In 2012–2013, a trial excavation (Landes-Nagar 2013)
and two salvage excavations were conducted at Khirbat H
arsis in Sha‘ar Hagāy (Permit Nos. A-6543, A-6857; map ref. 202355/636072; Fig. 1) prior to the installation of a fifth water line to Jerusalem. The excavations, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Mekorot Water Company, were directed by A. Landes-Nagar (photography) with the assistance of A. Melman (area supervision), N. Nehama and R. Abu Halaf (administration), O. Shalev (inspection), M. Kunin, V. Essman and A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), N. Zak, S. Itkis and I. Delerson (plans), A. Peretz (photography), L. Kupershmidt and I. Reznitzky (coin cleaning), Y. Bukengolts and T. Gonen
(pottery restoration), D. Sandhaus-Reem and Y. Rapuano (pottery identification), N. Katsnelson and T. Winter (glass), H. Khalaily (flint), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), B. Brandel (stone seal), L. Habas (mosaic floor), C. Amit (photography of finds), A. Gyerman Levanon (digital documentation), C. Hersch and I. Lidsky-Reznikov (drawing of finds) and Y. Barshak (photograph archive). Special thanks go to Dr. L. Di Segni for her assistance in writing the conclusions.
Khirbat Harsis is located within the Judean Mountains-Nahal Ilan National Park, on the edge of a slope extending northwest, right to the north of Sha‘ar Hagāy Interchange on Highway 1. About 700 m northwest of the excavation is the dry spring of ‘Ein Ayub. The site is situated along an ancient road leading from Jaffa to Jerusalem via Emmaus, Sha‘ar Hagāy, upper Nahal Nahshon (Wadi ‘Ali) and Abu Ghosh. An ancient main road that led from Emmaus along the Neve Ilan Ridge to Abu Ghosh and Jerusalem has been documented to the north of the site, (Fischer, Isaac and Roll 1996:87–98). An Ottoman military fort which guarded the road is situated on the northern margins of Highway 1, and a khan on the southern side of the road, Both were built in the second half of the nineteenth century and show that the site was used as a way station in the late Ottoman period.
North of the site extends the Deir Ayub agricultural hinterland, where stone-clearance heaps, terrace walls and a limekiln from the Ottoman period were surveyed and excavated, as well as the remains of a settlement and a main road from the Second Temple period, a cistern and agricultural installations (Ein Mor 2010a
; Ein Mor 2010b
; Kagan 2012
; Radashkovsky 2015; Breger 2017; Permit No. A-6437). East of the site were two storage caves from the British Mandate period (Monnickendam-Givon 2013), and south of Highway 1, near the khan, were two rock-cut storage caves from the Ottoman period, as well as a rock-cut cistern and a burial cave from the Late Roman period (Greenhut 2004). Two inscriptions in stone were discovered in the area of
Sha‘ar Hagāy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries CE: an inscription on a milestone from the Umayyad period (Cytrin-Silverman 2007), and a Greek inscription on a limestone monument (0.6 × 1.4 m, 0.45 m thick; Fig. 2) dated to the Byzantine period (Germer-Durand 1894). In the upper part of the stone is a medallion surrounding a cross; below it is the inscription “for the benefit of the tired and the suffering”, based on a verse in the Gospel of Matthew. The inscription is an invitation to travelers to sit and rest—additional evidence of the presence of a roadside caravansary at the site.
The current excavation (length c. 85 m) yielded settlement remains of two periods: the Iron Age II (late eighth–sixth centuries BCE) and the Byznatine period (fourth–seventh centuries CE). Additional remains, of uncertain date, include two cisterns, a columbarium cave and a stone quarry.
The remains from the Iron Age II include a structure (W30), rock-hewn and plastered agricultural installations—a winepress with treading floors and basins—and ceramic finds. The latter include a LMLK MMST seal impression of the double-wing type on a jar handle (Fig. 3), attributed to the reign of King Hezekiah and associated with the tax system of the Judahite cities. It has been suggested that MMST be identified as Ramat Rahel to the south of Jerusalem (Barkay 2006).
The remains from the Byzantine period include a small structure, a bathhouse (Figs. 4, 5), two hewn pit graves, a complex winepress and a rock-cut and plastered cistern. The lower part of the bathhouse was hewn, and its upper part was built. Its plan is of the row type, with all of its rooms arranged along a single axis: the furnace (praefurnium; L144); the hot room (caldarium; L152), with its subsurface heating system (hypocaust); the tepid room (tepidarium; L151), with an entrance in its western wall and a subsurface heating system; the cold room (fridgidarium; L150), with an entrance and access steps in its southeastern corner; and the dressing room (apodyterium; L140), paved with white mosaic decorated with red cross medallions (Fig. 6). The finds included ceramic vessels, lamps and pipes, glass vessels and lamps, coins and marble slabs.
Additional finds from the site attest to activity in the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, Roman and British Mandate periods: flint artifacts were dated to the Neolithic period; a black stone seal bearing a relief of a kneeling ibex (Fig. 7) was dated to the Chalcolithic period; pottery sherds were found from the Hellenistic to the Roman periods; and a find from the British Mandate was a metal military helmet from the battles in the Sha‘ar Hagāy area during the War of Independence.
The remains and the artifacts from the Iron Age II, including the LMLK MMST jar handle, attest to the presence of a farm at the site, and of its contribution to the Judahite Kingdom’s tax system in the late eighth century BCE. The pottery assemblage indicates that the settlement continued in existence until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.
The remains from the Byzantine period, the location of the site along the ancient road and the inscription discovered nearby support the assumption that the site comprised a farmhouse that also served as a way station during this period. The economy of the station seems to have been based on wine production in the summer and bathing services all year round. Other Byzantine bathhouses have been discovered at sites that served as way stations in Judah and the Jerusalem region, such as Khirbat el-Jiljil/Beit Jimal, Horbat Hazan, on Mount Scopus and at the Monastery of Euthymius in Ma‘ale Adummim.
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