Between December 1950 and January 1951, a salvage excavation was undertaken in Moshav Gan Hefer (Permit No. &45/1950; map ref. 1901/6941; Fig. 1). The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Department of Antiquities and Museums, was directed by Fritz Berger (field photography and plans). R. Bar-Nathan and E. Yannai processed the excavation material and submitted it for final publication.
Moshav Gan Hefer,also called Sha‘ar Hefer, is today part of the Beit Yitzhak-Sha‘ar Hefer settlement. The excavation was located in the western upper part of the kurkar ridge that extends northeastwards from the area of Beit Yitzhak, and that is cut by Nahal Alexander south of Tel Hefer (Tell el-Ifshar). The top of the kurkar ridge in this area is overlain by a thick hamra layer, ranging from a few to dozens of meters thick. The kurkar ridge is bordered on the west by a deep trough full of alluvial soil, and on the east, it merges into the hamra hills that characterize the northern coastal plain. The excavation area lies near two ancient Byzantine-period roads (Roll and Ayalon 2008:159). A longitudinal road led from Apollonia in the south, via Horbat Hilafim (located south of the Wingate Institute), and along the kurkar ridge northwards to Tel Hefer; this road bypassed the swamps in Nahal Alexander and Nahal Hadera, reaching Caesarea. A latitudinal road led from Khirbat Birkat Umm el-’Idham (Kfar Yona), westwards, via Khirbat Umm el-Fulus (Pardessiya) and Khirbat Beit Lid (Nordiya), to Umm Khalid (Netanya).
No previous excavations were conducted at the site. The excavation was mentioned, and briefly partially published, a few times over the years (Bulletin 1950; Bulletin 1953; Appelbaum 1953: Site 31; Porath, Dar and Appelbaum 1985:226–228). The examination of the excavation file revealed that a large area was excavated, without subdivision into excavation squares. The excavator followed the lines of the wall tops visible on the surface, excavating most of the area within the walls, and digging narrow trenches (c. 0.5 m wide) along their exterior. The well- preserved remains of a building, comprising a courtyard, rooms and installations (Figs. 2–4) probably dating to the Byzantine or Early Islamic periods, were unearthed. The excavation focused mainly on the southeastern part of the building, but was stopped due to bad weather, and was never renewed. No finds from the excavation were preserved.
In the southern part of the excavation area, the southeastern corner of an open rectangular courtyard (c. 19 m long, c. 15 m estimated width) was unearthed, delimited by two walls (W10, W20). Walls 10 and 20 were built of two rows of kurkar ashlars of various sizes, some rectangular and others square (0.30 × 0.30–0.55 m), between which were fragments of kurkar and gray mortar. The walls were built on broad kurkar foundations (0.8–0.9 m) and were preserved to a maximum height of five courses. In the courtyard, a rectangular room was uncovered (external measurements 3.9 × 5.6 m), enclosing the remains of a winepress in the corner of W10 and W20. A round, stone-built installation adjoined the winepress on the north. Another room, enclosing a similar round installation, was unearthed in the western part of the courtyard.
The room uncovered in the corner of the courtyard was bounded on the south and the east by courtyard walls W10 and W20, and on the north and west by two other walls (W30; W40; Fig. 5). The remains of the winepress discovered in the room, comprised a treading floor, a collecting vat and a settling pit. The treading floor (3 × 4 m) was paved with large white, hard limestone tesserae (c. 4 × 5 cm), encircling the collecting vat and the settling pit; it is therefore evident that the floor, the vat and the pit, were built and used contemporaneously. The collecting vat (diam. 1.05 m, depth 0.52 m) was connected via a plastered channel to the settling pit (diam. 0.6 m, depth 0.35 m).
The round installation adjacent to the winepress on the north (diam. 1.3 m, height 0.9 m; Fig. 6), was built in its eastern half, of kurkar ashlars in secondary use, while in its western half, no building stones were found, but rather burnt mudbrick material. Red mudbricks found close to the installation are perhaps evidence of its use as a foundation base for an oven. According to S. Porath, this installation was a plastered oven (Porath, Dar and Appelbaum 1985: Fig. 111).
The room in the western part of the courtyard, was bounded on the south by the southern courtyard wall (W10), and on the east by another wall (W50). The northern part of the room lay beyond the excavated area. A mosaic floor was discovered in the room, abutting both the walls of the room. West of the mosaic floor, a round installation was unearthed (external diam. c. 3 m, internal diam. c. 1.8 m, depth c. 1 m; Fig. 7), built of fieldstones bonded by some mortar and sherds, and not plastered on either face. The mosaic floor around the round installation was damaged, leaving a c. 0.2 m wide space between the floor and the installation. It thus seems that the rounded installation was built after the mosaic floor, perhaps in a repair phase, when a foundation trench cut to build the installation, damaged the mosaic floor. The mosaic floor and the round installation may have been associated with each other and may both have continued in use together in the courtyard. Based on the similarity of this installation to the round installation found next to the winepress, it may also have functioned as an oven.
In the northern part of the excavation, a wall (W60), built on a north–south axis of ashlars, set as headers and stretchers, was uncovered (Fig. 8). The construction of this wall was of better quality than the other walls in the courtyard. To the west of W60, a fieldstone floor was found, its northern part abutting the wall, while its southern part lay 0.2–0.3 m away from it. It is thus difficult to determine whether the floor was associated with the wall, as the northern part would indicate, or whether it was cut by it, as appears from the southern part. Wall 60 belongs to the building uncovered in the excavation, indicating that the building extended northwards, beyond the excavated area.
The building remains in the southern area of the excavation, including the courtyard walls, the rooms and the installations, were relatively simply constructed, and they may have been part of an industrial complex associated with the making of wine and its products. By contrast, W60, exposed in the northern part of the excavation, was of finer construction, and together with the floor to its west, it may have been part of a storage or dwelling complex. The absence of finds and pottery sherds precludes determining the site’s function and dating. Based on the information provided by the excavator, and on similar remains at other sites, the site apparently dates to the Byzantine or the Early Islamic period. The site aligns well with the settlement picture of the Byzantine period in the Sharon region. At this time, Caesarea was the capital of Palestina Prima, and the two main settlements in the region were Tel Hefer (Tell el-Ifshar) in the east, and Umm Khalid (Netanya) in the west (Porath 1986; ‘Ad 2009; Masarwa 2014; Toueg 2016). These two settlements were located in the Caesarea region’s agricultural hinterland, where remains have been found of farms and agricultural installations, such as at Khirbat Birkat Umm el-’Idham (Bouchenino 2007; Masarwa 2009; Elisha 2013), Khirbat Umm el-Fulus (Ayalon 2008), Majahad Sheikha (Porath, Dar and Appelbaum 1985:185) and Kfar Yedidiya (Porath, Dar and Appelbaum 1985:254). It seems that the site exposed in the excavation may have been one of the industrial areas associated with the settlement at Umm Khalid. These small sites in the agricultural hinterland, were abandoned when the production of wine ceased along the coastal plain (Ayalon 1997).
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