In May 2014, a salvage excavation was conducted at 60 ‘Aqabat es-Saraya Street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-7133; map ref. 222124–30/631701–07), following the discovery of ancient remains during the renovation of a private building. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the property owner, was directed by S. Kisilevitz (field photography), with the assistance of E.D. Kagan (area supervision), N. Nehama (administration), V. Essman and Y. Shmidov (surveying and drafting), D. Tanami and O. Chalaf (metal detection), N. Sapir (antiquities inspection and professional consultation), B. Dolinka (pottery; see Appendix), C. Amit (studio photography), C. Hersch (finds drawing) and R. Cohen-Amin (registrar).
The excavation was conducted in the basement of a residential building to the west of ‘Aqabat es-Saraya Street, near the junction with El-Khalidiya Street (Fig. 1). The basement is an ancient structure roofed with a barrel vault, in which ashlars serve as the vault keystones. On the north side of the building, three pillars built of well-dressed stones supported cross vaults; only the western pillar (L100), incorporated in the west wall, is visible today. During the renovation work that preceded the excavation, large parts of the building’s walls were covered with cement; a concrete wall was built on the south side of the building, concealing the original walls; and layers of earth inside the building were removed to allow for a new concrete floor, which was laid at a lower level than the previous floor.
The excavation was conducted in two stages. In the first stage, a small excavation area (c. 10 sq m; Fig. 2) was opened in the building’s northwest corner, between the north wall (W12) and the west wall (W11) and adjacent to Pillar 100 in the west. In preparation for the excavation, part of the building’s new concrete floor was removed. The excavation uncovered accumulations of earth and finds from the Roman period. Directly above them, the building’s earliest phase was unearthed; it was constructed in the Mamluk period and contained finds suggesting the existence of a pottery workshop in or near the building during this period. In the south of the area, the excavation extended down to the original Mamluk floor (L107; c. 0.7 m beneath the new concrete floor), while the floor in the northern part of the area was dismantled, and the excavation continued further down beneath the floor (1.8 m beneath the new concrete floor).
The second stage consisted of a one-day excavation conducted by E.D. Kagan in the building’s southwest corner. Soil deposits (L113) unearthed beneath the building’s new concrete floor overlaid the continuation of the Mamluk building’s floor (L107), which abutted the walls of the building’s southwest corner (not shown in plan).
Roman Period. A limited area (c. 1.5 sq m) in the west of the excavation area contained two superimposed soil deposits; the lower deposit was light brown in color (L110), and the upper one was dark brown (L109). The light brown soil deposit contained the upper part of two stones placed in a northwest–southeast direction; the north stone was large with a leveled top, and it protruded above the soil layer. Three curved roof tiles (imbrices; Fig. 3) found adjacent to the north stone were also arranged in a northwest–southeast direction, one on top of the other. The lowest tile was preserved intact, and at one end it bore a rectangular seal stamp of the tenth Roman legion: Legio X Fretensis (LXF; Fig. 4:1); the two other tiles were broken. The tiles were probably placed deliberately along the same alignment as the stones, but their function is unclear. The upper soil deposit covered the stones and the tiles and yielded Roman-period potsherds (first–third centuries CE) and fragments of overlapping tiles (tegulae), two of which carried rectangular seal stamps of the Tenth Roman legion (Fig. 4:2, 4) and one bore a mirrored script (Fig. 4:3).
Mamluk Period. The building that is still in use today was constructed during this period; it was roofed with barrel vaulting and has pillars that support cross vaults. At present, only the western pillar of the original building is visible (Pillar 100), incorporated in its west wall (W11); the excavation was therefore conducted beside it (Figs. 2: Section 2–2; 3). The pillar was constructed on top of the soil accumulations from the Roman period and built of two wide foundation courses composed of medium-sized fieldstones overlain by ashlars; large and medium fieldstones were placed immediately to the east of the foundation courses. The foundation of W11 cut into the Roman deposits. The foundation trench of W11 (L108a) and the southern part of the excavated area (L108) were filled with a thick layer of masonry debris containing gravel and limestone chips (0.7 m thick; Fig. 5); this layer leveled the area and served as bedding for the building’s floor. The lower part of the waste layer contained only masonry debris, devoid of soil or other finds, whereas the top of the layer yielded a few potsherds from the Roman and Mamluk periods, including a handmade pinched lamp coated with yellow-brown glaze (Fig. 6:6) from the fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE. The masonry debris suggests that quarrying or masonry work was carried out nearby. A gray plaster floor (L107)—the original Mamluk floor—was laid over the debris, which served as its bedding. The floor included a few small hearths which contained charcoal and ash. A thin layer of reddish-brown soil was uncovered directly above the floor in part of the excavation area (it was excavated together with the floor). Thick ash layers (L102; see Fig. 5) unearthed over the entire area of the floor contained pottery that dated mostly from the twelfth–fourteenth centuries CE (the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods) and some early Islamic pottery (not described in this report). The twelfth–fourteenth-century CE pottery includes bowls (Fig. 6:1, 2), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:3), a jar (Fig. 6:4) and a sphero-conical vessel (‘Grenade’) (Fig. 6:5). The ash layers also yielded two small fragments of basalt grinding stones and a rectangular slate whetstone, part of which was burnt, with an engraved and drilled decoration that was preserved intact (Fig. 7). The ash layers are probably waste from a nearby location that was burnt and accumulated over a lengthy period. A layer of brown soil (L101) accumulated above the ash layers; its upper part was removed prior to the excavation. A pit (L105) discovered in the north of the excavation area was filled with loose dark brown soil and cut into Floor 107 of the Mamluk building; the upper part of the pit was not detected, and it was excavated together with the brown soil deposit (L101). Soil deposit 101 yielded numerous twelfth–fourteenth-century CE potsherds (the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods), including bowls (Fig. 8:1, 2), a casserole (Fig. 8:3), a jug (Fig. 8:4) and a lamp (Fig. 8:6). The soil deposit also contained bars and production waste from a pottery kiln. The production waste includes deformed vessels, two bowls containing preserved tripod stilts, which were used to stack the vessels inside the kiln (see Appendix: Fig. 1:1, 2) and a convex pottery fragment decorated on the interior with incised vegetal and geometric motifs (L113; see Appendix: Fig. 1:3), which was probably used as a mold to prepare the upper section of a relief-decorated jug. The finds attest to the presence of a Mamluk-period pottery kiln which was either nearby or even inside the excavated building. The accumulated layers of ash may be associated with this kiln.
The excavation, conducted in a building still in use, revealed its original construction phase from the Mamluk period. The layer of masonry debris that leveled the area and provided the bedding for the building’s original floor probably came from a nearby quarry. The ash layers and the bars and production waste discovered in the building attest to the existence of a pottery workshop in or near the building during the Mamluk period. The fact that the building was constructed directly on top of the deposits and finds from the Roman period (first–third centuries CE) may indicate the presence of a building from this period at the site.