Olive Press (Figs. 2–6). To install the olive press, an east–west rectangular chamber (L2, L3; c. 6 × 9 m, height c. 3.5 m) was hewn in the chalk bedrock. The chamber was entered from the west via a rock-cut stepped passageway (L1), which widens as it descends (width 1.1 m at top, 1.8 m at bottom); eight steps (width 1.2–1.5 m, tread 0.35 m, height 0.15–0.20 m) were exposed along it. A landing at the bottom of the steps had two openings leading from it: eastward to the olive-press chamber (width 1.1 m), and northward to the cistern (width 1.1 m, height 1.9 m). Two additional hewn steps (width 0.4 m, tread 1.1 m, height 0.2–0.3 m) at the entrance to the olive-press chamber led down to the floor of the chamber (Fig. 4).
The oil-production area in the eastern half of the chamber consisted of two pressing installations hewn in the bedrock between three piers (width 1 m, height 1.4 m, c. 0.35 m apart) that were left in place when the chamber was quarried out. An opening (width 0.75–1.2 m) leading to a workman’s access passage behind the piers (L3; 1.25 × 5.20 m) was hewn between the northern pier and the chamber’s northern wall. A niche cut 0.3 m above the floor in the chamber’s eastern wall served to anchor a pressing beam, but since the olive press was never completed, no corresponding niche was hewn opposite the north installation (Figs. 5, 6).
The piers between which the pressing baskets would have been placed were curved on their inner face to accommodate the rounded baskets. Between and beneath them were bell-shaped collecting basins for the oil (southern basin mouth diam. c. 0.25 m, base diam. c. 0.55 m, depth 0.65 m; northern basin mouth diam. c. 0.3 m, base diam. c. 0.5 m, depth 0.55 m). A shallow channel (width c. 0.55 m) hewn around the mouth of the southern basin was intended to collect the oil from the sides of the baskets. The oil would have flowed into the collecting basin through two holes hewn in the channel’s floor, on the east and on the west; the eastern hole in the channel of the northern collecting basin was left unfinished. Bones of a small animal that may have got hopelessly trapped there were found at the bottom of the northern basin. Several similar bones were found at the bottom of the southern basin. A large fissure extended across the northern pier and the walls of the adjacent oil press. A heap of plaster prepared for filling in the fissure was found to the west of the pier, but it was never used and had dried where it lay.
A partially preserved shallow rectangular installation (1.20 × 5.00, depth 0.45 m) hewn in front of the piers and c. 0.85 m to their west was designed to collect surplus oil flowing from the pressing installations. A basin of this type is usually found next to piers, suggesting that the installation was intended for a different purpose.
Two rectangular depressions (0.25 × 0.30 × 0.45 m; 0.20 × 0.30 × 0.45 m) hewn in the floor of the basin c. 1.5 m west of the south pressing installation and 0.8 m apart from each other probably served for securing vertical wooden beams that supported the olive-press beams or weights.
Two large rectangular stone weights (0.55 × 0.85 × 1.55 m, 0.55 × 0.70 × 1.50 m) were placed one in front of each of the two pressing installations. Rectangular holes were hewn through the weights to hang them from the beam. The northern weight was unfinished: one of its sides was unworked, and the holes were only partially hewn.
Two elliptical basins with arched roofs were hewn in the northern wall of the olive-press chamber, near its northwestern corner. The eastern basin (0.9 × 1.8 m, height from floor to ceiling 1.25 m) had a raised parapet (height 0.35 m), and its base was 0.35 m above the floor of the olive press. A hole hewn in the floor of this basin, next the parapet led to a horizontal channel cut in the wall of the olive-press chamber (length 0.4 m). The channel led into a small bell-shaped basin-like cavity (depth 0.25 m) hewn in the floor of the olive-press chamber. The eastern oval basin probably served for storing baskets or jars after use; the excess oil dripping from them would have dribbled out through the hole and down the channel into the bell-shaped basin, from where it was collected anew.
The western basin (0.9 × 1.7 m, height from floor to ceiling 1 m) had a similar parapet (height 0.2 m), and its base was 0.8 m above the floor of the olive-press chamber. A triangular opening (base 0.45 m, height 0.3 m) was hewn in the partition between this basin and the upper part of a staircase which descended into the cistern. The opening was probably intended for transferring water in buckets or jars directly from the cistern to the basin.
The quarrying of the olive press was halted, and the complex was left unfinished. After a period of abandonment, quarrying activity was resumed in the western half of the olive-press chamber, possibly with the intent of converting it into another cistern or into a quarry. During this phase, a staircase (width c. 0.85 m, tread c. 0.3 m, step height 0.2 m) without a parapet was hewn along the western and northern walls, leading down to the bottom of the quarried area. This quarrying extended below the original floor level of the olive press chamber and cut into the front part of the western basin facing the pressing installations, the northern wall of the bell-shaped basin and the lower step at the entrance to the olive press chamber. Apparently, this quarrying was also not left uncompleted. After the olive press and water cistern complex was completely abandoned, the cavity was intentionally filled in with a large quantity of rather uniform elliptical fieldstones (diam. 5–15 cm); the heap of stones partially collapsed into the front part of the olive-press chamber and into the water cistern.
