From October 2015 to January 2016, a salvage excavation was conducted near Horbat Bet Natif, at the northern part of Nahal Yarmut at Ramat Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-7535; map ref. 199876–200308/622748–3366; Fig. 1), after the discovery of antiquities during inspection prior to the construction of a road. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was conducted by O. Shalev, with the assistance of S. Dallasheh (area supervision), N. Nehama (administration), S. Gendler (metal detection and administration), A. Hajian, M. Konin and M. Kahan (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz and Y. Yolovitch (photography), G. Fitoussi (aerial photography), D. Sandhaus (pottery), Z. Turgeman-Yaffe (archaeozoology), J. Regev (radiocarbon-dating samples), N. Ben-Melech (OSL-dating samples), T. Gonen (pottery restoration), I. Delerson (plans), A. Gyerman Levanon and A. Karasik (digital documentation of pottery), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (finds drawing), C. Amit (studio photography), I. Reznitsky (metallurgical laboratory), Y. Sfez (numismatics) and P. Betzer, D. Ben-Ami and Y. Paz (scientific consultation).
Five excavation areas were opened (A–E; Figs. 2, 3) in the vicinity of several archaeological sites, including Horbat Bet Natif, Khirbat el-Quṭ, Khirbat Umm edh-Dhiyab and Khirbat Shumeila. The principal remains unearthed in the excavation are complexes of structures and installations discovered in Areas B and E. The complex in Area B consisted of remains of a building and an industrial winepress, dated to the Hasmonean–Late Roman periods (first century BCE–fourth century CE). The complex in Area E comprised the remains of a late Persian–early Hellenistic (late fourth–third century BCE) building, an oil press, a limekiln and installations. The excavation areas also contained rock-hewn installations and quarries of unknown date, as well as Early Roman columbaria caves; this is the final publication of these remains.
The excavation areas lie near Sites 325, 331 and 334 of the Ramat Bet Shemesh survey (Dagan 2010: 257–258, 270–271, Fig. 326.1). Installations and roads of various periods were previously unearthed in the vicinity
[Fig. 1: A-7584]; Zilberbod and Lieberman 2016
[Fig. 1: A-7146]; Permit Nos. A-7268, A-7374), as were settlement remains from the Hasmonean and Early Roman periods (Storchan 2017
[Fig. 1: A-7156]; Shalev 2020
[Fig. 1: A-7358]; Fig. 1: A-7466, A-7605, A-8179, A-8413; Permit Nos. A-7261, A-7263, A-7369) and buildings of the Ottoman period and the British Mandate era (Permit No. A-7316).
Bodeda (F1; Fig. 4). A rock-hewn bodeda comprised a rectangular pressing floor (L103; 0.8 × 1.1 m) and an oval depression (L105; 0.3 × 0.4 m) on its southern side.
Installation (F2; Figs. 5, 6). A rock-hewn installation consisting of a leveled surface (L104; 1.75 × 2.50 m) with an oval hollow (L113; 0.3 × 0.4 m) at its southern end was uncovered. Although the large, leveled surface resembles a winepress treading floor, no collecting vat was discovered. Hollow L113 is too small in comparison to the pressing surface to have fulfilled this function. The installation may be unfinished, as observed in another winepress nearby (F3; below). Natural rock movements caused the surface to crack, and it is now split into two parts, hinting that the quarrying of the installation was halted.
Winepress (F3; Figs. 7, 8). An unfinished winepress was uncovered. The winepress included a square treading floor (L102; 2.80 × 2.80 m) with a collecting vat to its north (L112; 0.75 × 1.00 m). The collecting vat was not entirely hewn, leaving the severance channels and the stone block visible. A natural fissure across the treading floor may indicate why the work on the winepress was halted. A field wall (W108; length c. 3.5 m, width 0.5–0.7 m), probably belonging to an agricultural plot or terrace, was discovered south of the treading floor.
Complex B (Fig. 9). The complex includes the remains of a building and a juxtaposing industrial winepress to its west. Adjacent to them, to the west, was a burial cave (not excavated). The building had been severely damaged by infrastructure work and was only partially preserved; its floor was not preserved. The building was probably rectangular in plan (3.3 × 8.8 m). Circular pits hewn deep into the rock were found in its southeastern and southwestern corners: the eastern pit was probably used for storage, and the western pit was a water cistern. The two pits yielded Early Roman period (first century CE) pottery, dating the pits’ use and the building’s occupation to this period. The building may have been used in other periods too, but this cannot be determined due to its poor preservation and the floors’ destruction.
