Two areas (A, B) were opened, c. 150 m apart. The courtyard of a burial cave and a bodeda were excavated in Area A; meager finds were discovered in the accumulation layers of natural soil which alluded to a date in the late Second Temple period (first century BCE–first century CE) when the cave was used. In Area B, east of Area A, three phases were identified that included a winepress; a burial cave and a kind of niche hewn in the collecting vat of the winepress; and walls whose function was unclear that were discovered above the winepress. The winepress was from the earliest phase and belonged to the Hellenistic period; the niche and burial cave that were exposed in the middle phase were ascribed to the Hasmonean period, and several walls were attributed to the latest phase, of uncertain date.
In the wake of the rapid development of Ramat Bet Shemesh in recent years, numerous surveys and excavations were conducted and remains were discovered that date from the end of the Iron Age to the end of the Second Temple period. Sites dating to the Iron Age were discovered both upstream in Nahal Yarmut (Dagan 2010: 257, Site 324; Permit No. A-6564) and downstream (Greenwald 2015). Remains from the late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods were excavated at the foot of Kh. Shumeila, located to the south, on the other side of Nahal Yarmut (Permit Nos. A-6909; A-7156).
Area A (Fig. 2)
The courtyard of a burial cave (L105) was hewn in the bedrock on a slope that descended gently from north to south, toward Nahal Yarmut. The courtyard had three walls (L106; Fig. 3): an eastern wall, a northern wall in which the facade of the cave was hewn, and a western wall in which an addition of roughly hewn stones was built in its corner. The southern side was integrated in the natural slope of the bedrock, so that the courtyard did not have a clear southern boundary. The facade was not hewn exactly in the center of the northern wall, and its western side was either broken or incompletely quarried. The bedrock was deeper opposite the facade (L104) but this area of the cave’s entrance and the opening itself were not excavated. The courtyard’s floor (L105) was rock-hewn and quite shallow. In the southern part of the courtyard were stones that were partially quarried but not detached from their bases (L108). These might be a stratigraphic phase that postdates the phase of the courtyard. However, judging by the lack of uniformity in the length of the eastern and western sides, the cave’s unfinished facade, the lack of a staircase or obvious means of descending to the opening and the relatively shallow floor of the courtyard compared to other caves in the vicinity, it seems that the quarrying of the courtyard was incomplete.
Since the cave itself was not excavated it was very difficult to date. A scant number of pottery sherds from various periods and a coin, possibly of Alexander Jannaeus (below), were discovered in the soil that covered the courtyard of the burial cave. However, the cave cannot be dated on the basis of this coin because Jannaeus’ coins were in circulation for a very long time.
On a bedrock surface southeast of the courtyard was a hewn bodeda (L107; Fig. 5) with a shallow, drop-shaped pressing surface that drained into a circular basin.
Area B (Fig. 6)
The early phase consisted of a winepress with two treading floors (L211, L215), two settling pits (L222, L233) and a shared collecting vat (L212; Fig. 7).
The western treading floor (L211; Fig. 8) was only partially preserved. It was rock-hewn and bounded on four sides by walls. The western wall (W208) was built of a single row of roughly hewn stones. The northern wall (W209) was rock-cut with a hewn niche in it (L211; Fig. 8), probably where an auxiliary installation used in the pressing process was situated. Only one stone of the eastern wall (W210) was preserved and a single stone and the foundation trench (L214) were all that remained of the southern wall (W230; Fig. 9). The surface of the treading floor and the walls were coated with a thick application of plaster. Southeast of the treading floor was the western settling pit (L233), also plastered. The eastern treading floor was not entirely excavated because part of it was canceled by later walls (below). The treading floor (L215; Fig. 10) was treated with a thick layer of plaster (c. 10 cm) that was applied on top of the hewn bedrock in the eastern part of the floor and on top of soil fill in the western part. The treading floor was bounded by walls, two of which were excavated: the eastern wall (W231) was rock-hewn; the southern wall (W216) was partly hewn and partly built of large, roughly worked stones. The base of both walls was coated with a layer of plaster similar to that of the treading floor. The northern wall was not excavated because it was situated beneath a later wall that was not dismantled (W226). The western wall was not discovered and was probably damaged by development work or destroyed during the construction of later phases in the area. The eastern settling pit (L222), also coated with a layer of plaster, was situated south of the treading floor, at the foot of W216.
The shared collecting vat (L212; Fig. 11) was severely damaged by development work, thereby making impossible a complete reconstruction or an understanding of the relationship between it and the settling pits. The vat was elliptical and its walls curved up; it may have had a ceiling that was entirely hewn in the bedrock. An elliptical sump (L234) discovered in the southwestern part of the vat was meant to drain the liquid from the collecting vat. The floor of the collecting vat and its walls were coated with a thick layer of plaster.
