In September 2017, a salvage excavation was conducted at the site of el-Masmiyya el-Kabira, southeast of Re’em Junction (Permit No. A-8108; map ref. 179617–797/629562–691; Fig. 1), prior to construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Yuvalim S. Sharon Assets Ltd., was directed by H. Mamalya (aerial and field photography), with the assistance of Y. Alamor (administration), T. Sapir and H. Silberklang (post-excavation inspection and finding of artifacts in the field), M. Kunin (surveying and drafting), E. Aladjem (mapping), T. Erickson-Gini (pottery), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (pottery drawing), Y. Gorin-Rosen and N. Katsnelson (glass; see Appendix), C. Hersch (glass drawing), C. Amit (Studio photography), V. Nosikovsky (metallurgical laboratory), Y. Sfez (numismatics), A. Karasik (digital drawing) and A. Gruber (curation), as well as S. Israeli, S. Ganor, Y. Abadi-Reiss, Y. Haimi and V. Lipschitz (consultation).
The excavation took place on the southern bank of Nahal Barqai, in the northern part of the southern coastal plain, in what was until 1848 the northwestern part of the Arab village of el-Masmiyya el-Kabira (see aerial photograph of the village from 1947, Yad Ben Zvi, Cat. No. YBZ.0103.420). A survey map from 1946 reveals that the houses in the excavation area were built of mud-bricks interspersed with a few building stones (Fig. 2: marked with a white rectangle) and were not as densely arranged as the buildings in the center of the village. The survey of the Be’er Tuviya map (Sion, Barda and Shemesh 2017: Site 9) documented remains of a village from the Ottoman period—the center of which was on a hill immediately to the south of the excavation area—and a sheikh’s tomb. The sherds collected in the survey date from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods. A photograph from the British Mandate Archive shows a monumental marble column incorporated in the entrance area to a modern house (Fig. 3); half-way up the column it is decorated in relief with a cross surrounded by a wreath, and it is topped by a composite capital.
Inspections undertaken at the site over the years have yielded several architectural elements: in 2004, Y. Haimi found a column bearing incised graffiti in Arabic reading “In the name of Allah most gracious and merciful there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” (Fig. 4)wellhead’
Two excavation areas (A, B; Fig. 6) were opened, revealing remains of two structures dated to the Umayyad, Abbasid, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. The structures were poorly preserved, but small finds were rich and varied, including decorated and glazed pottery, glass vessels and raw material for the glass industry (see Appendix) and coins dated to the Early Islamic, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. These finds were uncovered at an elevation c. 6.5 m below the remains of the Arab village. In a pre-excavation trial trench dug by mechanical equipment on the eastern fringes of the excavation area, occupation layers were discerned above the remains from the Early Islamic period, along with collapsed stones and segments of floors, which also yielded rich and varied finds (Fig. 7). Due to modern disturbances, the remains seen in the section of the trench could not be dated, but they clearly postdate the Abbasid period.
Area A yielded the remains of nine segments of walls (W50–W52, W54, W55, W57–W60), most of which were built of a combination of limestones and mud-brick material and were preserved to a maximum height of 2 m; segments of beaten-earth floor mixed with bonding material (L105, L115); and remains of a stone floor (L103). Although the remains do not form any clear architectural plan, the walls and floors seem to have been part of a structure from the Umayyad period that underwent changes in the Abbasid period.
South of a corner formed by Walls 55 and 58 was a layer of ash (L106; thickness c. 3 cm; Fig. 8)—the remains of a fire. Several vessels were found north of W55 (L109): a pithos made of dark, coarse material (Fig. 9:9), three decorated juglets (Fig. 10:2–4) and a buff-ware cup (Fig. 10:5)—all dated to the Abbasid period (eighth–ninth centuries CE).
West of W58 were remains of a floor (L103) built of medium-sized and small fieldstones interspersed with mud-brick material and bonding materials (Fig. 11); Floor 103 abutted W51. On Floor 103 were remains of glass vessels from the Early Islamic period (eighth century CE), including a zoomorphic vessel resembling a camel (see Appendix: Fig. 1), a bottle with a ridged neck (see Appendix: Fig. 2:5) and a chunk of raw glass (see Appendix: Fig. 3:1). Wall 51 seems to have formed a corner with W57. An opening in the southern part of W51 may have been fitted with a threshold, but it did not survive. Many fragments of marble slabs were found in the space enclosed by Walls, 51, 55 and 57; a greater concentration of these fragments was discovered nearby, north of Ash Layer 106.
