The excavation was conducted on the southern slopes of a spur, on which the Ramat Shelomo neighborhood is located, and within the bounds of Khirbat el-Masani‘, where the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were previously uncovered (Tsafrir, Di Segni and Green 1994:184; Mazor 2000:18; Kloner 2001: Site 137, and references therein). The excavation areas are dispersed along an ancient road, which branched from the main Jaffa–Jerusalem road in the area of Beit Laqiya. The road crossed Nahal Soreq near the site and ascended along Nahal Zofim towards Sanhedriyya. From there, it continued south along Shemuel Ha-Navi Street and joined the main Jerusalem–Nablus road c. 400 m north of the Damascus Gate (Fischer, Isaac and Roll 1996:89, 104–105). A section of this road was surveyed near the excavation area, along Nahal Zofim (Mazor 1985; Kloner 2001: Site 141). It seems a side road or a path led from it toward the church and the monastery.
In the 1990s, salvage excavations and a survey were conducted in the environs of Khirbat el-Masani‘ (Davidovich et al. 2006). In 2006, the immediate environs of the current excavation were surveyed again, documenting dozens of agricultural installations (Eirikh-Rose and Birkenfeld 2008). Remains of an Iron Age II building were uncovered to the north of the excavation area (Be’eri 2012 and see references therein), and massive quarries and Early Roman–Second Temple period burial caves were found to its east (Zilberbod 2014). Nowadays, the spur’s slopes are planted in a cypress grove (Ramot Forest) that has a wealth of ancient remains that are visible on the surface, including agricultural terraces, burial caves, cisterns, unidentified cavities and, most of all, building-stone quarries, some of which are buried under massive piles of stone rubble, probably due to recent quarrying activity.
Eight excavation areas (A–H; Fig. 2) were opened on both sides of the access road to the Ramat Shelomo neighborhood, producing remains of the Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The finds from the excavation consist mainly of meager pottery from the Iron Age II, Hellenistic, Early Roman and Late Roman periods, which are probably the main periods of the site’s operation. Additional finds include a few glass shards, including a fragment that may have belonged to a wine goblet and a Byzantine coin.
Areas A and B. Area A contained a section of a wide northeast–southwest wall (W101, W104; length 6 m, width 1.2 m; Fig. 3). It was built on bedrock and comprised two rows of fieldstones of various sizes and a core of earth and stone. The wall was preserved one course high.
Three subareas were opened in Area B (B1–2, B3–5, B6), where field walls were visible on the surface. In Subarea B1–2, a fragmentary fieldstone surface was uncovered at the east (L210), while traces of a wall(?) (W205) were recorded at the west (Fig. 4). Unidentified architectural remains were also uncovered. Alluvial soil to the east of the remains (L201) yielded a body sherd of a Late Roman bowl (Fig. 5:8).
Remains of two perpendicular field walls (W206, W207; Fig. 6) were uncovered in Subarea B3–5. Wall 206 (length c. 6.5 m, width 1 m; Fig. 7) was built of large fieldstones and aligned east–west, and Wall 207 (preserved length c. 4.5 m, width c. 1 m) was built of variably-sized fieldstones and aligned north–south. A cross was engraved on one of the stones at the end of W207 (Fig. 8).
In Subarea B6, the remains of two roughly parallel walls (W212, W213; length 9–10 m, width 1 m; Fig. 9) were uncovered. They were oriented northwest–southeast and constructed of variably-sized fieldstones. Perhaps, these walls were part of a building that was not preserved. In W212, the base of an Iron Age II bowl was found (Fig. 5:1).
Most of the walls in Areas A and B had been swept away over the years. Apart from Walls 212 and 213 (Area B6), which may have been part of a building, the others were probably agricultural terrace walls or plot boundary walls.
The absence of stratified diagnostic finds renders the date of these walls indeterminate, the single Iron Age II bowl base from the core of W212 notwithstanding. Nevertheless, this find may be considered supportive of the possibility that the wall was built during this period and was part of a building similar to ones discovered nearby (Be’eri 2012; Storchan 2017, and references there). It is also possible that some of the walls were built in the Byzantine period when the nearby monastery was established. The stone in W207 bearing the cross may testify to this.
Area C. In this area, the remains of an ancient quarry (L300, L301; 5–6 × 13 m; Figs. 10, 11), probably of the courtyard type, were uncovered. Some of its upper walls were damaged by modern quarrying work. In courtyard quarries, mining begins in one location, from which it deeps and expands, while maintaining a passageway for transporting the stone blocks out of the quarry. The vertical and horizontal quarrying lines and the still attached stone blocks attest to the building stones’ dimensions (0.3 × 0.3–0.4 × 0.4–0.8 m). Only one diagnostic find was recovered: a prutah of the Hasmonean period (125–37 BCE; IAA 164555) retrieved from an alluvial soil fill (L300).
Area D. The area contained a rock-hewn winepress (Figs. 12–14) that included a rectangular treading floor (L400; c. 2.4 × 2.8 m, depth 0.2 m) and two collecting vats to its west (L401, L405). Two square niches (0.4 × 0.4 m) were hewn on the northern side of the treading floor, and an oval depression (c. 0.40 × 0.55 m, depth 0.1 m) that may have been a settling vat was hewn in treading floor near Vat 405. Vat 405 was rounded (c. 1.0 × 1.4 m, depth 1.8 m) while Vat 401 was square (c. 0.70 × 0.78 m, depth 0.5 m). The winepress yielded no diagnostic finds.