A coin found inside the plaster of the western treading floor (L211) was the only find that could be used to date the winepress. The coin was struck in the mint at Side in Asia Minor and dates to the third–second centuries BCE (below). Another coin, minted by one of the Hasmonean rulers (below), was found inside the foundation trench of the southern wall in the western treading floor (L214). However, that area was exposed prior to the excavation and therefore its stratigraphic ascription is uncertain; the coin may be associated with the activity of the middle phase.
In the middle phase, the winepress was canceled and a burial cave and a kind of niche were hewn inside its collecting vat. The burial cave was hewn deep in the rock on the northern side of the collecting vat and was sealed with two roll-stones (L232; Fig. 12). The inner roll-stone was rectangular (0.66 × 0.77 m, thickness c. 0.2 m), smooth and meticulously dressed in order to seal the mouth of the cave. The outer roll-stone (0.44 × 0.50 × 0.70 m) was placed on its side and was lying at the foot of the inner stone. It was probably in use, and based on the hand holds hewn in one of its sides, was connected to some sort of activity in the winepress. A kind of narrow niche (L235; 0.35 × 0.40 m, min. depth 0.5 m; Fig. 13) was hewn in the southwestern part of the vat; in the niche was a complete cooking pot (below) dating to the Hasmonean period (first century BCE). It seems that the burial cave was also from Hasmonean times. According to Kloner and Zissu (2003:62), cooking pots were used during the Second Temple period to boil water while preparing the body of the deceased for interment. This may be the reason that the cooking pot was found outside the burial cave, although in a concealed spot. In the third phase, walls (W205, W224–W226) canceled the treading floors of the winepress; however, there is no direct stratigraphic connection between these walls and the burial cave and the niche that negated the collecting vat of the winepress in the middle phase. Two walls were founded on the northern wall (W209) of the western treading floor: one (W224) was built of medium-sized fieldstones and the other (W205), of large boulders. The third wall (W226), which was also constructed of large boulders placed somewhat haphazardly next to each other, severed the eastern treading floor. The fourth wall (W225), parallel to it from the north, was constructed of medium-sized fieldstones and was integrated into the natural shape of the bedrock. These walls did not connect to form a clear and coherent plan; they were probably intended to support a superstructure that was not preserved or were part of a system of field walls designed to retain agricultural terraces. No distinct floor or habitation level was discovered relating to these walls; rather, there were soil fills that were probably piled up intentionally (L227, L228). The artifacts in the fills are mixed and consist mainly of pottery from the Iron Age, as well as a small number from the Hasmonean period. A coin dating to the Hasmonean period was discovered in the fill (below).
The ceramic finds from Area B (Fig. 14) included holemouths (Fig. 14:1), kraters (Fig. 14:2–4), jugs (Fig. 14:5) and jars (Fig. 14:6–9) from the Iron Age (eighth century BCE), and also vessels from the Hasmonean period (first century BCE; Fig 14:10). The vessels were recovered from the layers of fill and natural accumulations of soil and therefore do not date the strata with certainty. Only a cooking pot (Fig. 14:11) found whole and in situ dates the rock-hewn niche in the collecting vat, and indirectly, the burial cave, to the Hasmonean period.
Four coins were discovered, one in Area A and three in Area B. The coin from Area A is of Alexander Jannaeus (IAA 144795), and appears from 80/79 BCE or after his death. Two coins from Area B (IAA 144796, IAA 144798) were minted by one of the Hasmonean rulers. The fourth coin (third–second centuries BCE; IAA 144797) was struck in the city of Side, Pamphylia; this is coin type was common in the region despite the distance from the place of its minting. Apart from this coin, all the coins were discovered in archaeological contexts that were stratigraphically ambiguous, even though the time period is limited (second–first centuries BCE).
Ramat Bet Shemesh in general and the vicinity of Nahal Yarmut in particular were densely populated during the Iron II (eighth century BCE), and in the Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods (third–first centuries BCE; Dagan, 2011: 258–268), to which most of the finds from the excavation date.
The excavated remains are part of the agricultural hinterland and the necropolis of one or more of the settlement sites known in the area, for example those at the foot of Kh. Shumeila (above), or Khirbat el-Keikh, situated several hundred meters northeast of the site (Kogan-Zehavi 2009Kogan-Zehavi 2014). The excavation finds join the numerous agricultural installations and many burial caves that are known in the area from the Iron Age, Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods.