An excavation area (c. 17 × 20 m) was opened in an olive grove on a hill’s southern face, sloping south to Nahal Gillo, opposite Beit Jala and the Deir Cremisan monastery. Walls and rock-hewn pits were uncovered. The slope is rocky in part and includes numerous farming-related remains that were documented during the excavation (Fig. 2): agricultural terraces of various sizes, a complex rock-hewn winepress (map ref. 218270/626030), a concentration of stone heaps (ruined field towers? map ref. 218425/626040), stone-clearance heaps (map ref. 218340/626085) and rock-cut basins (map ref. 218270/626030). Previous surveys and excavations in the area recorded many ancient remains from various periods (Kloner 2000; Peleg and Feller 2004; Sion 2006; Dagan and Barda 2011; Shor 2019).
The excavation area (Figs. 3, 4) was delimited to the west by a massive north–south terrace wall (W101; length c. 17 m, width 1.0–2.4 m, max. preserved height c. 2.3 m), built of two rows of fieldstones and a core of small stones and no bonding material. The wall’s southward continuation had been damaged by development work prior to the excavation. Despite its substantial width, the wall does not appear to have been used for support or protection. The northern part of the excavation area was bounded by a field wall (W102; length c. 5 m, width 0.4 m) built of fieldstones and preserved three courses high (0.6 m). A stone-clearance heap (5–9 × 15 m) was found to its north. In the east, the area was delimited by a field wall (W105; length 15 m, width 0.4 m), most of which had been damaged by the development work. A curved field wall in the center of the area (W103; length 15.0 m, width 0.3 m) was built of a single row of fieldstones and preserved one course high. This wall’s northern end adjoins W105, and together they enclose an oval plot. Probes dug inside this plot (L107, L109) unearthed Terra Rosa soil; perhaps it was an animal pen. Two possibly incomplete, rock-cut pits (L110, L111) in the western part of the area may have been intended for planting trees.
The excavation yielded no diagnostic finds apart from a fragment of a clay roof tile (Fig. 5) found in a probe (L112) north of W102. Small grooves visible on the fragment may derive from the wooden mold into which the tile was cast, probably at the beginning of the twentieth century CE. Otherwise, surface finds included modern glass and metal fragments. Additionally, two concentrations of mother-of-pearl items (Figs. 6, 7; Tanami, below) were found during inspection work near the excavation.
Mother-of-Pearl Items
David Tanami
Both mother-of-pearl (Pinctada margaritifera) concentrations were discovered near the surface, on garden soil of an agricultural terrace. The items may have been processed nearby or, alternatively, brought with the garden soil during the agricultural terraces’ construction or renovation. One of the concentrations comprised 21 items (length 0.5–2.5 cm, max. thickness 0.4 cm; Figs. 6, 7). Some are square and bear traces of various tools, such as a saw, and some have circular holes (diam. 0.8–1.4 cm). The mother-of-pearl shell originates in the Indo-Pacific region, and its nearest source is the Gulf of Eilat. The items are probably the production waste of a workshop making square and round inlays, perhaps also buttons and beads, for the souvenir industry for pilgrims to Bethlehem. This industry operated nearby and is mentioned in nineteenth-century CE sources (Robinson and Smith 1841:95–96; Avitsur 1976:204–205; 1994). An impressive collection of hundreds of such items was found north of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, ca. 3 km northeast of the current site, where they were identified as production waste of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries CE souvenir industry (Ktalav 2015:140–142).