In December 2019, a trial excavation was conducted in Ramat Yishay (Permit No. A-8625; map ref. 214764–929/734323–480), following damage to antiquities during the diversion of a tributary of Nahal Bet-Lehem, prior to the construction of a bicycle path. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Ramat Yishay Local Council, was conducted by B. Tzin (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), R. Kapul and O. Zidan (preliminary inspections), M. Peleg (photogrammetry), H. Tahan-Rosen and E. Dalali-Amos (plans and illustrations), K. Covello-Paran (scientific guidance), W. Atrash (scientific consultation), N. Shatil, B. Hanna, S. Shaked, T. Lavi and M. Lifshitz. Laborers from Kafr Manda, students from the University of Haifa and volunteers participated in the excavation.
The excavation (3 × 8 m; Figs. 1, 2) was conducted at the western end of Ramat Yishay, on the edge of an agricultural field, in the center of a channel being built to divert the streambed. It uncovered remains of a building and a mosaic floor from the Byzantine period. Probes near the excavation area show that the building was an isolated structure that extended a few meters farther west, north and south.
The site of Bet She‘arim lies c. 2.2 km west of the current excavation and Tel Risim is located c. 400 m to its south. A survey undertaken by A. Raban (1983: Sites 41, 42, 48) identified ancient remains at Ramat Yishay and subsequent excavations uncovered burial caves from the Intermediate and Middle Bronze Ages, as well as architectural remains, rock-cut installations, quarries and tombs dating from the Roman to the Ottoman periods (Atrash 2010; Hanna 2013; Hanna 2014, and see references therein).
The current excavation unearthed the remains of a single-period building in which four walls (W15, W16, W24, W25; Fig. 3) and two mosaic floors (L17, L18) were excavated. Several Byzantine potsherds and a few stone architectural features were recovered. Wall 15 (length 9 m, width 1.1 m) was built of two rows of large, roughly dressed stones with a core of small and medium-sized stones bonded with mortar; it had been badly damaged by ground displacement. The absence of any toppled stones suggests that the wall’s stones were robbed. Wall 16 (length 6.0 m, width 0.8 m) was built of a combination of small and large stones. The preserved remains of W24 (length c. 2 m, width c. 0.5 m) comprised a single large stone joining the west of W15 and a core of small stones. Wall 25 (length 1.2 m, width 0.8 m; Fig. 4) was built of small stones bonded with mortar and a single large stone joining the west of Wall 16. A limited segment of Floor 17 was unearthed (Fig. 5). The floor was made of large white tesserae and abutted Walls 16 and 25; a plaster strip separated the mosaic from the walls. Floor 18 (1.3 × 9.0 m; Fig. 6) was uncovered along a long, narrow corridor between W15 and W16; it was made of medium-sized tesserae and decorated with a pattern of rectangles with a small square pattern in each, composed of black and white stones. The mosaic, which was damaged in the center, was set on top of a shallow foundation (L23; Fig. 7) made of crushed chalk and pebbles. Due to ground displacement, marked distortion was evident in the floor as well as subsidence in W15 that had caused part of it to lean toward W16. Walls 16 and 24 were separated by an opening (L22; Fig. 8). There may have been another opening to the south of W25 (not excavated). The accumulations overlying Floor 18 contained a few Byzantine potsherds (not drawn) as well as four marble tiles (not drawn) that may have been used as facing on W15.
The excavation uncovered part of a building dating from the Byzantine period, and it augments our understanding of settlement distribution in the Ramat Yishay region during this period. The corridor paved with a geometrically patterned mosaic and the marble tiles found on it show that it was not an industrial structure, but a public building such as a church or a monastery (Ashkenazi and Aviam 2013). The distorted walls and mosaic are evidence of natural processes; however, since there is no evidence of earthquake, these distortions are probably the result of swelling and shrinkage of the valley’s clay-rich soil. The meager finds and the absence of glass suggest that the building was abandoned early on, when ground-related maintenance problems became evident already during its construction.