In May–June and November 2015, trial and salvage excavations were conducted in the old Foreign Ministry compound in Jerusalem, between Binyene Ha-Umma and Bet Ha-Hayyal (the Soldier’s House) (Permit Nos. A-7418, A-7558; map ref. 219451-519/632324-433; Fig. 1), prior to construction. The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Rassco Company, were directed by N. Ben-Ari (field photography), with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), V. Essman, Y. Shmidov and M. Kahan (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), A. Wiegmann (GPS), A. Re’em and C. Arbib (consultation), D. Porotsky (plans) and A. Verker of the Rassco Company. The digging of trial trenches and antiquities inspections prior to the excavation were supervised by D. Gellman, D. Tanami, E. Kapil and S. Leshem.
Two excavation areas (A, B) were opened, c. 200 m apart, on a rocky spur descending east and south, at the site of Binyene Ha-Umma and the location of the Arab village of Sheikh Badr until 1948. The site was damaged in recent decades by infrastructure work and construction. In Area A, a pair of rock-cut collecting vats was discovered, while in Area B, a stone quarry and a burial cave characteristic of the Second Temple period were found.
In previous excavations in the vicinity, remains from the Iron Age through the Ottoman period were exposed, the most prominent among them the pottery and roof tile workshops, a large public building ascribed to the Tenth Roman Legion and agricultural installations dating to the Roman period, burial caves from the Roman and Byzantine periods, a church, a monastery and agricultural installations from the Byzantine period, stone quarries, cisterns and agricultural installations (Avi-Yonah 1951; Kloner and Zissu 2003; Arubas and Goldfus 2008; Nagar 2008 [Fig. 1: A-4567]; Levi 2010 [Fig. 1: A-5340]; Levi 2011 [Fig. 1: A-5287]; Levi and Beeri 2011 [Fig. 1: A-5707, A-5807]; Avner 2013 [Fig. 1: A-6548]; Weigmann and Chalaf 2013).
Area A. A pair of rock-cut collecting vats (A1, A2; Figs. 2, 3) was exposed, hewn on a southeast–northwest axis, separated by a narrow bedrock partition. The vats were identical apart from the slightly larger size of Vat A1. Both vats were paved with well-preserved white industrial mosaic floors (L103, L106; Fig. 4). The floor makeup (L105) in Vat A1 was revealed in several places where the mosaic pavement had not survived; it comprised a layer of plaster applied to a surface of small stones. In the eastern corner of each vat was a collecting sump , likewise paved with a white industrial mosaic. Several layers of plaster were discovered on the walls of the vats, some of which were covered the edges of the mosaic pavements (Fig. 5). A plastered triangular niche was exposed next to the northern corner in the eastern wall of Vat A2 (Fig. 6) that may have served as a foothold for descending into or ascending from the vat. An accumulation of brown soil and collapsed fieldstones and roughly hewn building stones (Fig. 7) mixed with pottery sherds dating from the Iron Age II to the Ottoman period (not drawn) was found in both vats. The collecting vats were apparently part of a rock-hewn winepress whose other components did not survive.
Area B. In the northern part of the area was a quarry for hard-limestone building stones (L200; Fig. 8); chisel marks of stones and severance channels were observed (Fig. 9). A thin accumulation of soil mixed with fragments of pottery vessels from the Iron Age II to the Ottoman period (not drawn) was discovered overlying the area of the quarry. A small cupmark was exposed in the northeast of the quarry (L201).
A large rock-hewn burial cave was revealed slightly southwest of the quarry; it ceiling had been breached (Figs. 10, 11) probably before the ground was prepared for building at the time of the Arab village or during the construction of the Foreign Ministry compound. The cave was irregular in shape and consisted of ten loculi (1–10; average size 0.5 × 2.0 m, average height 0.8 m); Loculi 5–9 were hewn in the western side of the cave (Figs. 12, 13) while Loculi 1–4 and 10 were hewn in its eastern side (Fig. 14). The loculi were filled with soil, quarrying debris and modern refuse and were devoid of any artifacts. All of the loculi, save Nos. 5 and 9, were completely excavated (Fig. 15). The openings of the loculi were rectangular; they were simply hewn, without any grooves. At the end of Loculus 5 was another hewn opening (Fig. 16), leading to a rock-cut space filled with alluvium (not excavated for reasons of safety). Narrow niches hewn in Loculi 1, 3 and 8 increased the size of the burial cells (Figs. 17, 18). Apparently, these niches were repositories (Kloner and Zissu 2003:30) for collecting the bones or placing an ossuary. According to Kloner and Zissu, such repositories were widespread mainly in the second–first centuries BCE, but were also found in caves dating to the first century CE. On the southern side of the cave, next to the opening, was a hewn pit that probably served as a standing pit (L220; Fig. 19). The opening of the cave was hewn in the southern wall (Fig. 20). It was rectangular and was surrounded by a triple-stepped sunken frame (Kloner and Zissu 2003:17, Fig. 8:1B). The design of the frame reveals that the opening was presumably sealed in the past with a stone slab. A hewn courtyard fronted the opening; its northern and western walls and part of the leveled bedrock were preserved (Fig. 21). Several changes were made in the main part of the cave during a later phase of its use. The cave’s opening was widened and heightened and the lintel was removed. Parts of the bedrock floor in the cave’s center were hewn; this may be the origin of the quarrying debris discovered in the loculi. During this phase, a bell-shaped cistern treated with light yellow plaster was hewn in the center of the cave (L218; Fig. 22); it was partially excavated. A small triangular-shaped channel (L219) led to the top of the cistern. Accumulations of soil and modern refuse, including mixed pottery sherds dating from the Iron Age II to the modern era (not drawn), were discovered in the center of the cave and in Cistern 218. No finds were discovered in the cave that date the time of its quarrying or the duration of its use. Based on the cave’s plan (Kloner and Zissu 2003:27–32) and a comparison of similar caves previously excavated at the site, the cave was hewn in the Early Roman period.
The pair of collecting vats discovered in Area A was probably part of a sophisticated winepress that may have included more than one treading floor. The layers of plaster on the walls of the vats show that these were used over a long period of time. Based on the mosaic pavements in the vats, they were first used at the end of the Roman or in the Byzantine periods. The quarrying in Area B was part of the extensive quarrying that took place at the site, evidence of which was revealed in previous excavations. The burial cave next to the quarry is characteristic of the Second Temple period and was part of the necropolis of the settlement that existed on the spur at that time. The cave was apparently also used in later periods. There is considerable evidence regarding the proximity of stone quarries to burial caves in the Second Temple period (Kloner and Zissu 2003:3–4). Since there is no indication that building stones were quarried above the cave or along its fringes, the quarrymen were presumably aware of the burial cave or alternatively, those preparing the cave knew about the quarry. Although no datable artifacts were found in the quarry, one can assume that it was active during the Second Temple period and provided stones for the nearby settlement.
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