West of the opening (L114) were a bowl (Fig. 9:1) and a casserole (Fig. 9:3), both dated to the end of the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods. Also found were the rim of a ceramic basin from the Umayyad period (seventh–ninth centuries CE; Fig. 9:5) and glass vessels from the Early Islamic period (eighth century CE)—among them the base of a bowl (see Appendix: Fig. 2:2), the neck of a bottle decorated in relief (see Appendix: Fig. 2:4) and a chunk of raw glass (see Appendix: Fig. 3:4). An iron ring pendant suspended from a loop, affixed with two nails and decorated with a relief resembling the face of a figure (Fig. 12:1) also came from this context.
A pit (L117; depth c. 0.4 m; Fig. 13) cut W51 and the western part of Floor 103. Inside it were a buff-ware flask (Fig. 10:6) and two pottery lamps (Figs. 10:7; 14:3) from the Early Islamic period (seventh–ninth centuries CE), a coin from the reign of Justinian I (527–539 CE; IAA 164705) and a stone weight.
In the southern part of the area was a segment of floor (L115) made of compact soil mixed with crushed limestone and showing signs of fire. Between W60 and Floor 115 (L116) were pottery vessels, among them a jug of the Gaza Ware family (Fig. 9:7) dated to the late Byzantine and Umayyad periods, and a lamp from the Umayyad period (seventh–ninth centuries CE; Fig. 14:2); and glass vessels, including a bowl (see Appendix: Fig. 2:1). Chunks of raw glass and by-products of a local glass industry (see Appendix: Fig. 3:2, 3, 5) were also found, along with two metal nails (Fig. 12:2, 3).
Wall 50, in the eastern part of the area, was built of medium-sized stones set in a headers-and-stretchers-like manner; it cut W55, and therefore postdates it. The construction of two segments of flooring (L105; Fig. 15) near W50 resembles that of Floor 115; the two floors are at the same elevation and are most probably part of the same floor. The bedding of Floor 105 (L108) contained pottery sherds, including a bowl (Fig. 9:2), a cooking pot (Fig. 9:4) and a lid (Fig. 9:6) dated to the late Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (seventh–ninth centuries CE), two jugs (Figs. 16:6; 17:1) from the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE), the base of a glass bowl (see Appendix: Fig. 2:3) from the Early Islamic period (eighth century CE) and a coin from the reign of Mauritius Tiberius (596–597 CE; IAA 164703).
Wall 52, in the western part of the excavation area, was built of large, hard limestones and mud-brick material. Near W52, on the east and north, were heaps of fallen stones (L112; not on plan), among which were a slipper lamp (Fig. 9:10) from the late Byzantine and early Umayyad periods (seventh–eighth centuries CE), as well as a bowl (Fig. 16:1) and two jugs (Fig. 16:3, 5) from the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (twelfth–fifteenth centuries CE).
The excavated walls in Area A revealed two phases of construction. Most of the walls and the floors are ascribed to the early phase, dated to the Umayyad period. The outer walls of the structure built at that time not exposed; remains from this phase were poorly preserved and a direct relation could not always be established between its floors and walls. Wall 50, which cut W55 and Pit 117 which cuts both W51 and Floor 103, are ascribed to the later phase; Floor 105 should possibly be similarly ascribed. This phase may be dated to the Abbasid period. The structure continued in use during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.
Area B. This area revealed two walls (W53, W56; Fig. 18); Wall 53 abuts W56, and both were built of large, dressed limestones. Wall 56 was preserved one course high, whereas W53 had a second course, of medium-sized and small building stones. No floors were discovered. North of W56 (L104) were a glass mixing rod (see Appendix: Fig. 2:6), dated to the eighth century CE, a Byzantine-Arab coin (645–670; IAA 164704) and a copper-alloy weight with a flat base (89.51 gr; Fig. 12:4). South of W56 (L113) and east of W53 (L110) was a mixture of pottery fragments, including a jar (Fig. 9:8) from the Umayyad period (seventh–eighth centuries CE), a bowl (Fig. 10:1) from the Abbasid period (eighth–ninth centuries CE), a mug (Fig. 16:2) from the Ayyubid period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE) and jugs (Figs. 16:4; 17:2, 3) from the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE).
The excavation and historical maps indicate that construction using mud-brick material, mud-bricks and a small quantity of stones, of both lime and chalk, was typical of both the early and the late settlement at the site. These building materials are given to rapid weathering, hence the poor preservation of the architectural remains. On the other hand, the wealth of pottery and glass finds points to a prosperous settlement. The raw glass may indicate the presence of a local glass industry. The marble column bearing a cross in relief and the scattered marble fragments, along with the column bearing an incised Arab graffiti, may evince the existence of a public structure at the site during the Byzantine period, which was not preserved.
The small finds uncovered in the excavation date the beginning of settlement at the site to the end of the Byzantine and beginning of the Umayyad periods. The settlement continued during the Abbasid period, when a glass industry operated at the site, as attested by the burnt layer uncovered in the northeastern structure along with chunks of raw glass and glass-industry by products. The Ayyubid and Mamluk pottery indicates a presence at the site during those periods as well.