period and structures from the Early Islamic period. These remains indicate that an extensive industrial area was situated around the foot of the tell in the Byzantine and Early Islamic period, and they illustrate the magnitude of the settlement at this time.
Stratum V – Chalcolithic period
In Area A3 were remains of a foundation belonging to a north–south wall (Fig. 5). Sherds, mostly from the Chalcolithic period, were found near the wall in three excavation squares, where they lay undisturbed by later activity.
Stratum IV – End of the Iron Age(?) and the Persian period
In Area A2, two square winepress collecting vats were uncovered (L11248—width 1.2 m; L11250—1.22 × 1.29 m; the Stratum IV remains are marked on Fig. 4 with a red dashed line; Fig. 6). The vats were set adjacent to each other along a north–south axis, separated by a stone wall, and were coated with an off-white plaster. No clearly associated treading floor was found; it may have been sealed under a Stratum III plastered treading floor (Treading Floor 5; Fig. 4:5) found east of the vats. To the northeast of the two collecting vats was another collecting vat, a round one (E; Fig. 7). It too may have been associated with the winepress of Stratum IV, as no connection could be found between it and Treading Floor 5 of Stratum III; nevertheless, it does seem to have continued in use in the Stratum III winery. Four meters to the northwest of the pair of square collecting vats was a small part of a small, additional rectangular collecting vat (H; Fig. 8); it was found under a Stratum III wall (W11042).
Stratum III – Persian period
Areas A2–A4 yielded the remains of a large industrial winery (c. 20 × 35 m; Figs. 4, 9), consisting of two parallel, elongated wings—northern and southern, stretching along an east–west axis—and a western wing stretching along a north–south axis. The winery comprised numerous treading floors and collecting vats coated with off-white plaster. The central part of the southern wing of the winery was built above the two square collecting vats from Stratum IV, cancelling them out.
Eleven treading floors (1–11) and 13 collecting vats (A–G, N–I) were preserved in the in the southern wing; Three treading floors (12–14) and five collecting vats (T–X) were preserved in the northern wing; and in the western wing, only five collecting vats (O–S) in a very poor state preservation were uncovered. The northern wing was much shorter than the southern wing. The treading floors in each of the three wings were coated with multiple layers of plaster; they were uncovered directly below the surface, and several were scored with deep grooves from modern plowing. The collecting vats were square, rectangular and round, and of varying depths; several of the quadrangular vats had an adjacent small niche. The vats were coated with plaster, and in some cases featured a couple layers of repairs. At least seven types of collecting vats were noted: rectangular with an adjacent shallow niche (A, B), rectangular and shallow (I–K), square with an adjacent deep niche (L, M), square (O–S), square with an adjacent shallow niche (T–X), round and shallow (C, D, Y) and round and deep (E–G, N). The differences between the collecting vats may indicate different methods of wine production. Settling basins were discovered at the bottom of most of the collecting vats, near the side of the treading floor. An initial analysis did not indicate any difference in either the composition or the manufacturing process of the plasters in the various types of vats (see Appendix).
Southern wing (length c. 35 m). The 11 plastered treading floors (average 2 × 3 m) uncovered in this wing were poorly preserved. They were coated with several superimposed layers of off-white plaster, reaching up to 13 in one case (max. thickness 0.15 m; Fig. 10). It seems that all the layers of plaster were laid when the treading floors were first installed—assuring thick and strong floors—and do not represent phases of repair or later phases of use (see Appendix). Narrow walls separated the treading floors, except for one wide wall (width 1.47 m) that separated Floors 6 and 7. This broad wall—similar to one found between two plastered winepresses from the Iron Age at Tel Mikhal (Frankel and Ayalon 1988: Fig. 72)—may have served as a foundation for a storage cell.
The 13 collecting vats discovered in the southern wing were set to the north of the treading floors. Each treading floor was connected to at least one collecting vat. Treading Floors 5 and 6 were connected to their collecting vats (F and G) via channels hewn in kurkar blocks (Fig. 11). Other treading floors were connected to their collecting vats via plastered channels built on the upper side of the wall of the collecting vats.
