In June 2019, an excavation was conducted at Horbat Hanot, on the margins of Road 375 and east of Ramat Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-8357; map ref. 204428–606/624276–358; Fig. 1), following damage to ancient remains caused while widening of the road. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company, was directed by R. Avner, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), S. Halevi (photography and photogrammetry), H. Bitan (GPS and location map), O. Rose (plans), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (find drawing) and Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass).
Two excavation areas were opened, southern and northern, each comprising four squares. The northern area yielded a structure with two construction phases, from the Byzantine (Stratum 2) and Mamluk (Stratum 1) periods. The southern area yielded a Byzantine-period quarry (Stratum 3) and walls from the Mamluk (Stratum 2) and Ottoman (Stratum 1) periods. Two limekilns were noted on the surface some 200 m north of the structure; their debris was observed in the section to their south.
Past excavations north of the road unearthed remains of a Byzantine church with a crypt paved with a mosaic containing a dedicatory inscription in Greek. Next to the church was a large industrial Byzantine winepress, as well as a large cistern and remains of a structure, perhaps a caravanserai, from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods (Di Segni 2003; Shenhav 2003; Radashkovsky 2020). Horbat Hanot is identified with the tomb of Goliath, mentioned by Theodosius, a pilgrim writing during the reign of the emperor Anastasius (491–518 CE; Shenhav 2003:269, note 2). The site is located on the road connecting Jerusalem and Bethlehem to Bet Guvrin, Ashkelon and Gaza and then to Egypt, supporting its identification as a Christian site that provided road services to pilgrims.
The Northern Area (Fig. 2)
Stratum 2 yielded the remains of a structure comprising a courtyard (L102, L105; width 3.9 m) and a room to its east (L104; 2.0 × 2.2 m); the northern part of the structure was destroyed prior to the excavation, and its northern wall was not preserved. The remaining outer walls (W121–W123) were built of two rows of worked stones with a core of fieldstones and soil, preserved to a height of four to five courses. The bedrock may have been incorporated into the northern edge of W123. In this phase, a wall separated the courtyard from Room 104. Only a layer of plaster had survived from this wall (Fig. 3), creating a corner with W121. At a later stage, another wall (W110, see below) was built on top of W121. Two stone bases in the western part of the courtyard probably supported wooden post that carried a roof of light materials, perhaps thatch. The floor and the walls of Room 104 were plastered with a uniform layer of thick gray plaster (thickness 0.7 m; Fig. 4). A channel passing under the northern wall (W109) of the room led northward as it became narrower (Fig. 5). It seems that Room 104 was used to contain water, which flowed northward to an installation or a room that was not preserved. A wall stump (not numbered; Fig. 6) emerging eastward from W122, in the northeast part of the structure, may indicate the building’s continuation in that direction. It was built by the same method as the rest of the walls and preserved to a height of two courses.
Stratum 1. Two courses of fieldstones were added to W109 in this stratum, and the channel that ran through the lower part of the wall was blocked. At this stage, W110 was built on top of W121 that separated the courtyard from the plastered room. Wall 110 was carelessly built of fieldstones and dressed stones set in three rows in its southern part and two rows in its northern part. It veers slightly to the west and is not precisely parallel to Walls 122 and 123.
The Southern Area (Fig. 7)
Stratum 3 presented detachment channels and signs of rock-cutting, indicating stone quarrying. There was an accumulation of red soil containing sherds from the Byzantine period (see below) on the bedrock.
Stratum 2. Remains of a building above the quarry comprised three walls (W116–W118; Fig. 8) built of two rows of large stones with a core of soil and stones of various sizes—fieldstones or partially worked. Walls 116 (length 1.6 m) and 118 (preserved length 2.8 m, width 1.7 m) were built directly on the bedrock, while W117 (preserved length c. 3.75 m, width 0.85 m) was built on a soil fill (thickness 0.55 m). The three walls were found in a layer of nearly black soil containing sherds from the Mamluk period (see below).
Stratum 1. A curving wall (W119; preserved length 2.8 m, width 0.5 m) was built over the northern edge of W118, destroying it. It was made of two rows of large and medium-sized stones with a core of soil and a few fieldstones. Though the latest pottery yielded in the excavation dates to the Mamluk period, except for a fragment of Ottoman smoking pipe (see beow) found on the surface. Finds from this period were found in the past in the vicinity of the site (Shenhav 2003), suggesting that W119 date to this period.
The pottery found in the excavation is dated to the Byzantine, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. Finds from the Byzantine period include a LRC bowl (Fig. 9:1), common in the sixth–seventh centuries CE (Hayes 1972:223–332), three bowls incised with a decoration of wavy lines (Fig. 9:2, 3) and horizontal lines (Fig. 9:4), jars (Fig. 9:5, 6) and an FBW jug (Fig. 9:7). Bowl no. 2 and the two jars were found under the plaster floor of Room 104 of the structure in the northern area, dating the room’s construction to the Byzantine period. Bowl no. 4 was found at the bottom of the quarry in the southern area.
Finds from the Mamluk period include a small bowl (Fig. 9:8) and a flask (Fig. 9:9). The small bowl was found in Stratum 1 of the southern area, while the flask was found west of the structure in the northern area.
A smoking pipe (Fig. 9:10) found on the surface in the southern area, and is dated to the Ottoman period
The quarry discovered in the southern area apparently produced the building stones for the Byzantine church and the nearby structures, some of which have not yet been excavated but whose remains are clearly visible on the surface. It is possible also that the structure uncovered in the northern area and perhaps the two limekilns documented north of the excavation were used to prepare lime, plaster and mortar for construction at the site during the Byzantine period. The channel uncovered at the bottom of W109 that led northward suggests that the lime and its additives may have been mixed north of Room 104.
Evidence from the current and past excavations indicates activity at the site during the Mamluk period. Concurring with Shenhav, the site served as a caravanserai. It is possible that the remains of the building found above the quarry and in the southern area and W110 in the northern structure were associated with this caravanserai.
In Shenhav’s excavation of the church he identified a stratum from the Ottoman period and concluded that a khan had operated there. Only one potsherd found on the surface is dated to this period, but as W119 was built on top of W118 from the Mamluk period, the former may date to the Ottoman period.
Di Segni L. 2003. A Greek Inscription in the Church of Horvat Hanot. In G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni and L.D. Chrupcala eds. One Land—Many Cultures: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Stanislao Loffreda OFM (SBF Maior 41). Jerusalem. Pp. 273–276.
Hayes J.W. 1972. Late Roman Pottery. London.
Shenhav E. 2003. Horvat Hanot: A Byzantine Tradition of Goliath’s Burial Place. In G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni and L.D. Chrupcala eds. One Land—Many Cultures: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Stanislao Loffreda OFM (SBF Collectio Maior 41). Jerusalem. Pp. 269–272.