The industrial winepress (Fig. 10) near the building included a large treading floor, two collecting vats and a work surface. Three plaster layers that differ in color were found in the winepress (Fig. 11), suggesting at least three stages of use. The lower layer of plaster yielded a coin of John Hyrcanus I (125–105 BCE; IAA 172394), providing a late second century BCE terminus post quem for the winepress’s earliest phase. Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE) white tesserae and pottery sherds found on the work surface between the collecting vats suggest that the latest phase is no earlier than this period. Since the building beside the winepress dates from the Early Roman period, this date probably applies to the winepress’s middle phase too.
Near the west side of the winepress lay a rock-hewn burial cave (not excavated). It was accessed via a hewn entrance passage (length 2.3 m, width 1.3 m). Drilled probes conducted by the contractor show that the cave measures no more than 6 m long.
Installation (F4; Fig. 12). An irregularly shaped rock-hewn installation (L209) was uncovered; its function is unclear. No channels leading to the installation were observed, only natural fissures, and it was probably not used to store liquids. It seems to be a component in an unfinished installation.
Pit (F5; Figs. 13, 14). A rectangular rock-cut pit was found (L206; 1.10 × 1.25, depth 1.35 m); its function is unclear. Since no channels leading to it were observed, it is unlikely to have been used to store liquids. It is probably part of an unfinished installation.
Winepress and Bodeda (F6; Figs. 15–17). A simple winepress and a bodeda were found hewn in the rock. The winepress included a square treading floor (L302; 2.3 × 2.3 m) and a collecting vat (L305; 0.9 × 1.5 m, depth 2 m). In the treading floor’s eastern wall, a small rectangular depression was cut (L303; 0.4 × 0.5 m); it may have been used to place grape baskets or to crush related products added to the wine. In the treading floor’s northern wall, a channel (L304) was cut for draining the liquids to the collecting pit. A step (L308) was hewn in the collecting vat’s northern corner. The winepress was filled with soil accumulations devoid of finds. The bodeda, cut to the east of the winepress, included a pressing surface (L307; 0.75 × 1.00 m) and a square collecting vat (L306; 0.75 × 0.75 m, depth 0.2–0.4 m).
Quarry (F7; Fig. 18). The area contained a quarry for building blocks (length 1.0–2.5 m, height 0.3–0.5 m), one of many others documented throughout the hill (Permit Nos. A-7268, A-7374).
Winepress (F8; Figs. 19, 20). A simple rock-cut winepress comprised a shallow rectangular treading floor (L407; 2.3 × 2.7 m, depth c. 0.15 m) and a collecting vat (L404; 1.6–1.8 × 2.3–2.7 m, depth c. 0.6 m). In the treading floor’s southern part, a square hollow (L406; 0.25 × 0.32 m, depth c. 0.25 m; Fig. 21) was hewn with a perforation leading to the collecting vat. It was probably used to press additives for the wine or drain the grape pomace to fully extract the juice. The collecting vat is large compared to the treading floor, and a settling pit was hewn in its southwestern corner (L405; 0.9 × 1.2 m, depth 0.5 m).
Columbarium (F9; Figs. 22, 23). The excavation revealed a rock-hewn columbarium cave. The cave has a vertical entrance shaft (L400; 1.05 × 1.10 m, depth 1.5 m) cut through the hard nari rock, leading into a bell-shaped chamber (L402; diam. 3.0–3.5 m, depth 2.3 m). Four rows of small triangular, rectangular or rounded niches were hewn into the chamber’s walls. The cave yielded a variety of Early Roman period (first century CE) vessels, including cooking pots (Fig. 24:1), jars (Fig. 24:2, 3), jugs (Fig. 24:4, 5) and an oil lamp (Fig. 24:6). Two coins were found while excavating the shaft and cleaning the surface around it: one of Alexander Jannaeus (80/79–76 BCE; IAA 172395) and one minted under Herod Archelaus (4 BCE–6 CE; IAA 172396). Because they were found in soil accumulations, they cannot be used to determine when it was used or hewn. Nevertheless, since the assemblage is exclusively Early Roman, this is probably the latest episode of the cave’s use.
Complex E (Fig. 25). The complex comprised the remains of a building and three installations: a limekiln, an oil press and an installation of unknown function. Two main construction phases were identified in the building (Fig. 26), including the raising of the floor and minor architectural alterations. The building’s earlier phase had unusual architectural features, including the quarrying a kind of underground crater into which the walls were built (max. preserved height 2.8 m; Fig. 27). The small finds from the building include a fastening pin, jewelry, decorated bone items, an imported Attic oil lamp, a fragment of an alabaster item and other distinctive finds, along with numerous sherds of local pottery vessels, some of which are restorable. The finds date the building to the late Persian–early Hellenistic periods (late fourth–third centuries BCE).
