Area A was opened in the northeast of the excavation. Prior to the excavation, much of the area was exposed after the removal of modern accumulations (thickness 1.3 m), including piles of debris and a layer of hamra that was probably brought there in the early 1990s. Beneath the modern fill was a layer of clay that contained archaeological remains belonging to the Ottoman village of Hatta: building stones, some of which were dressed, from structures that apparently stood on the hill south of this area, and pottery sherds from the Mamluk, Early Ottoman and Late Ottoman periods. The Ottoman remains were founded on heaps of pottery workshop debris from the Byzantine period, probably brought from nearby (Area B), comprising mainly jars and kraters, as well as jugs, juglets, lamps and bowls. In addition, stone objects, animal bones and several fragments of glass vessels were discovered.
Area B, situated in the northwestern part of the excavation, was the smallest area. Meager remains of a ruinous pottery workshop from the Byzantine period were uncovered; this, evidently, was the source of the vessels exposed in the debris heaps in Area A. The remains included refuse pits containing fragments of jars, kraters, bowls and jugs, as well as brick fragments, slag and animal bones. Gaza jars were apparently the main type of vessel produced in the workshop.
Area C was located on a moderate slope descending to the southwest (Fig. 3). Scant remains of Hatta village were revealed at a depth of c. 0.4 m, which had been severely damaged by the cultivation of the area in recent decades. A complex of installations was unearthed at the western end of the area: a square work surface (1.3 × 1.3 m) of small fieldstones sloping gently to the north, the bottom part of a baking oven (diam. c. 1 m) to the south of it and two ash concentrations alongside it. Pottery from the Late Ottoman period, animal bones and several fragments of glass vessels were found in the complex. A water channel aligned in a general east–west direction was also uncovered. It was built of small fieldstones and some medium-sized stones that were roughly hewn. The channel sloped to the west, toward a partially preserved rectangular installation. The installation was situated east of a road, and it apparently provided water to passersby. The road (width c. 4.2 m, min. length 80 m, exposed length 35 m; Fig. 4), oriented in a general north–south direction, was discovered at a depth of c. 0.5 m below the surface. It was paved with compacted limestone fragments set on a bedding of clay, and in several sections was founded right over refuse pits from the Byzantine period. Depressions in the southern part of the road were repaired with patches of crushed kurkar. A drainage channel and dressed limestone curb stones were integrated along the eastern flank of the road. The finds discovered on the road date to the time of the British Mandate. Meager remains of walls and a channel were visible in the middle of the road; these had apparently been built on it after it was no longer used and may belong to a modern layer that was exposed in the area’s southern squares.
A scant amount of pottery sherds from the Byzantine period was discovered. These were mainly fragments of Gaza jars and kraters that were found throughout Area C, without any stratigraphic context.
Area D. A basilica church (length 31 m, width 15 m; Figs. 5, 6) was discovered in this area, located at the center of the site. It was divided into a nave and two aisles separated by two rows of three marble columns. An atrium (L312) at the front of the church was paved with a white mosaic and a decorative column stood at its center (Fig. 7). From the courtyard one entered the narthex (L317), where a fine mosaic floor was decorated with colorful geometric designs and a twelve-line Greek dedicatory inscription at its center. The inscription mentions church officials, foremost of which is Leontius, Bishop of Ashkelon, apparently the church’s patron.
From the narthex one entered the nave, paved with a colorful mosaic of vine tendrils that formed 36 medallions (L322) depicting animals such as zebra, tiger, giraffe, turtle, wild boar, chameleon, peacocks and fowl, as well as floral decorations and geometric designs. Two of the medallions contained Greek dedicatory inscriptions noting the names of the donors of the mosaic pavement in the church. The aisles (L334, L347) on either side of the nave were likewise paved with colorful mosaic carpets. These included patterns from the world of Christian iconography as well as floral and geometric decorations. A medallion in the mosaic floor in the southern aisle (L347) is of outstanding beauty and importance. It includes a cross symbolizing Jesus carried to heaven by a pair of birds alongside the letters alpha and omega, referring to the scripture in Revelation 1:8, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord” (Fig. 8). The church had an interior apse (L361) with a bema, where the priest conducted the sacraments, and small trapezoidal service rooms (L377, L378) located on either side of the apse. An inscription noting the completion of renovations to the mosaic in the nave was set in the pavement in front of the bema. A wide room was exposed north of the main building. It was paved with a mosaic floor of geometric patterns (L327) that included two inscriptions noting the construction of a baptismal font that was revealed at the eastern end of the room (L388).
The church was used in the Byzantine and Early Umayyad periods. In the eighth century CE, at the end of the Umayyad period, the church was no longer used, and the building underwent many changes, mainly in the courtyard (L312) and in the northern wall (W3). Granaries (L362) and articles such as millstones indicate the building was probably used at this time in an industrial context related to food preparation and storage. In the Mamluk period, a building was erected above the church; only parts of its foundations have survived.
The church was part of a small Byzantine settlement situated along the main road that connected Ashkelon in the west with Bet Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east. Other contemporary settlements were unearthed along this road. However, no church was found in any of them, and the one revealed here may have served as the regional spiritual center.