Treading Floors 1 and 2 (c. 3.1 × 3.3 m each) were each connected to a rectangular collecting vat (A and B, respectively; c. 1.2 × 1.8 m), in the corner of which was a shallow, plastered niche (c. 0.7 × 0.8 m, depth 0.3 m; Fig. 12)—in the northeastern part of Vat A, and in the northwestern part of Vat B. The walls that separated Treading Floors 1 and 2 from their collecting vats were not preserved, and thus the conduits that allowed the flow of liquids from the treading floors to the collecting vats remains unknown.
Treading Floors 3 (1.25 × 1.75 m) and 4 (1.50 × 1.75 m) were each connected to a round collecting vat (C and D, respectively; diam. c. 0.95 m; depth of Vat C—0.94 m; the excavation of Vat D was not completed). One large ashlar was intentionally set in each vat.
Treading Floor 5 (3.10 × 3.71 m), the largest of all the winery’s treading floors, was connected to two round collecting vats (E—diam. 1.05 m, depth. c. 1.7 m; F—diam. 1.2 m, depth c. 1.7 m); Vat E apparently continued in use from Stratum IV. A narrow, shallow channel that led to Vat E was embedded into the rim of its southern wall; a stone gutter led to Vat F.
Treading Floor 6 (2.68 × 3.24 m), the best-preserved floor in the winery, was connected to a round collecting vat (G; diam. 1.5 m, depth 1.66 m) via a stone gutter. Vats E–G, which are of different sizes, may have been connected to Treading Floors 5 and 6, and may have constituted a single unit. The size differences between the collecting vats may reflect differences in the wine-production process.
The northern parts of Treading Floors 7–9 were damaged when an ovoid pit was dug at some time prior to modern times. Treading Floor 7 (2.36 × 3.28 m) was connected to three small, square collecting vats (I—0.8 × 0.8 m, depth 0.81 m; J—0.6 × 1.0 m, depth 0.64 m; K—0.80 × 1.05 m, depth 0.94 m). Settling basins were installed in the northern part of each of the three vats, suggesting that the winery included treading floors to the north of the vats, but these were not preserved. A poorly preserved floor bedding of fieldstones uncovered to the north of the vats may lend credence to this hypothesis.
Treading Floor 10 (1.9 × 2.5 m) was connected to two square collecting vats (L and M; c. 1.3 × 1.3 m, depth 1.6 m; Fig. 13), each with a deep niche (preserved depth 0.88 m) on its northern side. A plastered channel leading to Vat M was embedded in the vat’s rim.
Treading Floor 11 (2.6 × 2.8 m) was connected to a large, round collecting vat (N; diam. 1.4 m, depth 1.5 m). A small niche was installed in the plaster that coated the northern part of the vat’s wall.
Sediments collected from above the treading floors and from the collecting vats underwent flotation during the excavation. The analysis has identified thus far several grape pips on Treading Floors 2, 5 and 8, and near the bottom of Collecting vats E and M. These preliminary finds clearly indicate that these installations served in wine production. A full scientific analysis of the botanical material from the winery, conducted by Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University, will allow for the identification of additional finds, including pits.
Northern wing (c. 6 × 8 m; Fig. 14) included three treading floors (12–14) connected to five similarly shaped, deep square collecting vats (T–X; c. 1.25 × 1.35 m, average depth 1.45 m). In the southern part of each of the vats was a shallow niche. The plaster coating the vats was poorly preserved. In the area between the treading floors and the collecting vats was a segment of plastered channel running in an east–west direction (Fig. 15). The channel was set at the height of the openings of the collecting vats, above the treading floors. The channel sloped moderately down and eastward, leading to Treading Floor 13. No channel other than this one was found connecting the treading floors to the collecting vats in this wing. This channel may have been intended to carry overflow from the treading floors to the collecting vats; if so, these treading floors would have been used as filtering surfaces before the liquid flowed into the collecting vats.
Western wing. Only the bottom part of the five square collecting vats discovered in this wing (O–S; Vat O—0.6 × 0.7 m; Vats S–P—0.95 × 0.95 m; Fig. 16) were preserved. They may have been arranged sloping downward from south to north. Each of the vats had a settling basin on its western side, suggesting that their treading floors, which were not preserved, lay to the west of the basins. Reddish clay was found in one of the basins, a possible indication that in the late Persian period (Stratum II, below) it was used for the manufacturing of vessels, when a pottery kiln operated at the site; a sample was taken for the clay petrographic analysis.
