During July–August 2003, an excavation was conducted in a complex winepress west of Horbat Shelah (Khirbat Umm Kalkha; Permit No. A-3967; map ref. NIG 18241/61390; OIG 13241/11390). The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Cross-Israel Highway Ltd., was directed by M. Haiman (photography), with the assistance of A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting) and A. Pikovsky (drawing).
A complex industrial winepress (13.25 × 17.40 m; Figs. 1–3) that was built in an agricultural region at the foot of a slope was excavated c. 500 m west of Horbat Shelah. Probe trenches excavated around the winepress ascertained that the installation was not part of a larger building or a settlement. The preservation of the winepress’ eastern part was good and it deteriorated farther to the west. Two distinct construction phases that dated to the sixth–seventh centuries CE were discerned in the winepress. A cistern (L141) was exposed to the south of the winepress.
The Early Phase
A simple winepress was built; its components included a treading floor (L121) and a collecting vat (L161), separated by a wall (W156). The treading floor (9.5 × 10.9 m) was paved with a mosaic (size of tesserae 3 × 3 cm), a section of which was exposed in the southwestern corner of the surface (L129; 1.0 × 1.3 m; Fig. 4), beneath the remains of a storage cell that was dated to the late phase (L126). The western side of the mosaic section (129) ended in a straight line at W156 (width 0.4 m). The mosaic bedding, composed of small stones and bonded with cement, was overlain with a layer of white cement (thickness c. 5 cm); it was preserved in most of the treading floor area. Collecting Vat 161 was a square cell (3.0 × 3.2 m), delimited by four walls (W156–W159). An octagonal collecting vat was built within it in the late phase. A paved surface (L139) had apparently surrounded the collecting vat and only remains of its foundation, which abutted the foundation trench of the winepress’ western enclosure wall (W145), were preserved. The entire winepress was enclosed by walls on four sides (W116, W145, W146, W149; width 1.15 m).
The Late Phase
The simple winepress was converted into a complex industrial winepress in this phase (Fig. 5). The major change was in the construction of four storage cells (Loci 122, 123, 126, 152; 0.8 × 2.0 m, height 1.4 m; Figs. 6, 7) along the eastern and southern sides of the treading floor. The cells, built of small stones bonded in cement, formed an L-shaped structure (width c. 2.5 m height 1.5 m) and were almost completely preserved. They were paved with a coarse mosaic and their walls were coated with a thick layer of plaster that contained potsherds; their ceiling was thick and vaulted (thickness c. 0.8 m). A treading floor was built on the roof of each of the cells. The floors were of a coarse mosaic, delineated by partition walls (W134, W136, W148; width c. 0.5 m) and poorly preserved. The facades of the storage cells faced the main treading floor (L121) and their openings were higher than its floor. Round holes (diam. c. 5 cm) were discovered at the bottom of the walls in the front of Cells 123 and 126. These were probably intended for pipes that led to the built vat in the screw base recess (L155) in the center of the treading floor. A lead pipe (diam. c. 3 cm) was discovered inside this vat, opposite Cell 126.
The main treading floor was reduced by about a third of its original size (5.4 × 5.5 m) and it was repaved with a coarse mosaic (tesserae size 4 × 4 cm; Loci 120, 132), of which only two sections were preserved. The tesserae were arranged diagonally, except for the frame along the edges of the floor that consisted of two rows of tesserae. The floor bedding was composed of small stones bonded with cement. A recess for the base of the press screw (L155; 2 × 2 m, depth 0.8 m; Fig. 8) was exposed in the center of the treading floor. The sides of the recess were destroyed in antiquity; however, its margins, built of large stones, were preserved. A rectilinear cavity (0.3 × 0.5 m, depth c. 0.2 m; Fig. 9) was cut at the bottom of the recess. A lead pipe (diam. c. 3 cm) that faced Storage Cell 126 was set in the southern side of the cavity and another lead pipe (diam. c. 5 cm) that connected to the settling pit (L138), located west of the treading floor, was fixed in the western side of the cavity. A fragment of a limestone screw press (c. 0.8 × 0.8 m, thickness 0.2 m) with a square hole in its center (0.4 × 0.4 m; Fig. 10) was discovered nearby. Millstones placed one atop the other, whose stratigraphic context is unclear, were recorded in the southeastern corner of the treading floor (Fig. 11).
