During 2000–2002 four seasons of excavations were conducted at the Ben Shemen interchange due to the paving of the Cross Israel Highway (Permit Nos. A-3337, A-3512, A-3783; map ref. NIG 1941/6516, OIG 1441/1516). The excavations, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Cross Israel Highway Ltd., was directed by Y. Zelinger, with the assistance of M. ‘En Gedi, G. Seriy, A. Dobovska, H. Torgë, Y. Arbel, V. Shlomi, T. Kanias, and Y. Billig (area supervision), Y. Rahamim, Y. Dangor, H. Lavi and S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), A. Hajian, V. Pirsky, V. Essman, T. Kornfeld and R. Graff (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (field photography), Y. Bukengolts (pottery restoration), O. Raviv (restoration of stone vases), E. Altmark (metallurgical laboratory), C. Amit (studio photography), C. Hersch (find and pottery drawing), E. Belashov (drafting), and G. Bijovsky (numismatics).
The site is located at the foot of the low hills of the Judean Mountains, verging on Shephelat Lod, east of Highway 1 and north of Highway 443. The area was surveyed by R. Gophna and I. Beit-Arieh (Map of Lod , Sites 186, 206, 207) and by Y. Dagan and M. Haiman, prior to the initial works of the Cross Israel Highway. The excavation was adjacent to the one conducted by the Ben-Gurion University on the northern part of the site (ESI 20:61*–62*) and to several tombs that belonged to the settlement in the immediate vicinity, which were excavated by Y. Porat (HA 47–48:25), O. Shmueli and E. Yannai (ESI 20:60*–61*), and M. Peilstöker (HA–ESI 115:42*–43*).
Approximately ten dunam of the site, which extends further eastward, were excavated (Fig. 1). The buildings on the surface were mostly destroyed during the 1970s before the planting of trees by the Jewish National Fund.
The underground hewn installations (ritual baths, refuge caves, silos and water cisterns) survived of the site and are represented by three major settlement periods:
1. A village from the end of the Hellenistic period (the second century BCE) and mainly from the Early Roman period until the Bar Kokhba Revolt (second century CE).
2. A settlement from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (sixth–ninth centuries CE).
3. Nomadic habitation during the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE).
The Early Roman Village
Three walls, arranged in a U formation (140 sq m), were discovered in the southern part of the site. The foundations of the building contained finds from the second century BCE, the time when the village was established.
Eight ritual baths (Miqwa’ot; Fig. 2), five refuge caves of different sizes (Fig. 3), nine water cisterns, silos, and many installations whose function is unclear were exposed; they belonged to the period when the site had reached its maximum size (first century BCE–first century CE). In some of the complexes the installations were converted and adapted for concealment. A rich assortment of ceramic and numismatic finds was recovered from the refuge caves and the underground rooms that were not damaged. The assemblage of pottery vessels included a variety of complete vessels (following restoration) from the second century CE (Fig. 4).
The Byzantine and Early Islamic Settlement
The settlement remains were concentrated in the northern part of the site, where an oil press from the sixth century CE and an arched pool, dating to the Early Islamic period (Fig. 5), were uncovered.
The Oil Press. The press was exposed to a maximum height of 1.5 m, but it can be reconstructed to its full height. Two rows of bases for arches that spanned a distance of 3.8 m and supported the roof were found on the first story. Segments of a white mosaic floor, which sealed two Byzantine jars, in situ, on the floor of the first story, evidenced the building’s second story. A pressing installation that consisted of a long beam set into the eastern wall and two stone weights (diam. 0.8 m, height 1.2 m) that were connected to the other end of the beam was discovered. A fragment of a crushing basin (yam) was in the fill of the adjacent pool.
The Arched Pool. A hewn rectangular pool (8 x 12 m, depth 4.5 m), having four phases of use, was revealed. In the main phase the pool was divided by two east–west rows of three columns, joined by arches that spanned a distance of 2.4 m. The column rows were 3.5 m away from the walls of the pool (Fig. 6).
Nomadic Occupation in the Mamluk Period
A nomadic presence from the Mamluk period was discerned in the eastern part of the site, following a settlement hiatus of hundreds of years. Several ovens and signs of habitation inside a collapsed water cistern indicated the extent of the occupied area. A large amount of ceramic finds was retrieved from the Roman-period ritual bath that was turned into a refuse pit during the Mamluk period (Fig. 7). A large limekiln (diam. 5.2 m) was built inside the northern part of the arched pool in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries CE.
The settlement was founded in the Hasmonean period, and reached the peak of its development in the second half of the first century CE. The ritual baths, refuge caves and numerous fragments of stone vessels indicate that its population was Jewish. The settlement was damaged during the Great Revolt, perhaps due to its strategic location along the main road from Lod to Jerusalem (the Bet Horon road), yet continued to exist until the Bar Kokhba uprising. Many vessels and coins in the refuge caves represented the end of the second century CE, which was the last phase of their use. Our village is similar to the Roman-period sites excavated in recent years in the Shephelah of Lod. The numerous sites show a nearly complete picture of the agricultural hinterland that surrounded the Roman city of Diosopolis (Lod) and indicate a dense concentration of Jewish settlements around the city.