Stratum II – Late Persian period (transition phase between the Persian and Hellenistic periods)
Three ovoid pottery kilns (1–3; see Fig. 4) were uncovered. The contained pottery vessels—including fragments of restorable cooking pots were found in Kiln 2—that seem to date from the end of the fourth century BCE (below, Sandhaus).
Only the lower part of Kiln 1 (2.10 × 2.22 m; Fig. 17), namely its firing box, survived; only the eastern part of the kiln was excavated. Part of it was hewn into the kurkar bedrock, cutting the southern part of Treading Floors 5 and 6. The firing box was lined with rectangular bricks. The kiln wall was thickened at some point with additional bricks, apparently to prevent collapse; this thickening can be clearly seen in this southern part of the kiln. A vertical black line discovered in its inner wall possibly marked the opening leading into the firing box. Immediately to the southeast of the kiln was an activity area, probably where the firing box was stoked with fuel. The floor of the firing chamber, on which the vessels were set and situated above the firing box, did not survive. A central, brick-built column was found in the kiln, suggesting that this column with several additional ones supported the firing box floor.
Kiln 2 (assumed diam. c. 1.7 m; Fig. 18) apparently cut the northern part of Treading Floors 13 and 14; only its northern part was excavated. The walls of the kiln had fallen inward. Inside the kiln were several in situ cooking pots, dated to the fourth century BCE (Fig. 19).
Kiln 3 was found c. 5 m north of Kiln 2. It was ovoid (length from north to south 1.1 m); the western part was better preserved than the eastern part. Remains of the firing chamber’s floor—the surface on which the vessels were set—were found, indicating that the floor had small ovoid holes near the wall of the kiln, which allowed hot air from the firing box enter the firing chamber.
Stratum I – Hellenistic period
An installation and a pottery kiln were found. The installation is a square pool (2.82 × 2.82 m; Fig. 20), whose walls were built of small fieldstones bonded with mortar and soil; its eastern wall was poorly preserved. The walls, coated inside and out with white plaster, were set on a foundation of small fieldstones laid closely together on brown soil. A step was discovered on the southeastern corner of the pool. A leveled surface built of small fieldstones abutted the pool on the east; it extended to kiln 4. A trial trench excavated on the eastern side of the pool revealed remains of bonding material, apparently mixed with shells; the use and dating of these remains is not known, as the excavation here was stopped due to flooding following rain.
The kiln (4; diam. 2.2 m, depth >2 m; Fig. 21), which was dug into the soil and lined with dark red mudbricks, was discovered full of burnt bricks. A trench excavated between the kiln and the pool revealed an occupation layer, which judging by the pottery in it should be dated to the Hellenistic period.
The Pottery
Debora Sandhaus
All the pottery sherds discovered in Area A were collected and classified. Classification categories included archaeological context, pottery group according to original use, form and material. Some of the vessels from Strata II and I were manufactured in the kilns discovered at the site. Numerous vessels were found complete and were assigned for restoration. The various strata in Area A were dated according to their ceramic assemblages as follows: Stratum IV was dated to the end of the Iron Age (?) and early in the Persian period (sixth century BCE); Stratum III was dated to the Persian period (sixth–fifthcenturies BCE); the pottery kilns from Stratum II were dated to the fourth century BCE, probably the second half of that century; and Stratum I was dated to the beginning of the third century BCE. This preliminary report presents a small sample of the most common vessels.
Stratum IV. None of the stratum’s loci yielded diagnostic potsherds. Pottery fragments found in several of the collecting vats in this stratum (e.g., Vat E) are identical to those found in Stratum III and are thus dated to the Persian period (sixth–fourth centuries BCE).
Stratum III. Most of the pottery from this stratum was retrieved from accumulations and soil fills in the collecting vats of the winery (Fig. 22); these finds date the latest use of the winery, or the period when it went out of use. Another assemblage, retrieved from the beddings of the treading floors and collecting vats of the winery, points to the date of their construction. The two assemblages, which are similar, date the construction of the winery to the Persian period, apparently the sixth–fifth centuries BCE. The assemblage includes a few pieces of tableware and numerous storage vessels, which comprise the bulk of the assemblage. The tableware includes bowls with a straight, inverted rim (Fig. 22:1); holemouth kraters with a small, thickened rim and a hemispherical body without neck (Fig. 22:2); and deep kraters with a thickened ledge rim and two handles connected to the body (Fig. 22:3). The storage vessels include holemouth jars with a ridged rim (Fig. 22:4), typical of the late Iron Age and the early Persian period; numerous jars with a cylindrical body and a straight shoulder (Fig. 22:5–7), of the type with a less pronounced shoulder that is identified with production on the Phoenician coast (Berlin, Monnickendam-Givon, Shapiro and Stone 2020); and an amphora (Fig. 22:8), apparently imported from the Aegean region.