The lime kiln was oval in plan (diam. 3.6 × 3.8 m, depth over 2 m; Fig. 28) and contained many burnt stones, indicating that it was abandoned after its last firing, possibly because of diminished efficiency. Numerous potsherds found in the kiln are primarily from the Persian period and resemble those found in the building nearby, while some date from the Hasmonean and Early Roman periods. Samples collected for OSL dating may help us determine whether the finds found in the kiln date the installation’s use or derive from the building’s dismantlement for secondary uses.
The oil press was severely damaged (Fig. 29), and its only preserved features were a niche for fixing the beam, a surface on which the baskets of crushed olives may have been placed, and two pits, one probably for settling and for collecting. Given the incorporation of a stone weight in the floor of the building’s later phase, perhaps the oil press may have been contemporaneous with the building’s earlier phase.
The installation, whose function could not be determined (Fig. 30), includes a round rock-hewn pit and a curved wall to the east that encircles a large rock boulder. The installation was devoid of finds and, therefore, cannot be dated, but its proximity to the building suggests a functional connection between the two.
Columbarium (F10; Fig. 31). A poorly preserved rock-hewn columbarium was uncovered. The cave had a triangularly-shaped vertical entrance shaft (L500; 1.3 × 1.3 × 1.5 m, depth 1.2–1.5 m) leading to a large underground chamber (L511; 3.5 × 4.2 m, depth c. 2 m). The cave walls were worn, and only a few eroded small niches remained. The cave roof was removed mechanically, for fear of collapse, and the chamber was cleaned of colluvial soil deposits. The excavation of the shaft yielded pottery sherds (not drawn) dating from the first century BCE–first century CE, and an Alexander Jannaeus coin (80/79–76 BCE; IAA 172397), probably dating the cave’s use.
Cave (F11; Fig. 31). An underground cave(?) was located; it was not excavated due to a concern that it may be a burial cave. The cave was accessed via an oval vertical rock-hewn shaft (L504; 1.0 × 1.6 m) that had been damaged by development work prior to the excavation.
Agricultural Installations (F12; Fig. 32). An agricultural installation was uncovered (L502), containing four rock-cut basins: two small rectangular basins (0.35–0.43 × 0.42–0.50 m, depth 0.22–0.30 m) and two large rounded ones (diam. 0.85–1.10 m, depth 0.55–0.60 m); the rounded basins were hewn at a lower level than were the rectangular ones. The installation was partially damaged prior to the excavation, and its function is unclear, but it was probably related to the extraction of liquids. The rectangular basins may have been used for crushing, while the rounded basins were used for settling and collecting pits. Another interpretation is that the rectangular basins were used for placing baskets or jars, while the rounded basins were used for crushing and pressing.
Juxtaposing this installation on the south was another installation (L516), probably a bodeda, with a shallow, rounded pressing surface (diam. 0.9 m, depth 9 cm) that drained into an elliptical collecting vat (0.4 × 0.5 m, depth 0.35 m). Notwithstanding their proximity, the high-quality chiseling of the basins compared with the rough working of the bodeda suggests that they are not contemporary.
Quarry (F13; Fig. 33). A quarry (L526) was uncovered, consisting of a hewn rectangular pit (2.5–3.0 × 7.5 m) from which building blocks (0.2–0.4 × 0.4–0.6 × 0.6–0.8 m) were extracted. Marks of stone quarrying and severance channels (width 0.1 m) were discovered in the pit and its sides.
The installations discovered in the current excavation are associated with farming activities conducted by the local population of nearby settlements. The remains cannot be dated, and it is difficult to attribute them to a specific settlement. The industrial winepress in Complex B was probably hewn in the Hasmonean era when a farmstead stood nearby, slightly higher up the hill (Permit Nos. A-8179, A-8413). The continued use of the winepress during the Early and Late Roman periods is related to occupations in the area surrounding the main settlement of Bet Natif (Dagan 2011:268–270). The building of the Persian–Hellenistic periods in Complex E, the definition of which is still not final (a farmstead?), was probably connected to other contemporaneous settlements in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Special mention should be made of Khirbat Umm edh-Dhiyab that was identified as a village and of Tel Zanoah that was identified as a city (Dagan 2011:264–265) and mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah because its residents helped repair the city walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:13).