The Olive Press Cave
The cave was located in the western part of the ruin and was part of a large cave containing a number of cavities. Four strata (IV–I) were identified in the excavation. Two finds argue for the possible presence of an oil press in the cave that predates the one exposed in the excavation: a fragment of a rectangular stone weight that was found fixed in the foundation of the crushing installation of Stratum IV, and a rock-hewn niche in the eastern wall of the cave that might have been used to anchor the beam of the earlier pressing installation. This stratum may have dated to the fourth–sixth centuries CE.
Stratum IV (seventh–eighth centuries CE). A hewn courtyard that included an ashlar-built staircase (length 4.5 m, width 1 m; Fig. 2) led into the cave (Fig. 3). The cave consisted of an elliptical chamber (8 × 9 m, height of ceiling 5 m). On the floor in the center of the chamber was a shallow, circular rock-cutting (diam. 2.2 m, depth 0.1 m) that served as the base for a round crushing basin. In the cave’s ceiling, above the place where the crushing basin was positioned, was a hewn niche (diam. 0.5 m) that was used to secure a vertical wooden shaft around which the crushing stone revolved. A fragment of a limestone crushing stone was found incorporated in secondary use in a wall belonging to Stratum III. A pressing installation characterized by a slotted pier, one meter south of the crushing installation, was partially exposed (1.8 × 2.3 m; Fig. 4). Only the right pier and a round limestone collecting vat were preserved. The installation was constructed atop an ashlar base. A circular collecting vat hewn from limestone (outer diam. 1 m, inner diam. 0.78 m, depth 0.69 m) was built in the space between the two piers, below the location of the wooden screw. It seems that the oil press went out of use at the end of the eighth century.
Stratum III (ninth–tenth centuries CE). After the cave was abandoned for some time, it was remodeled, probably for residential purposes. The front of the cave was rebuilt, incorporating the original entrance stairs. The crushing stone that stood in the center of the cave had been removed. A wall (length 1.1 m, width 0.4 m) that was apparently a partition was constructed above the pressing installation. The cave was once again abandoned. The dating of the stratum is based on pottery of the Early Islamic period found on the floor and in the collecting vat.
Stratum II (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE). The cave was remodeled once again for use as a dwelling; its front was rebuilt with irregular and haphazardly constructed walls. The walls were constructed of ashlar stones, some of which were in secondary use (outer face: length 4.5 m, width 0.5 m, height 3 m). The staircase was also renovated and the opening was rebuilt (0.62 × 1.50 m). A wall was built in the western part of the cave that reduced the size of the chamber. An ashlar wall was built in the new chamber, dividing it into a northern and a southern space. A separate entrance was installed in the northern space by means of a rock-hewn corridor (length 7.7 m, width 1.8 m, height 1.5 m). Two ashlar partitions were erected in the cave’s chamber. On the floor of the cave was a habitation level that included ash, pottery sherds and animal bones.
Stratum I (nineteenth century–first half of the twentieth century CE). The entrances to the oil press cave were blocked with stones. The forecourt leading into the cave might have been used as an animal pen.
A Vaulted Subterranean Building
StratumII (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE). In the eastern part of the site, inside a compound enclosed by a fence, was a vaulted structure with two subterranean buildings that shared a common courtyard. The courtyard was partially excavated (7 × 8 m). It was open toward the east and delimited on three sides by underground buildings and built rooms. The courtyard’s floor was founded on a layer of plaster set on a bed of small fieldstones and river pebbles on top of natural bedrock. Several hearths and a fragment of a mill stone were found on the floor. A vault (3.4 × 6.2 m, height 2.90–3.15 m) covered with earth was erected to the south of the courtyard. The front of the vault was built of ashlar stones. The inner and outer dimensions of the opening in the vault were different and the heights were not uniform (the opening facing the courtyard: 0.7 × 1.7 m; the opening facing the inside: 0.66 × 1.55 m; Figs. 5, 6), possibly evidence of construction phases. Two phases of stone arches were incorporated in the vault, one in the front and the other in its center. The floor of the vault was founded on terra rossa soil mixed with crushed limestone and small stones; a habitation level included hearths, animal bones and pottery sherds (Fig. 7). Two installations on the floor were built of a row of fieldstones. Three ashlar-built rooms were probably constructed in the courtyard during this phase. A room (2.1 × 7.0 m) was completely exposed in the east of the courtyard, and two rooms were partially exposed in the west.
Stratum I (nineteenth century–first half of the twentieth century CE). A wall was built in the western part of the courtyard which was designed to prevent soil and stones from eroding into it. A rectangular ashlar stone was placed on the vaulted building’s threshold which was apparently intended to prevent rain water from entering into the structure. Ash, mortar, straw and a metal plow, evidence of the agricultural activity conducted in the building, were found on its floor.
Finds. Buff-colored pottery, characteristic of the Early Islamic period, and steatite cooking pots (soapstone) were discovered. The Mamluk period is represented by wheel-made pottery vessels and a multitude of hand-made vessels decorated with red paint strokes. The pottery from the Late Ottoman period and British Mandate included black Gaza ware vessels and other characteristic types.