Stratum II. Pottery sherds belonging to closed cooking pots were discovered in Kiln 2; they are not illustrated because they were sent for restoration. These vessels are made of polished red clay, grainy to the touch (Sandhaus 2020), with a hemispherical, smooth body, a high neck, a short, flat ledge rim and two ridged handles extending from rim to shoulder. These cooking pots are typical of the late fourth and early third centuries BCE.
Stratum I. The pottery from this stratum originated in Kiln 4, as well as in floors and beddings. The potsherds from Kiln 4 are mainly bowls, closed cooking pots, stands and bag-shaped jars, but unlike the finds from Kilns 1–3 in Stratum II, they could not be restored. The bowls have an inverted rim (Fig. 23:1, 2). The cooking pots (Fig. 23:3–5) resemble those manufactured in Kilns 1–3 in Stratum II. The stands have an everted rim (Fig. 23:6, 7); such stands tend to be mistakenly identified as jars, as it is difficult to differentiate them when they are not complete. Most of the jars (Fig. 23:8–10) have a short neck and either a folded, thickened rim (Fig. 23:9) or a triangular one (Fig. 23:10), but a few have a long neck and a thickened rim (Fig. 23:8); they are all dated to the end of the fourth and the third centuries CE. The bowls, stands and jars from Stratum I are made of sandy material, which was fired to a whitish color typical of vessels manufactured along the southern coast (Berlin, Monnickendam-Givon and Stone 2020a).
The pottery discovered from the floors and beddings is typical of the third century BCE; the vessels are not illustrated here as they were sent for restoration. The finds include ‘echinos’ bowls, manufactured both along the northern Phoenician coast, in Asia Minor (Berlin, Bes, Langenegger and Stone 2020), and along the southern Phoenician coast (Berlin, Monnickendam-Givon and Stone 2020b). This assemblage also includes bowls manufactured in the vicinity of the site and jars with a short neck and a thickened rim, like those found in Kiln 4 (see Fig. 23:9, 10). Finding these jars along with bowls typical of the third century BCE indicates that the stratum represents activity during the third century BCE.
The excavation of Area A revealed for the first time in Yavne impressive remains of a winery from the Persian period (the sixth–fifth centuries BCE). The multiple layers of plaster in the treading floors and the collecting vats may attest to long-term planning for the use of the winery over an extended period of time. The winepress from the Roman period at the Eretz Israel Museum, for example, exhibits six layers of plaster that were “quickly worn and had to be renewed” (Frankel and Ayalon 1988: Fig. 50). It appears that the large number of treading floors and collecting vats arranged in rows is an indication of an industrial complex authorized by the Persian government—the Ashdod district—rather than a private initiative. The variations in the plans of the collecting vats cannot be explained for now; it may be associated with different strains of grapes or with different methods of production of must and the wine. So far, no parallels for such a Persian-period winery have been found in Israel or the Ancient Near East. The winery uncovered in this excavation shows that grapes were grown in the vicinity of Tel Yavne. Interestingly, the term kerem Be-Yavne (“vineyard in Yavne”) is mentioned several times in texts association with the rabbinic sages of Yavne, who between the two revolts (first–second centuries CE) made Yavne a rabbinical center.
The impressive winery went out of use in the Persian period, and three pottery kilns were built in its place. In one of the kilns, cooking pots were discovered dated to the fourth–third centuries BCE. It seems that in the last third of the fourth century BCE (the transition between the Persian and the Hellenistic period), wine production ceased at the site for as yet unknown reasons, and in its stead began pottery production, apparently mainly of cooking pots. Reddish clay found in one of the collecting vats of the winery (Vat P) is different in color from the soil surrounding the vats, perhaps an indication that several of the collecting vats were reused as levigation tanks. The pool in the northwestern corner of the area, dated to the Hellenistic period, was perhaps used to make bricks, as a few heaps of bricks were found south of the pool.