The excavation uncovered a complex winepress from the Byzantine period, with evidence of repairs and alterations. The winepress was abandoned in the Late Byzantine or Early Islamic period. A Byzantine church was excavated to the west of the present excavation (Feig 2016).
The winepress was enclosed by four walls (W2–W4, W17; Figs. 2, 3) built of fieldstones and partially dressed stones of various sizes that were bonded with gray mortar. The winepress comprised a treading floor (L5), an intermediate vat (L13), two collecting vats (L11, L14) and three cells (L19, L21, L32).
Two phases were identified in the treading floor. A wall (W29; Fig. 4) attributed to the first phase probably enclosed a small treading floor. In the later phase, a large treading floor constructed over the wall was paved with variously sized stones laid on a bedding composed of Gaza Ware sherds bonded with gray mortar. Incorporated in the treading floor was a round base for a screw press (L27; Avshalom-Gorni, Frankel and Getzov 2008:51, 55–56) made of two pieces of hard limestone, with an opening at the bottom to a channel (L28; Fig. 5) that led to the intermediate vat (depth c. 0.6 m; Fig. 6).
In the northern wall of the intermediate vat (W12), above the outlet from Channel 28, was a depression (c. 0.4 × 1.0 m; depth c. 0.4 m) corresponding to a gutter in the shape of a lion, whose head was found in the eastern collecting vat (Fig. 7) while another fragment of the same gutter was retrieved from a probe. The must from the main treading floor flowed into the intermediate vat via the gutter. The intermediate vat was paved with large coarse white tesserae (stone size 2.5–5.5 cm). A ceramic settling pit (L26; diam. 0.25 m) was set in the middle of the floor. The floor had been repaired with pottery fragments (Fig. 8). The sides of the pit were coated with pink plaster applied over a base layer of gray mortar and body fragments of non-diagnostic pottery. Two ceramic pipes (L45, L46; Fig. 9) lead from the eastern (W8) and western (W9) sides of the intermediate vat to the two collecting vats.
Collecting Vat 11 is octagonal (depth c. 1 m; Fig. 10); Vat 14 is square (depth c. 1 m; Fig. 11). Limestone and marble slabs served as floor for triangular niches at the outlets of the two pipes (Fig. 9). Two plaster layers inside the niche on the side of L11 suggest that it was renovated. The walls of the collecting vats were built of small kurkar stones bonded with grayish mortar and coated with a layer of pink plaster on a base layer of potsherds and gray mortar, as were the walls of the intermediate vat. The vats’ floors also resembled that of the intermediate vat, with large coarse white tesserae, apart from the areas beneath the triangular niches and the pipe outlets, which were paved with limestone slabs to prevent the floor from subsiding due to the volume of must flowing out of the pipes. Plastered basins (L22, L23) set in the center of the collecting vats incorporated jar bases in their floors (L24, L25).
The cell floors (L19, L21, L32) were higher than the main treading floor (Fig. 12). The upper courses of the walls had been dismantled, rendering the outer margins of the cells indistinct. The floors were made of a kind of mortar applied on top of small stones, while the dividing walls (W20, W31) were built of small fieldstones bonded with mortar. Asymmetrical pits (L42, L44) found at the southern end of Floors 19 and 32 may have been used for placing storage vessels. There may have been another, poorly preserved cell (L41) to the east of Treading Floor 5.
The winepress yielded meager finds, consisting mainly of potsherds dating from the end of the Byzantine period or the beginning of the Early Islamic period (sixth–seventh centuries CE), with a minority dating from the early eighth century CE. The finds include bowls (Fig. 13:1, 2), one of which (Bowl 1) is of type LRC Form D (Hayes 1972: Fig 69:23, 337), a cooking-pot lid (Fig. 13:3), small fragments of cooking pots (not drawn), a base of a casserole or bowl made of fabric that is probably not local (Fig. 13:4), casseroles (Fig. 13:5–7), Gaza Ware jars (Fig. 13:8–14), bag-shaped jars (Fig. 13:15–17), jar bases (Fig. 13:18–27), a juglet (Fig. 13:28), a loom weight (Fig. 13:29) and a roof tile (Fig. 13:30). A distinctive feature of the pottery is that some of the Gaza Ware jar bases (Fig. 13:18–22, 25) are similar to the bases of imported amphorae, with a pointed or phallus-shaped base. The site also yielded a fragment of a stone vessel (Fig. 14:1) from the Umayyad period, a fragment that probably belongs to a bronze bell (Fig. 14:2) similar to one found at Horbat Hur, about 1 km southwest of Shoqet Junction (Wallach 1999:127, Fig. 180:8, 131) and a few shards of Byzantine glassware (not drawn).
The winepress is dated to the Late Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE) although it may have been established as early as the fifth century CE, based on finds of an early type of Gaza Ware jars (Fig. 13:8, 9) and evidence of repairs to the winepress. A mosaic dated to 430/1 CE (Feig 2016:267–268, Fig. 6) found in a church in a previous excavation may be associated with an early phase of the winepress. The winepress joins a large number of Byzantine winepresses found in excavations and surveys within the agricultural hinterland of Ashqelon. Similar winepresses have been found at Giv‘a 113 near Negba and Giv‘ati Junction (Fig. 1:1) and at Ashqelon, both at the Third Mile Estate in the north of the city (Avshalom-Gorni, Frankel and Getzov 2008: Fig 1:5) and in the railway compound in the city center (Varga 2018; Fig. 1:3). The resemblance to the winepress at Giv‘a 113 is evident in the arrangement of the cells alongside the treading floor and the presence of octagonal collecting vats together with an intermediate vat. The resemblance to the winepress at the Third Mile Estate is evident in the arrangement of a central intermediate vat together with two octagonal collecting vats; the octagonal collecting vat at the railway compound in Ashqelon also bears a resemblance to that of the current winepress. The winepress in the current excavation may be associated with the church to its west and it is possible that it belonged to the church. The attribution of the well-developed wine industry in the Ashqelon and Gaza region to ecclesiastical/imperial ownership in the Byzantine period was proposed by Huster (2015:53) and subsequently by Feig (2016:270). The fragment of a stone vessel (Fig. 14:1) and the rims of bag-shaped jars (Fig. 13:15–17) indicate that the winepress was abandoned in the Late Byzantine period or early in the Umayyad period, by the beginning of the eighth century CE at the latest.
The lion-shaped gutter may attest to renewed use of the winepress in the Crusader period. A lion-shaped gutter was found in the context of a winepress at Moshav Ge’a (Permit No. A-8348; Fig. 1:2), established on the former village of el-Jiye, which is associated with the Crusader site of Algie (Mitchell n.d.: Site 67). Two additional gutters were discovered in Ashqelon, one within the grounds of Barzilay Medical Center, devoid of any architectural context, which may date from the twelfth century CE (Eisenberg-Degen 2017: Fig. 16:1; Fig 1:4) while the other is attributed to the Crusader period (Rosenberg 1999:188, Fig. 3). A similar item has been found in Crusader ‘Akko (D. Syon, pers. comm.). There is no record of Byzantine gutters of this kind, but they are found in Crusader contexts. Historical sources record viticulture in the region in medieval times (Amar 2000:107–108) and Byzantine winepresses may have been restored in the Crusader period (Bronstein, Yehuda and Stern 2020). However, it is difficult to interpret the discovery of a medieval gutter in the current winepress, in the absence of pottery or other finds to substantiate this date.