Seven excavation areas (Areas A–G; Fig. 1) were opened in the area that was the agricultural hinterland east of Horbat Bet Natif, a regional administrative center in the Hellenistic to the Late Roman periods (Zissu and Klein 2011:211–213). Rock-cut installations and various types of winepresses dating from the Hellenistic to Byzantine periods were exposed. A limekiln and some buildings from the late Ottoman to British Mandate periods, associated with the Arab village Beit Natif, were also uncovered.
Previous surveys in this area revealed numerous agricultural installations, ancient roads, cisterns, quarries and burial caves, and the remains of an opulent mausoleum from the Late Roman period were found on the Kh. Umm edh-Dhiyab hilltop (Dagan 2010:258–271, 314–316, 319). Previous excavations in this area uncovered agricultural installations and rock-cuttings (Hirshberg 2016; Greenwald 2017; Tiano 2020; Tzur 2020).
Area A (map ref. 2002/6225) was located on a hillslope, c. 300 m west of previously excavated Hellenistic and Byzantine-period settlement remains (Permit Nos. A-7137, A-7616). A rock-cut winepress exhibited two main phases of use (Figs. 2, 3). In the first phase, the winepress included a treading floor (L101; c. 4.2 × 4.5 m) and a collecting vat (L110; c. 1.45 × 1.90 m), connected by a narrow channel (width c. 5 cm, depth 10 cm). The treading floor was leveled by filling the cracks and depressions with white plaster, and the collecting vat was coated with white plaster. A rectangular cavity (L103; 0.3 × 0.5 m), hewn in the treading floor’s western wall (preserved height 0.7 m), was intended to anchor a pressing beam to extract the must from the grape skins. Two conical depressions (L105: diam. c. 0.7 m, depth 0.4 m; L108: diam. c. 0.65 m, depth 0.4 m) were hewn in the southern part of the treading floor, and their walls and the base of L108 were coated with white plaster. These depressions may have served to hold jars or to store grapes, or for collecting the grape skins after pressing. Similar rock-hewn depressions were found in the treading floor of a Hellenistic–Early Roman winepress excavated on the Soreq Ridge in the Jerusalem Mountains (Weiss and Zissu 2009:327–328, Fig. 56.3).
In the second phase, the treading floor was raised by a bedding layer of medium-sized fieldstones, overlain by a white industrial mosaic floor (partially preserved), that covered over Depressions 105 and 108. In this phase, the pressing method was changed: a depression, (diam. 1.2 m, depth c. 0.1 m), to receive a stone base, was cut in the middle of the treading floor, and a square depression (L104) was cut in its center, to secure a wooden screw press. The numerous mosaic tesserae found here were probably displaced when the stone base was removed after the winepress went out of use. In this later phase, the walls of the collecting vat were lined with medium-sized fieldstones coated with white plaster (reduced vat dimensions c. 1.0 × 0.4 m), and the floor was covered with white industrial mosaic similar to that of the treading floor. A circular sedimentation basin (diam. c. 0.5 m, depth 0.4 m) hewn in the southwestern corner of the vat was also paved with mosaic. The fill in the vat yielded pottery sherds of a krater (Fig. 4:1) and jars (Fig. 4:2–4) from the Hellenistic period, and kraters (Fig. 4:5, 6), an imported bowl base (Fig. 4:7), a jar (Fig. 4:8) and a lamp fragment (Fig. 4:9) from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. Although the mixed pottery sherds do not provide secure dates for the construction and renovation of the winepress, the location of the winepress near the Hellenistic–Roman and Byzantine settlements, and the plan and pressing methods of the two phases can help determine its date. In the early phase, the winepress used the beam-and-weights method common in the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. In the later phase, the renovated winepress with the industrial mosaic floor was operated by means of the wooden screw press, a method which was adopted in Israel in the Late Roman period, and was widespread in the Byzantine period.
Area B, at the bottom of a hill slope, mainly featured ancient stone quarries and rock-cut pits. A stone Beit Natif-style figurine head fragment dated to the Late Roman period (Fig. 5; B2027), was found near one of the rock-cuttings. The excavation focused on two winepresses, a wall and a limekiln.
Winepress B1 (map ref. 20000/62277; Fig. 6). A rock-cut winepress had a treading floor (L200; 2.75 × 3.65 m) and a collecting vat (L201; 1.0 × 1.7 m, depth c. 1.65 m). An ovoid-shaped cavity (0.3 × 0.5 m, depth 0.5 m), hewn in the middle of the treading floor’s southern wall (preserved height of wall 1.2 m; cavity cut 0.5 m above floor), was probably intended to anchor a beam for secondary pressing by the beam-and-weights method. On the opposite northern side of the treading floor, a shallow ovoid rock-cut depression may have served to collect the grape skins. The mixed potsherds retrieved in the collecting vat included a cooking pot, possibly dating from Iron II (Fig. 7:1), a Late Hellenistic cooking pot (Fig. 7:2), Early Roman storage jars (Fig. 7:3, 4) and a Late Roman imported bowl (Fig. 7:5). Based on the beam-and-weights pressing method employed, this winepress was probably hewn sometime between the end of the Iron Age and the Early Roman period.
