Five excavation areas (Areas A–E) were opened along a strip (c. 2 km) on the eastern side of Highway 38 and along the northern Nahal Yarmut riverbed, between the Ramat Bet Shemesh interchange in the south and the Eucalyptus Park in the north (Fig. 1). The excavation uncovered remains of walls that may have been agricultural terrace walls, field borders or dams (Areas A, C–E); a rural path (Area E); and two installations: a compound with the remains of a pen or an agricultural watchtower (Area B), and a large water storage pool that may possibly date to the late Iron Age II (Area E).
The Ramat Bet Shemesh region contains many archaeological sites. It was extensively surveyed, mapped and excavated in a large-scale project from the 1990s onwards (Dagan 2010). A few excavations were previously conducted in and around the current excavation area. A residential building uncovered north of the Ramat Bet Shemesh interchange (Fig. 1: A-8240) may be part of a farmstead dating from the Hellenistic period until the Bar Kokhba Revolt; it can probably be associated with a recently excavated settlement west of the road (M. Pines-Amir and N. Ben-Melech, Israeli Institute of Archaeology, pers. comm.; Fig. 1: B-463/18). Water installations include a Byzantine bathhouse found to the north of Bet Jimal interchange (Haber and Melman 2018 [Fig. 1: A-7727]), and an Iron Age II or Persian-period well south of the interchange (Fig. 1: A-7928); Byzantine well to the north of the Ramat Bet Shemesh interchange (Fig. 1: A-8240); and a well connected to two vaulted Ottoman pools (Haber 2019 [Fig. 1: A-7985)]. These installations join the remains of a variety of Ottoman-period water installations uncovered in the immediate vicinity, like the saqiye well excavated c. 50 m east of the bathhouse (Weksler-Bdolah and Peterson-Solimany 2000) and the well in the Nahal Yarmut riverbed (Dagan 2010: Site 191). Another well—possibly also Ottoman—found to the west of Ramat Bet Shemesh interchange (Melman, pers. comm.). A wellhouse from the British Mandate era was also uncovered c. 150 south of Beit Jimal interchange (Dagan 2010: Site 59).
Area A (Fig. 2). A wall (W100; length 18 m, height c. 0.5 m) extended in a general east–west direction c. 300 m north of Bet Jimal interchange and a few meters east of the northern tributary of Nahal Yarmut. The western end of the wall, preserved for a single course, was built of partially worked stones that included a stone with a central perforation (Fig. 3) that was probably an oil-press weight in secondary use. The eastern end of the wall was roughly and not uniformly built and was possibly an addition or a renovation. The wall was poorly preserved and although it was built perpendicular to the streambed, it was not possible to determine whether it served as a dam, an agricultural terrace wall or a field boundary wall. A probe trench (depth c. 1 m) dug at the wall’s western end to locate its base, rapidly filled with groundwater to the bottom of the stone course. The wall’s eastern end was abutted on the north by another wall built of similar medium-sized stones (W104; length c. 5 m), whose function was unclear. The soil fill abutting and covering the walls yielded pottery sherds dating from the Late Byzantine period (sixth or seventh century CE), including three bowls (Fig. 4:1–3), one of which is a local Jiljil ware sherd (Fig. 4:3; Vincenz 2005).
Area B (Figs. 5, 6). About 130 m northeast of Area A, a few walls (W130, W131, W139, W144) preserved for a single course, enclosed three sides of a rectangular compound (length c. 40 m) along the east bank of the northern Nahal Yarmut streambed. Wall 131 (length 16 m, height 0.4 m), on the northeastern side of the compound, was built of uniform-sized, roughly dressed stones; the southeastern wall (W144; length 35 m) was built of medium-sized, lightly dressed and different sized stones; Wall 139 (length 3.2 m, height 0.45 m) and W130 (length 8 m, height 0.3 m), delimiting the compound on the south, were built of medium to large, roughly dressed stones. A gap (length c. 2 m) between similarly aligned W130 and W139, suggests that they were either part of the same wall, or possibly two adjoining walls. A probe trench (L134) dug on the southern side of W130 also filled up with groundwater.
