During April 2004 and August 2005 two excavation seasons were conducted at Giv‘at Sher, on the fringes of the new city of Modi‘in (License Nos. G-16/2004, G-14/2005; map ref. NIG 1991/6431; OIG 1491/1431). The excavation, on behalf of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of the Hebrew Union College and in cooperation with the City of Modi‘in and the Society for the Preservation of Nature, was directed by D. Ilan, Y. Gadot and Y. Farhi, with the assistance of R. Shay (area supervision), T. Kimhi (public reception), I. Taxel (ceramic finds), N. Cohen (pottery restoration), L. Zefanya (processing of glass finds), S. Bachar (registration), N. Ze’evi (find drawing), S. Ze’evi (photography), D. Porotzky and D. Milson (surveying and drafting) and G. Pinkus (GPS survey).
The objectives of the excavations were both archaeological and social: to investigate the history, size and nature of the settlement, as well as to encourage community involvement in the study, development and preservation of the site and to explore new ways of associating the residents of the region with the ancient site located in their own backyard.
Three areas (A1–A3; Figs. 1, 2), spread over the entire area of the ruin, were opened. To date, architectural remains were only exposed in the latest habitation level of Area A3. The soil fill that covered the ruin contained numerous ceramic and numismatic artifacts that aided in dating the settlement periods at the site. The analysis of the finds revealed that a settlement existed at the site during three main periods, the Late Hellenistic, the Byzantine-Umayyad and the Mamluk periods.
The Late Hellenistic Period (second–first centuries BCE)
The ceramic finds from this period included several bowls, jars and lamps that were mostly produced locally. Noteworthy among them is a body fragment of a folded Hasmonean lamp and a red-slipped folded handle of a closed wheel-made lamp that was probably a local imitation of an imported Hellenistic lamp. Lamps of this kind are rare and several examples were discovered in a Jewish burial cave in Nahal David at ‘En Gedi, which was dated to the first century BCE (unpublished). The numismatic finds from this period included three Seleucid coins (Antiochus III, Antiochus IV and Antiochus VII) and two coins of Alexander Jannaeus. In addition, a small bronze pendant that depicts the Egyptian god Horus Harpocrates and is probably dated to the Hellenistic-Roman period was discovered, not in situ (Fig. 3).
The Byzantine-Umayyad Period (fifth–eighth centuries CE)
During the preliminary survey, a large ashlar stone that was decorated with two crosses and probably originated in a church or a monastery was found (HA-ESI 117). Numerous large white tesserae were found, as well as an extremely large amount of potsherds that comprised both local and imported vessels. The locally manufactured vessels consisted of lamps (mostly ‘menorah’-type lamps), FBW bowls (Fig. 4:1–4), kraters (Fig. 4:5), cooking pots, jars, jugs and fragments of roof tiles. The imported vessels consisted of Late Roman Red Ware bowls, mostly represented by bowls from western Asia Minor (LRC; Fig. 4:6–10) that are frequently decorated with a cross (Fig. 4:11, 12) and bowls from Africa (ARS; Fig. 4:13), Cyprus (CRS; Fig. 4:14) and Egypt (ERS; Fig. 4:15). Numerous glass fragments of bowls, a wine goblet, bottles and juglets were ascribed to this period and the numismatic finds included four coins from the end of the fourth–beginning of the fifth century CE and two coins from the sixth–seventh centuries CE.
The Mamluk Period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE)A settlement layer dating to the later part of the Mamluk period was exposed in all the squares of Area A3. Architectural remains were found in two squares and included stone collapse, robber trenches of walls and a hard-packed earth floor (c. 2.5 × 2.5 m). The stone collapse, next to the floor, contained a homogenous pottery assemblage contemporary with the period (Fig. 5), which consisted of mold-made lamps decorated with geometric patterns; handmade and wheel-made bowls, a few of them glazed and jars and jugs, mostly handmade. The entire surface of most handmade vessels was densely covered with red and brown washed geometric decorations, applied to a buff-colored slip. Decorated vessels of this type first appeared in the twelfth century CE and were also common during the Ottoman period. The numismatic finds from this period included one Ayyubid coin, dating from the time of Al-Malik al-‘Adil, the brother of Salah a-Din, and three badly preserved and illegible Mamluk coins that could not be dated.
The habitation layer from the Mamluk period was the upper stratum at the site, which superposed ancient remains from the Late Hellenistic and Byzantine-Umayyad periods. It seems that most of the Mamluk settlement existed on the southern part of the ruin (Area A3), whereas during the Byzantine-Umayyad period, and the Late Hellenistic period, the settlement was located in the northern part of the ruin (Areas A1, A2). The close proximity of Horbat Sher to the site of Umm el-‘Umdan, where an important settlement from the Late Hellenistic period (Hasmonean) was excavated, indicates that it was either a daughter settlement of Umm el-‘Umdan or part of its agricultural hinterland. The numerous ceramic finds from the Byzantine-Umayyad period, as well as the ashlar stone decorated with crosses, point to a Christian settlement that existed at the site and probably included a church or a monastery.