Wall and Limekiln B2 (map ref. 20000/62285; Figs. 8, 9). A wall (W3), built of medium-sized fieldstones (0.4–0.6 m), was uncovered c. 30 m northwest of Winepress B1; the pottery sherds retrieved around and under it dated to the Ottoman period. A roundish limekiln (L205; outer diam. 2.0–3.0 m, inner diam. 1.5–2.0 m), built on sterile soil, of medium-sized and small fieldstones (preserved for 4–5 courses, c. 1.5 m), was integrated into Wall 3. Small limestones and white limey soil layers, containing some Ottoman-period sherds, lay inside the kiln and on the surrounding surface.
Winepress B3 (map ref. 20010/62277; Fig. 10). Rock-cut pits and depressions, probably of a winepress whose treading floor was either never completed, or was not extant due to later quarrying, were exposed near an ancient quarry, c. 30 m east of Winepress B1. One of the pits—a square shaft (c. 1 × 1 m, max. depth 1.65 m)—was probably originally a collecting vat. It had a step cut in its eastern wall, and a rectangular sedimentation pit (depth c. 0.3 m) cut in the southwestern side of its base; its walls were not plastered. A conical pit (diam. 0.7 m, depth 0.65 m), with a groove on its rim, possibly to accommodate a stone lid, was hewn west of the collecting vat. Another small, partially hewn depression was uncovered nearby, and a conical pit (diam. 0.6 m, depth 0.3 m) was cut east of the collecting vat. These two conical pits may have served to hold jars or grape clusters. Pottery sherds retrieved in the collecting vat and the western conical pit dated to the Early and Late Roman periods (first–fourth centuries CE), and they included a mortarium (Fig. 11:1), kraters (Fig. 11:2, 3), jars (Fig. 11:4, 5) and a Beit Natif-style lamp fragment (Fig. 11:6). Fragments of glass vessels, including a plate (Fig. 12:1), a bowl (Fig. 12:2), kohl tubes bases (Fig. 12:3, 4) and a bead (Fig. 12:5), also date to the Roman period.
Two winepresses were excavated in Area C, a ridge in the area of the abandoned Arab village Beit Natif.
Winepress C1 (map ref. 20022/62296; Figs. 13, 14). A simple, rock-hewn winepress featured a shallow treading floor (L300; c. 2 × 3 m) and a rectangular collecting vat (L301; 1.0 × 1.6 m, depth 0.7 m) connected by two channels. South of the treading floor, a round rock-cut shaft (L305; diam. 1.1 m) led down into an underground space that was not excavated due to danger of collapse. No diagnostic pottery was discovered near the winepress.
Winepress C2 (map ref. 20015/62289; Fig. 15). The rock-hewn winepress comprised a rectangular treading floor (L303; 3 × 4 m) and a rectangular collecting vat (L311, L312; 1.2 × 2.3 m) connected by a single channel (length 0.3 m). The treading floor was paved with a white mosaic, in the center of which was a polychrome (white, black, yellow and red) mosaic carpet, featuring geometric patterns (Fig. 16). The center of the carpet was decorated with a guilloche of yellow and white, four-petaled rosettes creating intersecting circles, on a red background. The rosette guilloche was enclosed in a two-strand guilloche frame composed of white, red and yellow tesserae, surrounded by two simple frames: an inner frame (1.1 × 1.4 m), made of two rows of white tesserae and two rows of black tesserae, and an outer frame (1.7 × 2.3 m), made of two rows of black tesserae flanked by two rows of white tesserae. The collecting vat, paved with a white industrial mosaic, featured two levels (L311, depth from vat rim 1.1 m; L312, depth 2.15 m). Seven steps, paved with industrial mosaic, descended to the lower level, in which a round sedimentation basin was hewn (L315; depth 0.7 m). The collecting vat walls were coated with white plaster, two ribbed sherds in the plaster dating from the Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE; Fig. 17). The channel from the treading floor to the collecting vat (length c. 0.3 m) ended in a molded trapezoid opening (Fig. 18). The rock-hewn surface around the collecting vat (L308; 2.1 × 4.3 m) was paved with white industrial mosaic and contained two hewn mosaic-paved depressions for jars. A mosaic-paved step (L310) on a higher elevation in the southeastern corner of this surface, possibly serving as an additional shelf for must-filled jars, was damaged and displaced by later quarrying. The pottery sherds in the winepress dated uniformly to the Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE), and included imported bowls (Figs. 19:1, 2), kraters (Fig. 19:3–5) and storage jars (Fig. 19:6–8); these sherds probably date the winepress. This winepress may have belonged to the owner of a nearby villa, or to an inhabitant of Bet Natif.
