Between November 2015 and July 2016, three trial excavations were conducted at Khirbat Baṭ el-Jebel (Permit Nos. A-7559, A-7602, A-7702; map ref. 212532–4640/776016–771; Fig. 1), prior to the construction of a new neighborhood of the town of Shelomi. The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Israel Land Authority, were directed by J. Gosker (photography) and Y. Gur, with the assistance of K. Covello Paran, N. Getzov and T. Horowitz (scientific guidance), M. Peleg (digital documentation), R. Liran and R. Mishayev (surveying), Y. Ya‘aqobi (administration), laborers from the villages of Manda, Majd el-Krum and Sha‘ab and students from Shekhaqim High School in Nahariya, Amirim High School in Kefar Veradim, Ort High School in Qiryat Bialik, the Gal pre-military preparatory program and other youth from Kefar Veradim, Nahariya and Moreshet.
The site of Khirbat Baṭ el-Jebel is located on the southern slopes of Ha-Sullam Ridge (Rekhes Ha-Sullam), north of Naḥal Ḥanita and the town of Shelomi. This site does not appear in the nineteenth century survey reports of Guèrin nor in the Survey of Western Palestine. It first appeared in a 1942 map of the former Arab village of El-Baṣṣa (Survey of Palestine 1932–1948; Gavish 2005). A survey in the 1960s identified at the site a large building, various rock-cut chambers, installations and cisterns form the Roman (first century BCE–fourth century CE) and Byzantine (fourth–seventh centuries CE) periods (Ovadiah 1967). The site was surveyed once again in the 1970s, when the ruins of a large settlement (60–100 dunam) with sunken-floor rooms, a burial cave, dwelling caves, pools and an oil press (see Area G, below) were identified, along with pottery from the Byzantine period (Frankel and Getzov 1997:74*, Site 2.24).
Prior to the present excavations, a 2003 development survey was conducted at the site under the direction of E. Stern, and trial trenches were dug in various areas of the site by Y. Gur in 2014 and 2015 (unpublish internal report). These revealed Roman- and Byzantine-period industrial installations and Byzantine-period domestic buildings, similar to the findings of previous surveys. Additional finds included a Bronze Age winepress and scattered, meager remains pointing to agricultural activity during the Mamluk period (fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE).
The three present excavations comprised together 11 Areas (A–K; Fig. 1), which were opened along a 1.8 km strip on the southern periphery of Khirbat Baṭ el-Jebel. The excavated features are presented below according to their chronology and function. A small amount of flint, including tools, was also found in all the excavation areas, probably originating from an unknown nearby prehistoric site.
Early/Middle Bronze Age Winepress (3300–1550 BCE)
This installation, which was identified and described in the past (Frankel and Getzov 1997:75*, Site 2.28), was uncovered in the easternmost area (Area K; Fig. 2). It has a trapezoidal treading floor, channels, an oval collecting vat and cupmarks along the margin of the treading floor. These features are all indicative of the Ta‘anakh-type winepress, dating from the Early/Middle Bronze Age (Getzov, Avshalom-Gorni and Mukari 1998). This example is the most northern winepress of this type found to date.
Late Roman-Period Pottery Workshop (first half of the fourth century CE)
The remains of several installations belonging to a pottery workshop were found in Area J: a soaking pool (Fig. 3) with two adjacent drying platforms (Fig. 4) and a kiln (Fig. 5). The kiln comprised a square rock-cut stoking chamber and a round firing chamber, which were connected by a hewn channel. Waste from the pottery production, including numerous broken amphora handles and rims, was retrieved from soil accumulations within cavities in the bedrock; no amphora body sherds were found, possibly because they were removed from the workshop for use in construction.