In the compound’s southern corner, W139 and W144 abutted a walled oval element (max. diam. 5.7 m) that was divided by a short wall (W136) into two small spaces, both containing a packed bedding of soil and small stones (L135, L141; Fig. 7); this element may have been a pen for small animals. The walls were abutted by fill layers full of small stones. The gravely fill inside the oval compound and the accumulation layer along W144 yielded Byzantine pottery, including basins (Fig. 8:1, 2), bowls (Fig. 8:3–8), a jar (Fig. 8:9) and a roof tile (Fig. 8:10).
Area C (Fig. 9). About 210 m south of the Bet Jimal interchange, two perpendicular walls (W182: length 10 m, height 0.4 m; W183: length 18 m) were built of roughly dressed medium-sized stones on a sterile soil layer. The walls were abutted on all sides by small-stone fill layers, similar to those discovered in Area B, and they were probably field-boundary walls, the fills added to stabilize the soil in the rainy season. The pottery in the fills dates to the Byzantine period and includes a krater (Fig. 10:1), a bowl (Fig. 10:2) and a Gaza Ware jar (Fig. 10:3).
Area D. About 140 m south of Area C, several simple field walls (length 11–20 m) were built of a single row of different-sized undressed stones and preserved for a single course. The walls were probably field-boundary walls. The adjacent soil fills contained a few non-diagnostic potsherds.
Area E (Figs. 11, 12). A large circular installation (max. diam. 10 m; Fig. 13) c. 250 m south of Area D was built into the alluvium layer accumulated in the streambed. The installation had an outer perimeter wall (W230; width 1.6 m, height 0.4 m) built of two rows of small and medium-sized stones, and a stepped inner perimeter wall (W238; width 0.5 m, height 0.5 m) built of two rows of small stones; the inner row was built of carefully lain rectangular stones. The installation contained fragmentary remnants of a calcareous layer (L241) that may have been a floor bedding. A wall (W233; length 15 m), leaning against the western wall of the installation, roughly built of a row of large fieldstones on a north–south alignment, served to demarcate a farm plot, and/or as a dam. Here, too, groundwater seeped up during the excavation and hampered the work.
In the light of the large number of water installations in the region and the high groundwater level, the installation may have served as a shallow collecting pool. The few sherds retrieved near the outer wall include two bowls (Fig. 14:1, 2) and two jars (Fig. 14:3, 4) from Late Iron Age II, as well as a mortarium base (Fig. 14:5) that probably dates from the late Persian or early Hellenistic period; the installation cannot be dated with certainty.
A narrow north–south field wall (W234; length 10 m) built of a single row of well-arranged stones was uncovered c. 4 m west of W233 and at a 1.1 m higher elevation. The wall was built into a light-colored, gravely soil fill (L235, L236) similar to the fill layers in Areas B and C, although it contained more gravel. The fill which helped stabilize the soil, and the building method of W234 suggest that these are the remains of a rural road. The fill yielded pottery sherds, including two kraters (Fig. 14:6, 7), a bowl (Fig. 14:8) and three jars (Fig. 14:9–11), permitting dating the road to the Late Byzantine period (sixth–early seventh centuries CE).
An east–west aligned wall (W237; length 6.4 m), lying c. 1.4 m north of the pool, was built of a single row and a single course of medium-sized, roughly dressed stones. It probably continued westwards on top of W233 and beneath W234; it may have been a field-boundary wall.
The remains join finds from previous excavations along Highway 38 and augment our understanding of ancient rural settlement along Nahal Yarmut. They provide an interesting cross-period view of readily accessible water, agriculture, and settlement. The various Byzantine-period agricultural systems were probably in use contemporaneously in nearby villages, such as Bet Jimal and Kh. el-Jiljil. The fine collecting pool raises issues, such as whether it dates to the end of the Iron Age II, and if so, whether it is connected to Tel Bet Shemesh, c. 3.5 km north of Area E, since there are no other contemporary sites known in the immediate vicinity.