The excavation area lies within the boundaries of the ancient sites of Tel Ashqelon and el-Jura, which were extensively excavated in the past by expeditions from Harvard University (1985–2016) and by the Israel Antiquities Authority (Kogan-Zehavi 2006; Huster 2015, and see therein summary of the history of research of Tel Ashqelon and its surroundings; Peretz and Eisenberg-Degen 2017). The previous excavations uncovered remains and finds dating from the Neolithic period until the British Mandate era, including remains of the Ottoman village of el-Jura, some of which are still visible on the surface in several places.
Two small excavation areas were opened (eastern and western), one on each side of the road; two excavation squares were dug in the eastern area, and four in the western area. The current excavation revealed part of a monumental funerary structure from the Byzantine–Early Islamic periods and habitation levels from the Roman and Byzantine periods.
The Eastern Area. In the southern square, part of a monumental funerary structure was uncovered; its full plan is unclear (Fig. 2). It may extend to the northwest, where the under the paved road. The structure’s walls, built of dressed kurkar stones and mortar and coated with white plaster, were preserved to a height of c. 3 m. The funerary structure contained at least two chambers (L114, L120), only one of which was completely preserved and fully excavated (L114). Chamber 114 was rectangular and vaulted (2 × 3 m; 3D model), with an arched entrance in its southeastern wall (W4; Fig. 3), near its southern corner. It was paved with medium-sized kurkar stones and mortar. Another arched opening in the chamber’s northeastern wall (Fig. 4) probably led to Chamber 120.
Outside Chamber 114, to its southeast and beneath the level of its floor, two elongated underground burial vaults built of kurkar stones and mortar were revealed (L118, L119; c. 1.0 × 2.5 m; Fig. 5; 3D model). The northern side of the vaults abutted the southern wall (W6) of Chamber 120, and the openings linking this room to the burial vaults were also arched (Fig. 6). Wall 6 continued southeastward, where another, unexcavated burial vault may have abutted it.
The limited excavation of the burial vaults yielded meager ceramic finds dated to the end of the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), including an intact slipper lamp (Fig. 7). The structure was surrounded by accumulated soil containing fragments of marble and glass, coins, tesserae and pottery dating from the Byzantine–Early Islamic periods (fourth–eighth centuries CE).
The northern square, c. 5 m northeast of Chamber 120, contained stones that had collapsed from a massive wall (Fig. 8), which was probably the northeastern wall of the funerary structure.
The Western Area (Fig. 9). Two superimposed habitation levels were uncovered in both excavation squares; due to lack of time, the excavation did not reach sterile soil. The upper level (L106, L107, L113) contained brown-gray soil and part of a plaster floor (L109) made of three layers: the upper and lower layers of white plaster were interspersed with a layer of tamped earth. A square pillar (W1; 0.6 × 0.6 m) found on the upper level was built of large, dressed kurkar stones and preserved to the height of a single course. The ceramic finds from this level include bowls (Fig. 10:1), kraters (Fig. 10:2), amphorae (Fig. 10:3), jars (Fig. 10:4) and jugs (Fig. 10:5, 6), and they date the remains to the Byzantine period (fifth–sixth centuries CE).
The lower level (L110, L112, L115) was characterized by reddish brown soil. A wall (W2; width 0.9 m, height 0.6 m) found in this level was built of large, dressed kurkar stones. The ceramic finds from the level include bowls (Fig. 11:1–5), frying pans (Fig. 11:6), casseroles (Fig. 11:7), jars (Fig. 11:8) and juglets (Fig. 11:9), and they are dated to the Roman and Byzantine periods (third–fifth centuries CE).
Seven coins from various loci were also found in this area. Five of the coins (Table 1) were identified after cleaning, and they date from the fourth–sixth centuries CE and are common in this period.
Table 1. The Coins
Date (CE)
“GLORIA EXERCITVS” type; almost illegible
“VOTA” type; mint illegible
Cross in wreath; worn
c. 565–578
The trial excavation uncovered two habitation levels from the Roman and Byzantine periods (third–sixth centuries CE) and part of a monumental funerary structure dating from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (fourth–eighth centuries CE). Vaulted burial structures are common in the region around Ashqelon, and over the years, a few tombs similar to the current structure have been found (Ory 1939; Kogan-Zehavi 1999). Both excavation areas yielded marble fragments, glass shards, coins, tesserae and potsherds, showing that the area was occupied from the Roman to the Early Islamic periods (third–eighth centuries CE).