The excavation took place in the courtyard of a building known as the ‘Burj’, which was used as a khan in the nineteenth century, and where Emperor Wilhelm II stayed on his way to Yafo (Ertan 2018:61). The site is documented in the Archaeological Survey of Israel’s Map of Benyamina under the name Khirbat el-Burj (Olami, Sender and Oren 2006: Site 106). The survey describes the building as a stronghold, whose walls included ancient architectural elements, and having Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Crusader pottery found beside it. A previous excavation conducted at the site uncovered architectural remains dated to the Byzantine period, as well as remains of walls, a floor and the foundation of a vault and a cemetery dated to the Ottoman period (Masarwa 2011).
Three squares were excavated to the south of the building’s southern arched structure (Figs. 1–3), and two construction phases attributed to the late Byzantine period were identified: a bathhouse that was partially excavated belonged to the earlier phase (Phase 1), and a series of plastered floors and pools whose architectural context was not clarified belonged to the later phase (Phase 2). Some of the remains at the site had been damaged by modern infrastructure.
Phase 1. A small section of a bathhouse from the earlier building phase was uncovered, revealing the western side of two rooms (L47, L48), an open area to their south and their west (an operational area?) and a system of channels (L37, W39). The bathhouse walls (W29–W32) were built of ashlars set on cast concrete foundations; the single course of the wall that probably delineated the south of the complex (W17; preserved height 0.7 m; Fig. 4) was built of ashlars set on a foundation of concrete solidified with ashlars and small stones; its westerly continuation was apparently not preserved. Walls 29–32 were thickened with two rows of bricks. The bricks along the southern face of W32, in the southern room (L47), contained traces of marble lining (Fig. 5), and in the southwestern corner of this room, the wall of a tubulus was embedded in the bricks thickening W29 (Fig. 6). These finds indicate that the two rooms were part of the bathhouse’s hot-water area (the caldarium), possibly containing baths; however, since the excavation was halted at the top of the walls, this hypothesis cannot be confirmed. The bathhouse’s drainage system was revealed to the west and southwest of the rooms. A roughly north–south water channel (L37; width 0.25 m, depth 0.47 m; Fig. 7) was revealed along W30. The channel was made of cast concrete and was covered with slabs of chalk. The channel’s northward continuation was not excavated, since a flooring of Phase 2 (L28, below) was laid above it; the channel probably continued southward, through W17, and out of the building. Channel 37 was connected to another channel (L39; Fig. 8) on a general east–west alignment. This channel was also made of concrete, but it was paved with stones; its walls and floor were plastered. It was probably a covered channel, but the covering stones were not reserved due to the installation of a modern water pipeline. Based on their elevation differences, Channel 39 probably drained into Channel 37. An inspection opening (L40; Fig. 9) was inserted at the junction between the channels and near a pile of stones (L38); the piled stones may have been part of the inspection installation. Near the top of Channel 37 and to its east lay a stone surface (L43; Fig. 7) formed of two rows of roughly dressed ashlars; its purpose is unknown.
While cleaning Channel 37, a saqiye vessel was found (L41; Fig. 10:2), and the inspection opening yielded a jar (Fig. 10:1) and a tubulus fragment (Fig. 10:3); the three finds date from the sixth–seventh centuries CE, and they probably date the bathhouse to the late Byzantine period.
Phase 2. The remains of this phase were uncovered directly beneath the surface. In the later phase, a complex of rooms and pools built in the northern part of the excavation area canceled the bathhouse. The northeast of the excavation area contained two rooms (L21, L28) paved with large ashlars that were probably taken from the earlier bathhouse. The paving in Room 28 (2.7 × 2.7 m; Fig. 11), the southerly of the two rooms, was rather well preserved. The paving may have continued eastward, but it was not preserved; the southern part of the paving was cut into by the installation of an underground electricity cable. Several collapsed stones were found on top of the paving. The room was enclosed on the west and north by walls (W23, W24 respectively) built of elongated ashlars arranged in a single row that formed a corner; the southern part of W23 was damaged, as was the room’s paving. The paving in Room 21 (2.7 × 3.5 m; Fig. 12) was badly damaged, yet it continued northward and eastward beyond the limits of the excavation. The room was enclosed on the south by W24 and on the west by a poorly preserved wall (W20) built of medium-sized stones cemented together that probably continued northward, beyond the limits of the excavation. Along W20, a stone-paved channel (L46; width 0.15 m, depth 0.18 m; Fig. 13) was incorporated in the room’s floor. The channel was badly damaged where the room’s paving was damaged, but its northern end was preserved; it apparently also continued northward, beyond the excavation limits. Its southward continuation was not excavated, but it may have followed the western face of W23.
The northwestern part of the excavation area contained two pools paved with large white mosaic tesserae (L35, L36; Fig. 14). The two pools were separated by a wall (W50) built of cast concrete and medium-sized stones that contained an opening between them (width 0.2 m). The two floors were evidently either made at the same time, or made as a single floor that was divided in some phase by W50. Pool 35 (1.55 × 2.55 m), the easterly of the two, was enclosed on the east by W20; traces of a smoothed plaster join (rolka) were detected along the seam between the wall and floor. Pool 36 (1.05 × 1.05 m) had been damaged by irrigation pipes in its northwestern corner. The depth of the pools is not known, as their walls were not preserved. Traces of hydraulic plaster were uncovered on the floors of both pools, indicating that the floors had been repaired. This suggests that the pools had two phases of use, and the two pools may have been divided by W50 when the floors were repaired. The mosaic floors and the hydraulic plaster suggest that the pools were used to store liquid.
The majority of the ceramic finds attributed to Phase 2 was retrieved from the surface (L12, L13, L15), when the area was cleaned after being mechanically cleared (L14, L16), and in an accumulation on the mosaic floor in Pool 35 (L42). Due to the many disturbances of the remains from this phase and the nature of these loci, the pottery in them is mixed and represents various periods. It includes a bowl (Fig. 15:1), saqiye vessels (Fig. 15:2–4) and a jar (Fig. 15:5) from the late Byzantine; a frying pan (Fig. 15:6), a Coptic bowl (Fig. 15:7) and a jar (Fig. 15:8) from the Early Islamic period; a jug (Fig. 15:9) from either the Crusader or the Mamluk period; and a jar (Fig. 15:10) and a smoking pipe (Fig. 15:11) from the Ottoman period. It is therefore impossible to assign a precise date to Phase 2, but in light of finds from the site’s previous excavation (Masarwa 2011), the late Byzantine period can be suggested as a possible date for this phase as well.
The bathhouse (Phase 1), dated to the late Byzantine period, was used by the local population for bathing, in the tradition of the local Byzantine culture (Gichon 1978:37). The finds from the site resemble those found at other bathhouses documented in the region (Badhi 2001:70*; Tabar and Gendelman 2013; O. Segal, pers. comm.). In Phase 2, probably still in the late Byzantine period, the bathhouse fell into disuse, and a complex of rooms and pools was built over its remains. The pottery finds indicate activity at the site in later periods as well, but this has left no architectural traces in the excavated area.