Water Cistern (L4; 5.5 × 7.0 m at base, c. 4 m high; Figs. 2, 3). The cistern was hewn to the north of the stepped passageway (L1) that led into the olive-press chamber and is separated from it by a hewn partition wall (thickness c. 1 m). When the cistern was quarried, a flight of steps was hewn in its southwest corner. Three steps descend northward from the cistern entrance to a landing (0.75 × 1.20 m), from which the flight of steps continues down the southern and western walls to the bottom of the cistern, where the steps widen (width 0.8 m in upper part, 1.3 m in lower; height of each step 0.10–0.15 m, tread 0.35–0.45 m). The rock-hewn parapet runs alongside the steps (height 0.85 m, width 0.35 m), which encompass the pier (1.25 × 1.25 m) that was left to support the cistern. The cistern was designed to be fed by a channel (width 0.15 m) that was hewn across the landing at the top of the steps descending into the olive press and the cistern. However, this channel, which was intended to collect runoff water and prevent it from flowing into the oil-press chamber, was never completed. A hole hewn in the parapet opposite the entrance to the cistern, c. 8 cm above the floor, allowed water to drain into the cistern. It retains no sign of water having flowed through it, and it thus appears that the water cistern, like the olive press, was also never used.
Pottery. A few vessels were recovered from the deposits inside the olive-press chamber:
1. Bowls with inverted rims (Fig. 7:1, 2), typical of the entire Hellenistic period. The type found in the olive press was first dated by Lapp to the second–first centuries BCE (Lapp 1961:172, Type 51:1) and may belong to the second phase of quarrying in the olive press.
2. A jar (Fig. 7:3) with a thickened, slightly drawn-out rim. Such Jars, of a Phoenician tradition, are characteristic of the Hellenistic period and have been found at Dor (Guz-Zilberstein 1995: Fig. 6:35.6, 10), where they were dated to the mid-second century BCE.
3. An intact oil lamp (Fig. 7:4), which was recovered from the first step beneath the entrance area. The lamp is a wheel-made ‘Shephelah’ lamp, characterized by a large filling hole encircled by a high ledge and a conical spout. This a was type first identified by Bliss and Macalister (1902:129, Pl. 61.1). The lamp is dated to the early second century BCE and probably belongs to the initial quarrying phase of the olive press and cistern. Lamps of this type have been found throughout the Shephelah and are familiar from nearby Maresha.
4. Worn potsherds from the Late Iron Age, including bowls (Fig. 7:5, 6), kraters (Fig. 7:7, 8) and a jug (Fig. 7:9).
The oil-production industry was the economic mainstay of Maresha and the surrounding region under the Ptolemaic dynasty in the third century BCE. At Maresha itself, 26 subterranean olive presses from the third and second centuries BCE have been discovered. The location of an olive press beside a water cistern, and at times beside baths and ritual baths as well, is characteristic of the Maresha region and its environs. The olive press unearthed in the excavation, whose plan is very similar to that of the olive presses at Maresha, was apparently intended to be part of the oil-production industry. The cistern was probably first installed to divert runoff water and prevent the olive-press chamber from flooding; the collected water could be used for cleaning, purification, drinking, etc.
It should be noted that the remains in the olive press relate only to the second stage of oil production—the pressing stage—and not to the crushing and milling stage that was probably intended to be carried out on the west side of the production complex. Based on similar examples from the same period at Maresha, it can be assumed with some certainty that there was a crushing installation in the west part of the complex, but the second phase of quarrying in that part of the chamber obliterated any trace of it.
The pottery, the plan and the style of hewing date the installation of the olive press to the late third or early second century BCE. The installation of the olive press was not completed, and it was never used. At some point there was an attempt to convert it into a quarry or a water cistern, but the entire complex was ultimately abandoned and deliberately filled in. It is not clear why the complex was deserted or left unfinished. Nevertheless, Kloner and Sagiv (1989:64) note that some of the olive presses at nearby Maresha (Complexes 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11) were deliberately made obsolete by converting them into cisterns or quarries either due to a decline in the importance of the oil industry or as the result of some crisis. It would seem that this olive press, which was converted into a cistern or a quarry even before its completion, attests to this transition period.
The heap of plaster, which was prepared to fill a large fissure across the northeast corner of the oil-press chamber and dried before it was used, is evidence that the site was abandonment suddenly and in a rush. The fissure may have been caused by an earthquake, which could have stopped work on the chamber, or it may have resulted from the quarrying operations themselves. An olive press whose construction was left uncompleted for some unknown reason was found in nearby Maresha (Complex 90; Stern, Sagiv and Alpert 2015).
The Iron Age pottery found inside the olive press was the result of the clearance of nearby farmland in later periods (Y. Dagan, pers. comm.). Thus, instead of piling cleared stones up in the middle of the field, the farmers preferred to throw the stones into the abandoned cavity. Dagan’s hypothesis is logical and explains the presence of worn Iron Age pottery in the deliberate fill.