Byzantine-Period Village (fourth–seventh centuries CE; see encircled area on Fig 1)
Buildings. Architectural remains belonging to the Byzantine-period village at the site were exposed in two of the excavation areas: several rooms and a refuse pit were uncovered in Area H (Fig. 6); additional architectural remains were uncovered in Area J (Fig. 7), including a well-preserved dwelling (Fig. 8) that was unearthed nearer to the center of the ancient village. As no complete buildings were exposed, the description of the architectural style of these remains should be considered tentative. Most of the excavated walls were built of large limestones, possibly quarried at the site, and the stones were mostly arranged in a simple linear fashion and occasionally in a header-stretcher technique. As the village was situated on the lower slope of Ha-Sullam Ridge, two techniques were employed in adapting the construction of houses to the sloping terrain. Both were identified in the buildings in Areas H and J, located on a south-facing slope: the southern part of the buildings, located away from the slope, were raised with a fill retained by a long, east–west wall (Figs. 6, 7, 9), whereas in the northern part of the house the construction technique was to quarry this part of the building into the rock by creating sunken floors and solid-rock walls (Fig. 8). The building exposed in Area J was built over the Roman-period pottery kiln; a very thick supporting wall that was constructed inside the firing chamber (Fig. 10) supported the building’s superstructure.
A badly preserved mosaic (preserved part—3 × 6 m; Fig. 11) was unearthed in Area F, slightly south of the village. The mosaic, most likely belonging to an unpreserved ecclesiastical building, was made of black, red, gray and white tesserae in a geometric pattern with a meander; its borders were not found. A more complete exposure of this mosaic was the objective of a subsequent salvage excavation in 2019 (Permit No. A-8463).
Road(?). The remains of what appears to have been a road were uncovered in the two westernmost areas, outside of the ancient village (Areas A and B). A well-preserved section of the road in Area A shows that it comprised two low, parallel walls and a row of stones in the center (Fig. 12). The strip delineated by these walls was filled with a layer (0.5 m thick) of stones. This road should probably be dated to one of the main phases of occupation at the site, either the Roman or the Byzantine period.
Installations. Several bell-shaped water cisterns (opening diam. c. 0.7 m), each several meters deep, were found throughout the site. These cisterns likely date to either the Roman or the Byzantine period. A very large water cistern (length c. 20 m, width 5–7 m, depth 4.6 m, capacity c. 480 cu m; Fig. 13) was uncovered in Area G, near the mosaic floor in Area F. Its walls were coated with a thick layer of hard plaster to buttress the soft rock. The sherds found within the plaster date this cistern to the Byzantine period. Two circular openings were identified in the ceiling of this cistern, while a third one, in its southern wall, may be associated with its reuse in the Mamluk period (below).
Two small quarries in Area K and a large one in Area J were exposed (Figs. 14, 15). These quarries were most likely created in either the Roman or the Byzantine period, when other quarrying activity took place at the site. Together with the Roman-period rock-hewn pottery kiln and the Byzantine-period structures that were partly built into the slope, these features suggest a general preference for constructing rock-hewn structures instead of erecting strictly aboveground buildings.
A refuse pit of a Byzantine-period pottery workshop, containing mainly handles and rims and some wasters, was found in one of the rooms in Area H. No other remains of a pottery workshop from this period were found.
The remains of the oil press previously documented by Frankel and Getzov (1997), comprising the base of a screw press with a square hole, a Bet Ha-‘Emeq-type press weight and a perforated pillar, used to anchor a pressing beam, were found close to the large cistern in Area G. These remains, while not in situ, almost certainly originated at the site, given their considerable weight.
Mamluk-Period Remains (fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE)
Remains of this period were found near the surface in most of the excavation areas. No architectural remains other than terrace walls could be ascribed to this period. A round installation, built of large radially arranged stones, was uncovered within the large Byzantine-period cistern in Area G (Fig. 16). It was probably constructed at the same time as the opening in the cistern’s southern wall, which allowed easier access into the cistern. The placing of this installation within the roofed cistern indicates that it may have been part of an oil press.
The remains uncovered at Khirbat Bat el-Jebel include a Bronze Age winepress of the Ta‘anakh type. Remains of a pottery workshop were all that was exposed of the Roman-period occupation at the site. The finds from the Byzantine-period village were more substantial, including buildings, agricultural and industrial installations, as well as a road and a mosaic floor located south of the village, indicating that it had expanded in size at that time. An olive press(?) and scattered remnants of terrace walls belong to the Mamluk period.