In December 2018, an excavation was carried out southwest of Eshta’ol at Shimshon Junction (Permit No. A-8396; map ref. 200080–432/631134–583), following damage to antiquities. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Ikea Israel, was directed by S. Gendler (metal detecting), with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), M. Kahan (surveying), H. Bitan (aerial photographs), S. Halevi (photogrammetry and photography), Y. Sfez (numismatics) and A. Melman and L. Shilov (preliminary inspection), as well as N. Ben-Ari, M. Balila, T. Kanias, A. Eirikh-Rose, Y. Zelinger and A. Shadman.
The site lies in the Zor‘a Valley in the northern Shephelah (Fig. 1). Archaeological excavations and surveys have been undertaken in the vicinity of the site in the past. Settlement remains from the Pre-pottery Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, as well as the Early Bronze Age IB and the Intermediate Bronze Age were uncovered in Moshav Eshta’ol (Golani et al. 2016, and see additional references therein). Building remains, terrace walls and numerous rock-hewn installations, including quarries, winepresses and cupmarks, as well as burial caves, several of which were dated to the Second Temple period, were excavated and surveyed in and around Khirbat Hammada (Stark 2006; Golani 2011). Installations and numerous caves were discerned in a survey along Highway 38 (Storchan 2010).
The current excavation was located about 1.5 km east of the margins of Tel Zor‘a, the presumed location of biblical Zor‘a, and approximately 100 m east of a two-story house dating from the British Mandate era. Near the building are two rock-hewn winepresses, one of which was paved with a white mosaic (Lehmann, Neimann and Zwickel 1998; Betzer 2010).
Two excavation areas were opened (B, C).
Area B (Figs. 2, 3). A hewn and plastered installation that had been damaged by mechanical equipment prior to the excavation was unearthed, probably a collecting vat of a winepress (1.1 × 2.2 m after damage). In the center of the installation was a plastered pillar (L4; 0.20 × 0.24 m, height c. 0.6 m), which may have supported a roof. The installation was coated with three layers of plaster. The bottom layer was of the highest quality of the three (thickness 7–10 cm; Fig. 4). The two upper layers of plaster were thinner and apparently represent repairs to the installation. It seems that after the installation went out of use it was intentionally covered with brown soil and fieldstones. The fill contained worn, nondiagnostic sherds, stone tools, a coin from the time of Antiochus III (222–187 BCE; Antioch mint; IAA 172190) and a lead flan whose date could not be determined (IAA 172192).
Area C (Figs. 5, 6). A segment of ancient road (width 2.5–3.0 m), running in a general north–south axis, was uncovered. The road was delineated on both sides by walls (W52, W54; Fig. 7) built of unworked limestones set on alluvial soil and preserved to a height of 3–4 courses. These walls seem to have also served to stabilize the road, which was built on swelling alluvial soil. Between the walls was a fill of small stones that served as a bedding for the road (Fig. 8); among the stones were worn sherds that seem to date from the Roman and Byzantine period (not drawn). The fill above the road yielded a coin from the Byzantine period (498–602 CE; IAA 172191).
The plastered installation discovered in the excavation—probably part of a winepress—serves as additional evidence of the extensive agricultural activity in this area in antiquity. The route of the ancient road passed to the west of Shimshon Junction, where the roads connecting Nahal Eshta’ol (Wadi Ishwa), Wadi Mutluq and Wadi Kharjeh once intersected. The high-quality construction of the road indicates that this was no simple rural road, but rather a main thoroughfare. It may have led to, or linked up to, the road to Bet Guvrin, perhaps the one connecting it with Emmaus.
Golani A., Storchan B., Be’eri R. and Vardi K. 2016. Eshta’ol, Areas H and J – 2013.HA-ESI 128.
Lehmann G., Niemann H.M., Zwickel W. Zorah-Eshta’ol Area, Survey. ESI 19:108* (Hebrew).
Storchan B. 2010. Eshta’ol, Survey of Sha‘ar Ha-Gāy–Hart
uv Junctions.HA-ESI 122.