The excavation (13 squares; Figs. 2, 3), conducted on the southwest fringes of Kh. el-Bira, unearthed the southwestern edge of a settlement from the late Byzantine (seventh century CE) and Abbasid (ninth–tenth centuries CE) periods. The remains of four buildings (Figs. 4, 5) were uncovered in the northeastern part of the excavation, situated on either side of a north–south alley. Part of the settlement’s agricultural hinterland, extending to the south and west of the architectural remains, included three farming terraces, two boundary walls, a farm track and a large quarry cutting into an ancient burial cave.
Alley (L132; 2.3 m wide, c. 30 m excavated length; Fig. 6). The alley was delimited on either side by the walls of the buildings. To the west, in addition to the walls of buildings in certain parts, the alley was demarcated by a wall (W126) built of roughly hewn medium and large stones. Only the alley’s bedding survived; it was composed of light brown soil packed with small fieldstones.
Building I (Figs. 7, 8). The remains of this building, uncovered to the northwest of the alley, comprise two units: northern and southern. The northern unit, which is the earlier of the two, extends northward, beyond the excavation area; only its southern, outer wall, running northwest–southeast, was unearthed (W105). It was built of large and medium-sized ashlars, and an opening was set in it, from which a one doorpost stone survived. The southern unit—a later addition—adjoins the northern one, and all three enclosing walls (W29, W103, W104) were preserved to a height of up to three courses. These walls were built of medium-sized and large roughly dressed stones with an inner lining of small fieldstones bonded together with gray mortar. Two steps made of large, roughly dressed stones, which led from the alley into this unit, was incorporated in the outer face of the southern part of W29, which flanked the alley on the west. The southern unit was divided into five rooms (L27, L137, L139, L146, L147) by partition walls (W136, W143–W145). The partition walls were poorly preserved: in several cases only the foundations survived, and in others all that remained was a robbers’ trench. Sections of white industrial mosaic flooring were found in two rooms (L27—4 × 5 m; L137—4.5 × 4.7 m). An installation (c. 1.0 × 2.4 m) was incorporated in the southern end of Room 27; it either did not survive or was intentionally robbed, as all that remained from it was white hydraulic plaster on the south face of W105, which delimited the installation on the north. Floor beddings made of small and medium-sized fieldstones with traces of hydraulic plaster covering it were found in three other rooms (L139—4.5 × 4.7 m; L146—2 × 5 m; L147—4 × 5 m); in Room 147, the floor bedding was laid in accordance to the bedrock outcrop. The function of this unit is unclear, but based on the industrial mosaic floors and the remains of the installation it probably had some industrial purpose.
Building II. Remains of the building were found along the east side of the alley. A massive, wide wall (W106; 0.9 m wide, 20 m excavated length; Fig. 9) running northeast–southwest delineated the building on the west and the alley on the east. The wall was built of two rows of roughly dressed medium and large stones with a core of small fieldstones in a bonding material. Wall 106 was abutted on its east by two walls (W111, W142) built of roughly dressed medium and large stones; these walls enclosed the building’s southwestern room.
Building III was uncovered to the west of the southern section of the alley. It is a rectangular building that seems to have comprised two units. The northern unit (L116; 3.5 × 4.0 m; Fig. 10) was paved with flat, medium and large stone slabs. It was enclosed by four walls (W110, W113–115; preserved three courses high) built of roughly dressed medium and large stones, lined on the inside with small fieldstones bonded in gray mortar. Wall 115 continued southward, and thus seems to have enclosed another unit to the south, although it did not survive. Wall 113 delimited the alley to the west. Since the building is not far from agricultural plots, it may have been used as a storeroom.
Building IV (Fig. 11). Remains of the building were unearthed to the east of the alley, south of Building II; a narrow alley between these two buildings was blocked off at a later stage (Fig. 12). Parts of two units, northern and southern, and a connecting passage (L140; 1.2 m wide) were uncovered. The remains of the northern unit comprise a wall (W117) that bordered the unit to the west and the alley to the east and an eastward wall (W127) abutting the southern end of W117 to form the southwest corner of the unit. Those of the southern unit comprise the wall (W129) that bordered it to the north and a wall (W130) abutting the east end of W129 from the south. Passage 140 entered the building’s south unit via an opening in W129. An additional wall (W128) linked the two units. All the building’s walls were built of partially dressed large and medium fieldstones, and they were preserved to the height of two courses.
Agricultural Terraces (Figs. 2, 3). Three agricultural terrace walls (W6, W10, W146; 0.5–0.6 m wide, 0.3–1.0 m high), which were identified in preliminary surveys and aerial photographs, were documented along the west slope of the excavation area. They ran along a northeast–southwest axis and were built of medium and large stones, which were preserved to the height of a single course. Probes excavated in the agricultural terraces revealed that most of the fill above the bedrock consisted of medium-sized stones with a little reddish soil beneath a layer of dark topsoil (0.3–0.5 m) suitable for agriculture.
Boundary Walls (Figs. 2, 3). Sections of two boundary walls running southeast–northwest (W5, W7; 10–19 m long, 0.5–0.6 m wide) were documented to the southeast of W6. The walls apparently abutted from the west a wall delineating a farm track (W158; below) and from the east—W6. All the walls were built of large stones, some partially dressed, which were placed slightly spaced out along a rather straight line. The walls were preserved to height of one course, which was founded directly on the bedrock.
Farm Track (L123; uncovered length 30 m, width 2.1 m; Figs. 2, 13). A farm track running in a general northeast–southwest direction as was unearthed on at the foot of the southwestern slope of the excavation area. It was delineated on both sides by walls (W1, W158) built of medium and large stones, some of which were partially dressed; its course seems to continue that of Alley 132. The bedding of the track (0.5 m max. width) comprised a lower layer of small stones placed on the bedrock and an upper of tamped earth with a few small stones. The track probably served also as a boundary between agricultural plots.
Quarry (L25; Figs. 14, 15). Part of a large stone quarry was unearthed in the southeast of the excavation area. Eleven quarrying steps were identified in its southeast wall, 15 in its east wall and 7 in its northeast wall. The quarry walls retained chisel marks and severance channels (11–14 cm wide). The quarrying steps enabled the quarrymen to reach almost all the corners and sides of the quarried stones. The quarry floor retained the negatives of the detached building stones (0.35 × 0.90 m, 0.7 × 0.8 m, 0.4 × 1.0 m, 0.6 × 1.0 m). Two undetached large rectangular ashlars were discovered in the quarry’s southeast and northeast walls surrounded by chiseling marks (L124—0.6 × 2.0 m; L125—0.6 × 1.5 m, 0.3 m wide; Fig. 16); it seems that these stones were intended to be used as tomb-covering slabs, as arcosolium tombsand other burial caves were found to the south of the excavation area.
Burial Cave (Figs. 17, 18). The cave, hewn in white limestone rock, was revealed in the quarry’s east wall; the cave’s entrance chamber had been damaged by quarrying work. Two typological phases were identified in the cave: burial in kokhim in the early phase and in burial troughs in the later phase.
An arched opening (L109; 0.7 × 0.8 m) led into a rectangular burial chamber (L149; 2.5 × 3.0 m). A sealing stone (0.75 m long, 0.7 m wide, 0.15 m thick) was discovered in the soil fill covering the quarry to the west of the opening; a small cross was incised in its center (Fig. 19). As the stone was found near the opening, it probably served at least during the cave’s later phase, but possibly in its early phase as well. In the early phase, six kokhim (0.5 × 1.2 m, average height 0.9 m) were hewn in the northeastern and southeastern walls of the burial chamber; it seems that the southernmost kokh was breached by robbers in antiquity. In the later phase, two burial troughs (L157—1.7 m long, 0.9 m wide; L156—2.1 m long, 1.0 m wide) were hewn into the rock-cut shelf along the northeastern and southeastern walls in front of the kokhim. In the center of the burial chamber was a standing pit (L149; 1.2 × 1.3 m), and it was separated from the troughs by a railing built of small fieldstones bonded in gray mortar. No finds were retrieved from the burial chamber, the kokhim or the burial troughs.
Most of the pottery was found in fills above the floors and wall-tops of the building remains and the alley; potsherds were also retrieved from the fills within the quarry. The late Byzantine (seventh century CE) finds consist of bowls (Fig. 20:1, 2), a jar (Fig. 20:3) and a lid (Fig. 20:4). The Early Islamic (eighth–tenth centuries CE) finds includ a cup (Fig. 21:1), glazed bowls (Fig. 21:2–4), large bowls (Fig. 21:5, 6), a frying pan (Fig. 21:7), jars (Fig. 21:8–10), jugs (Fig. 21:11, 12) and oil lamps (Fig. 21:13–15).
Two metal rings (Fig. 22:1, 2) were found on the stone floor (L116) in Building III, and three bullae were found beside the south side of W103, the southern wall of Building I: one made of clay and lead (Fig. 22:3) and two are made of lead (Fig. 22:4, 5). A bronze buckle (Fig. 22:6) was retrieved to the east of W106, the west wall of Building II, and a bronze key (Fig. 22:7) was found in the fill in the northeastern part of the quarry.
The Glass Vessels
A small assemblage of 17 glass fragments was found during the excavation; eight are presented here (Fig 30). According to their forms and fabric, the fragments are attributed to the late Byzantine–Umayyad periods. Most of the comparative material comes from various excavations in Ramla (Gorin-Rosen 2010).
Rim fragments Nos. 1 and 2 belong to a beaker (No. 1) and a bowl (No. 2). Both have a thickened, rounded incurving rim, which is characteristic of the late Byzantine and Umayyad periods. Examples were found in several excavations in Ramla and at various other sites in Israel (Gorin-Rosen 2010:215, Pl. 10.1:4, and see an exhaustive list therein).
No. 3 is a body fragment bearing a small pinch, which belongs to a beaker, a bowl or a bottle. Decorating a vessels body with rows of vertical or horizontal pinches was common in Israel and Jordan from the late sixth to the eighth centuries CE (Gorin-Rosen 2010:219, Pl. 10.1:6).
Nos. 4 and 5 are rim fragments, most probably belonging to bottles with upright rims and cylindrical necks. This type of bottle usually has a globular or squat body and a flat or concave base. It first appeared in the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine periods, continued during the Umayyad period and was common during the Abbasid period (Gorin-Rosen and Katsnelson 2005:103, Fig.1: 4).
No. 6 is an upward rounded rim with a short cylindrical neck belonging to a bottle. This bottle type was common from the Umayyad period and onward.
No. 7 is a fragment of a concave base, probably belonging to a bottle. Concave bases were the most common bases from the beginning of glass blowing until the Industrial Revolution, but the greenish blue shade of this fragment is indicative of its Umayyad-period date (Gorin-Rosen 2010:226, Pl. 10.2:10).
No.8 is a low tubular base with a concave bottom, characteristic of wine glasses that appeared in the Byzantine period and continued to be in use during the Umayyad period (Gorin-Rosen 2010:221, Pl. 10.2:5).
Donald T. Ariel
Six identifiable coins were recovered, four of which came from Room 27 in Building I: a Hasmonean prutah (IAA 152775), a coin of Trebonianus Gallus (251–253 CE, minted in Caesarea; IAA 152777) and two coins of the emperors Justin I—a follis dated to 518–538 CE (IAA 152774)—and Justinian I—an imitation pentanummium dated to 522–540 CE, which was probably minted in Ascalon (IAA 152773). The other two are a coin from the fourth century CE, retrieved to the north of Building III (L120; IAA 152776), and an unidentified Islamic coin found above the southern part of W29 (L30; IAA 152772).
The four buildings and the alley that were unearthed in the northern part of the excavation were probably part of the southwestern fringes of the settlement at Khirbat el-Bira. Agricultural terrace walls, partition walls, a farm track and a quarry that damaged the east wall of a rock-hewn burial cave, which were unearthed Parts of the farmland belonging to the settlement unearthed to the south of the building remains, belonged to the settlement’s farmland. The pottery provides evidence of a Byzantine settlement from the seventh century CE and into the early Islamic period. It seems that during the eighth–tenth centuries CE the settlement underwent alterations: the blocking off of alleys between Buildings II and IV, the addition of the southern wing to Building I and the erection Building III. The small glass assemblage is also attributed to the late Byzantine–Umayyad period. The numismatic finds and the kokhim cave unearthed in the southeast of the excavation area attest to the existence of a Roman (third century CE) settlement and to activity in this part of the site which began as early as the first century BCE.