In August 2017, conducted a development survey in cultivated areas belonging to Gan Ha-Darom and Gan Yavne (License No. S-787/2017), covering the antiquities sites of Gan Ha-Darom and Horbat Meshullam. The site of Gan Ha-Darom lies on a On a low hill with remains of an extensive settlement, with remains of kurkar-built building and installations, along with sherds dating from the Roman to the Ottoman periods (Barda and Zbenovich 2005). An excavation conducted in the past at Horbat Meshullam (Fig. 1: A-3384), c. 1.5 km southwest of the present excavation area, uncovered remains of an installation from the Roman–Byzantine periods (Kanias 2006). The survey at Gan Ha-Darom identified Kurkar stones, some dressed, protruding on the surface, perhaps the remains of a structure, as well as numerous sherds, dated mostly to the Byzantine period. These included fragments of a tabun, jars, kraters, a casserole and a few sherds, dating from the late Roman–early Byzantine periods. Following the development survey, probes were made in this area, revealing remains of early walls and occupation levels. The present excavation was conducted in the wake of these finds.
About 7.5 km to the northeast is Tel Yavne, which was settled from the Middle Bronze Age to the present. Numerous archaeological excavations have taken place between Tel Yavne and Gan Ha-Darom; below are listed several excavations relevant to the finds at Gan Ha-Darom (Fig. 1). About 6 km to the northeast of the present excavation, remains from the Byzantine period (Fig. 1: A-8128, A-8174) were uncovered, and a complex of pottery kilns from the Byzantine period was unearthed nearby (Yannai 2012). In the Yavne dunes, about 5 km to the north of the excavation, were remains from the Byzantine period as well as refuse pits and hearths from the Mamluk period (Gorzalczany and Barkan 2006; Fig. 1: A-3858, A-3731), and at the nearby site of Dhahrat el-Kharab were building remains from the Byzantine period (Golan 2019; Fig. 1: A-7964). An industrial area from the Byzantine period and Mamluk-period refuge pits (Fig. 1: A-8184) were uncovered about 8 km to the northeast of the excavation, and remains of another industrial area, from the Roman–Byzantine periods, along with remains of a farmhouse from the Mamluk period were uncovered about 8 km to its southeast (Arbel 2011; Fig. 1: A-5979). About 6 km its southeast were remains that dated from the Roman–Byzantine to the Ottoman periods (Golan 2012; Fig. 1: A-6198). About 4 km to its northeast, at the site of Bashshit, remains from the Crusader and Mamluk periods were unearthed (Kanias 2004; Kaias 2006; Elad 2017: Fig. 1: A-7656, A-3126). About 2 km to the north of the excavation, at Khirbat es-Seiyah (Nadav-Ziv 2015: Fig. 1: A-7134) were industrial remains from the Roman–Byzantine periods. Approximately 2.5 km to the northwest remains of a Mamluk-era khan were excavated, and nearby to the west were remains from the Roman–Byzantine periods (Dagot 2014: Fig. 1: A-3387, A-4412, A-5866, A-6384). An excavation about 4.5 km to the southwest unearthed another industrial area from the Roman–Byzantine periods (Talis 2010; Fig. 1: A-4778). Some 3 km to the south, at the site of Barqa, remains of a Byzantine church were discovered. These were identified by an inscription as the Church of Saint John, founded in 511 CE as a basilica and adorned with wall and floor mosaics (Sion et al. 2010; Fig. 1: A-5253). Remains of workshops for the production of ‘Gaza’ jars were also found at that site. Numerous additional excavations were carried out at Barqa, revealing mainly remains from the Byzantine period (Ben-Ari 2012, and see references therein; Fig. 1: A-6300).
The present excavation comprised 247 squares (6.1 dunams; Fig. 2), in which remains from five periods were identified: the Roman period (second–third centuries CE), the Byzantine period (fourth–sixth centuries CE), the Crusader period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE), the Ayyubid period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE) and the Mamluk period (fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE).
The Roman and Byzantine periods. The archaeological accumulations from the Roman period included sherds and glass fragments. Several construction phases dating from the Byzantine period were identified. Early remains were found that attest to the presence of a farmhouse or a monastery (total area 26.5 × 29.5; Fig. 3) dating from the fourth–sixth centuries CE. The complex contained a chapel (5.0 × 9.4 m; Fig. 4) paved with a mosaic featuring very well-executed vegetal and geometric patterns, a peripheral corridor, halls/rooms and a stone-paved courtyard, as well as remains of at least four agricultural installations, apparently winepresses (Figs. 5–8). During this period, the site served as an agricultural hinterland and an industrial area (total area c. 17.6 × 26.5 m; Fig. 9). Evidence of this can be seen in the complex winepress unearthed c. 120 m south of the farmhouse/monastery, and the construction in a later phase of a pottery kiln in one of the winepress’ collecting vats (Fig. 10).
Middle Ages. The evidence points to a rural settlement (total area c. 40 × 155 m) from the Crusader and the Ayyubid/Mamluk periods (twelfth–fifteenth centuries CE). The medieval stratum (depth 0.3–0.5 m below the surface) featured a variety of cisterns and surfaces consisting of small stones—beddings, floorings or work surfaces—which partially covered the remains from the Byzantine period, mainly those in the northern part of the excavation, where the farmhouse/monastery complex was found. A one-stratum settlement was identified in most of the area. However, in one place two settlement strata were found: a lower stratum comprising a tabun and occupation levels, and c. 0.7 m above them—a floor bedding consisting of clusters of stones. The Ayyubid/Mamluk village included remains of a structure with at least four rooms (Fig. 11), which was built in the higher part of the site. At its foot were remains of occupation levels (Fig. 12), including stone pavements, numerous tabuns/ovens (Figs. 13, 14) and pits of various types (see, e.g., Figs. 15, 16). Millstones and pits were found near several of the tabuns (Figs. 12, 13). Samples were taken from several of the tabuns which were found complete. All the material from the tabuns was analyzed, revealing the presence of animal bones and some sherds. The tabuns seem to date from the later part of the medieval period. Due to later agricultural activity at the site, most of the pits had neither an architectural context nor any clear association to an occupation level. Nevertheless, it is clear that the pits belonged to the medieval strata, as some cut into the Byzantine stratum. One example of this can be seen in the mosaic floor of the chapel, where six pits of various sizes and depths were dug, apparently serving a variety of purposes. Pits were also dug into the layer of stones that covered the chapel floor; some extended down to the level of the floor but did not damage it, while others cut through the floor (see, e.g., Fig. 16). The sediments from all the pits uncovered in the excavation was sifted, and some of it underwent flotation. Several of the pits yielded numerous seeds, several contained animal bones, some of which were burned, and other finds in the pits included fragments of tabuns, layers of ash and sherds. An analysis of the finds from the pits may perhaps clarify their use. Most of the pottery dates from the twelfth–fourteenth centuries CE, and so for the time being it is difficult to date the settlement to a specific period. Once the coins are cleaned and identified, it might be possible to date the assemblages more precisely.