Area E. The area revealed remains of a quarry (c. 5 × 15 m; Figs. 15, 16) that some of its walls were damaged by recent quarrying. The vertical and horizontal quarrying lines coupled with an undetached stone block attest to the dimensions of the building stones extracted from the quarry (0.2–0.3 × 0.3–0.4 × 0.6–0.8 m). The alluvial deposits (L501) filling and superimposing the quarry produced a metal finger ring (Basket 5004; Fig. 17) that may have belonged to one of the quarrymen and three coins: a Hasmonean prutah (125–37 BCE; IAA 164558), a coin from the time of Alexander Jannaeus (80/79 BCE; IAA 164556) and a post-reform Umayyad fals (697–750 CE; IAA 164557).
Area F (Fig. 18). The area contained remains of a small quarry (L600; c. 1.5 × 3.5 m, depth 0.3–0.4 m), a typical Second Temple period burial cave (L603; Kloner and Zissu 2003:27), and a later cistern (L601). The quarry contained horizontal and vertical quarrying lines, stone-cutting marks on the quarry floor, and an undetached stone block, all of which attest to the dimensions of the stones extracted (0.3 × 0.3–0.4 × 0.6–0.8 m).
Burial Cave 603 (1.7 × 2.7–2.8 m, depth c. 2.5 m; Figs. 19, 20) had been badly damaged by subsequent quarrying operations that removed its roof, probably during the Byzantine period. Furthermore, its burial niches were clogged with stones and earth, its walls were coated with thick gray plaster, and it was converted into a water cistern. The cave contained four burial niches: one on its northern side (not documented), two (L604, L606) on its western side and another (L602) on its eastern side. A sealing stone (0.8 × 0.8 m) of one of the niches was recovered inside the tomb. The niches were robbed and found full of alluvium. Only one of them was fully excavated (L604; c. 0.55 × 1.80 m, height c. 0.75 m), producing a rim of a Hasmonean jar (Fig. 5:3). It was blocked and coated with thick, gray plaster mixed with crushed stones. Niche 606 (c. 0.5 × 1.9 m, height c. 0.75 m) yielded fragments of a white limestone ossuary (Fig. 21) decorated in a “double lattice” pattern in a frame of two thin lines (Rahmani 1994:184, Pl. 71, No. 480). The cave was apparently looted in antiquity; the ossuary was removed from the niche, broken, and put back inside with the stone and soil fill before sealing the niche. Niche 602 (c. 0.3 × 0.5 m) was oval and had a level floor. It is comparatively small, but its opening is the same as the others, suggesting it may have been used for collecting bones (Kloner and Zissu 2003:30). The alluvial soil inside the cave yielded a few jar fragments dating from Iron Age II (Fig. 5:2), the Hasmonean (Fig. 5:4), Early Roman (Fig. 5:5) and Late Roman periods (Figs. 5:9, 10).
To the cave’s south, a courtyard (L605) was hewn. In its center, debris of large fieldstones of indeterminate origin was found. The alluvial soil accumulated in the courtyard produced fragments of an Early Roman jar (Fig. 5:6) and a Late Roman krater (Fig. 5:7). The courtyard was also damaged by later, probably Byzantine, quarrying activity.
The cistern (L601; diam. 1.15–1.30 m, depth as far as alluvial soil 1.8 m) cut the burial cave’s northern niche and is, therefore, later, perhaps also of the Byzantine period. Traces of gray plaster were preserved on the cistern’s walls.
Area G. Four small quarries, one beside the other (L700, L703, L705–L707; 4–5 × 7–8 m, depth 0.4–0.9 m; Figs. 22, 23) were uncovered in Area G, all damaged by modern quarrying activities. The horizontal and vertical quarrying lines attest to the dimensions of the quarried stones (c. 0.3 × 0.3–0.4 × 0.6–0.8 m). No diagnostic finds were found.
Area H. This excavation area was located inside the compound of a church and monastery complex excavated and documented in the past (Mazor 2000). It uncovered two water cisterns belonging to the same monastery and two small quarries (L900—c. 3.8 × 3.8 m, excavated depth 1.4 m; L901—c. 3.7 × 4.1 m, excavated depth 2 m; Figs. 24–26). The results of this excavation have been briefly discussed in a preliminary report (‘Adawi and Arbiv 2019; 2021) and will be published separately. They are c. 50 m west of the monastery and the church. They were used to extract large blocks (c. 0.4 × 0.4–0.6 × 0.8–1.5 m) that were subsequently divided into smaller blocks or building stones. The southward continuation of Quarry 901 was damaged in antiquity. No diagnostic finds were recovered.
The remains unearthed in this excavation join others previously uncovered in the region and offer a representation of Jerusalem’s agricultural hinterland over the generations. Some of the walls in Areas A and B may have been built in the Iron Age II as part of agricultural activity along the Shu‘faṯ Ridge and Naẖal Ẕofim (Rapuano and Onn 2004, and references therein; Be’eri 2012). Alternatively, they may have been built in the Byzantine period and belonged to the church and monastery to their east or other settlements nearby, such as Khirbat er-Ras (Kloner 2001: Site 114). The church and the cisterns in Area H were built in the Byzantine period and were part of the monastery complex. They made use of earlier stone quarries, probably of the Roman period, when the burial cave was hewn. These quarries were part of a much more extensive setup of quarries, sections of which were also discovered in the area south of the excavation, for example, in the Sanhedriyya neighborhood, and in the area north of the excavation, west of Shu‘fat and Shikune Nusseiba in Beit Hanina (Zilberbod 2017, and see references there). These quarries provided building blocks to both the city and sites in its vicinity.