Wall 156 continued to be used in this phase, separating the treading floor from the collecting vat (L115) and the settling pit (L138). Floor 120 in the treading floor ended in a straight line and abutted W156. Floor 139 to the west of W156 continued to be used. The leveled bedding of a mosaic floor was discovered in the area of Floor 139 but only a small section of the mosaic itself that consisted of coarse tesserae (L118) survived in the southeastern corner.
An octagonal collecting vat (L115; length per side 2.38 m, depth c. 1.5 m; Fig. 12) was built inside the collecting vat of the early phase. The space between the sides of the octagonal vat and the earlier collecting vat (L161) was filled with small stones, bonded with mortar. The walls of the octagonal vat were coated with a thick layer of white plaster and its floor was paved with a coarse mosaic, which characterize the pavements of the winepress in the late phase. The floor was framed at the edges with two rows of tesserae that were arranged in a different direction than that of the floor tesserae. A circular, stepped pit, lined with stones, was cut in the center of the vat (upper part diam. 0.8 m, lower part diam. 0.4 m, depth 0.5 m). A stone was fixed in its center to secure the screw. A round niche (width 0.5 m, height c. 0.6 m), which contained a lead pipe (diam. c. 5 cm) that led to Settling Pit 138, was installed in the northeastern wall of the collecting vat.
A rectangular settling pit whose eastern part is curved (L138; 1.1 × 1.6 m, depth 0.7 m; Fig. 13) was built north of Collecting Vat 115. The sides of the pit were coated with a thick layer of plaster and its floor was paved with a coarse industrial mosaic. Lead pipes that led to the recess of Screw Press 155 and Collecting Vat 115 were inserted through the eastern and southern sides of the pit.
The walls enclosing the winepress (width c. 1.15 m) were divided lengthwise in two. The outer wall was raised c. 0.5 m higher than the inner wall, which was used as a bench (Figs. 14, 15). The eastern wall (W146/W147) and the eastern part of the southern wall (W116) were preserved to their full height (1.3 m). The western part of W116 was preserved one–four courses high (max. 0.5 m) and extended to the hewn side of a miqwe, located to its west, which belonged to the late phase (L141; below). An opening in this part of the wall allowed rainwater to flow from the treading floor to the miqwe. Only the eastern part of the northern wall (W149; length c. 7.5 m) was preserved. The division of the wall into an inner bench and an outer wall was apparent at the wall’s eastern end. An opening that may date to the late phase of the winepress was probably located near the juncture between W149 and the eastern wall. The western wall (W145) was not preserved, except for its foundation trench, which was hewn in bedrock (depth 2–5 cm) and its entire length had survived. The space between the storage cells and the eastern and southern enclosure walls of the winepress was filled with small stones and mortar (Loci 143, 150; width 1.2 m). The top of the fill was c. 0.4 m lower than the top of the bench (W147).
The cistern (L141; 3.5 × 4.0 m, depth c. 2.5 m; Fig. 16) was bedrock hewn and coated with a thick layer of plaster. A staircase of seven steps led from its opening (width c. 1 m, height c. 1.7 m) to its bottom. Rock-cutting remains in the side and ceiling of the cistern indicate that initially, it was apparently a miqwe (2.5 × 2.5 m), possibly at the time of the winepress’ early phase; later, maybe in the late phase of the winepress, the miqwe was enlarged and used as a cistern. The miqwe/cistern was filled with rainwater that flowed from the winepress, probably via an opening that was cut in W116. The miqwe attests to the association of the winepress with a Jewish settlement.
A multitude of ceramics that dated from the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries CE was discovered in the winepress and the cistern. The majority of fragments were jars (95%), mainly of the later type of Gaza jars (Fig. 17:7–9) and also bag-shaped jars from the south of Israel (Fig. 17:10, 11), Late Roman C bowls (Fig. 17:1), an imitation of a Fine Byzantine Ware bowl (Fig. 17:2) that first appeared at the end of the Byzantine period, a bowl with an everted rim that has an interior gutter (Fig. 17:3), kraters (Fig. 17:4–6) and cooking pots (Fig. 17:13–15). Fragments of a flask (Fig. 17:16) and a jar with a tall neck (Fig. 17:12), which date to the Abbasid period, were discovered in the cistern; these potsherds were probably swept into it after the site was abandoned.