A square rock-hewn pit (1.80 × 1.85 m; Fig. 20; map ref. 20057/62292) led to an underground space that was not excavated due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox groups. The pit was full of silt and yielded no datable material.
Piles of collapsed stones of an Ottoman–British Mandate building lay on the hill east of the Arab village of Beit Natif (map ref. 20040/62272), in an area that was part of the ancient rural landscape. The building comprised two rooms with white plaster floors (Fig. 21). The northern room had an entrance in the western wall, a window in the eastern wall, and a split floor level, lower on the west and higher on the east; two niches in the southern wall may have served for storage. The southern room had windows in the eastern and southern walls, and the entrance was probably also in the western wall, but it was not preserved; a wooden railroad tie lay on the floor. Both rooms yielded pottery, glass containers and metal artifacts (Figs. 22–24) dating the end of the building’s use, probably in the late 1940s. A segment of a stone enclosing wall was exposed c. 20 m southwest of the building, as well as a wall abutting the enclosure wall and another parallel wall (Fig. 25). These walls enclosed a space in which a horse or donkey bridle and stirrups were found, indicating that it functioned as a stable.
In Area F, several agricultural installations and rock-cuttings exposed on the hillslopes were probably associated with Kh. Umm edh-Dhiyab. Three winepresses were excavated.
Winepress F1 (map ref. 20047/62341; Fig. 26) comprised a treading floor (L600; 2.7 × 2.9 m) and a collecting vat (L601; 0.85 × 1.50 m, depth c. 1.7 m), connected by a short rock-cut channel. A depression and a step hewn in the northern wall of the vat facilitated access, and a shallow sedimentation basin was hewn in its northwestern corner. Two stone rollers (L603; c. 0.6 × 1.3 m, diam. 0.5 m; Fig. 27) were found near the collecting vat, having slightly rolled down the slope. The rollers were probably used to press the grape skins in the winepress (for the use of rollers in the production of wine, see Frankel and Ayalon 1989).
Winepress F4 (map ref. 20024/62331; Figs. 28, 29) comprised a treading floor (L613; 2.3 × 5.2 m), a circular filtration pit (L614; diam. c. 1 m) and a rectangular collecting vat (L611; c. 0.8 × 2.0 m, depth c. 1.5 m). A rock-cut channel connected the treading floor directly to the collecting vat, and a perforation connected the filtration pit to the collecting vat. A circular depression (L612; diam. 0.6 m, height c. 0.6 m), hewn in the northwestern part of the treading floor, was surrounded by detachment channels, and it was probably cut in the bedrock surface to quarry a round stone object, after the winepress went out of use. West of the collecting vat, a round depression (L620; diam. c. 0.5 m) cut into the bedrock, may have served to hold a jar while filling it with must. The soil in the winepress yielded sherds of two Late Hellenistic–Early Roman period storage jars (not illustrated).
Winepress F5 (map ref. 20039/62333; Fig. 30) comprised a treading floor with two depressions connected by a channel (L619, L621), and a square collecting vat (L617; c. 1.1 × 1.2 m, depth c. 1.6 m). The treading floor, not entirely preserved, bore some signs of rock-cutting. The collecting vat was uniformly coated with gray hydraulic plaster and paved with white industrial mosaic (Fig. 31). The soil in the vat contained sherds dating to the Late Roman–Early Byzantine period (third–fifth centuries CE), including kraters (Fig. 32:1, 2), a juglet base (Fig. 32:3) and a Beit Natif-style lamp fragment (Fig. 32:4). Based on the industrial mosaic and the pottery, the winepress was probably in use in the Late Roman period.
Area G was situated on a prominent ridge, east of Horbat Bet Natif. Previous excavations (Permit Nos. A-7317, A-7616) revealed settlement remains from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, as well as some finds from the Byzantine period. Two rock-cut winepresses, and some building remains and rock-cuttings were excavated.
Winepress G1 (map ref. 20055/62255; Fig. 33). A rock-cut winepress, with an irregularly shaped treading floor (L712; c. 0.45–0.60 × 2.75 m, depth c. 0.6 m) and a rectangular collecting vat with curved walls at the bottom (L711; c. 0.9 × 2.0 m, depth 0.64 m), was exposed below the surface vegetation. The pottery sherds retrieved in the vat included a cooking pot (similar to Fig. 7:2), two jars (similar to Fig. 4:4), and the base of a spindle-shaped bottle (similar to Fig. 37:10, see below), all dated to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.
Winepress G2 (map ref. 20055/62268; Fig. 34) comprised a square treading floor (L714; c. 2.20 × 2.55 m, depth c. 0.3 m), a rectangular filtration pit (L715; c. 0.35 × 0.50 m, depth 0.35 m) and an oval collecting vat (L716; c. 0.8 × 1.2 m, depth 0.7–0.8 m). The treading floor was connected to the filtration pit by a short channel, and a natural crack in the rock between the filtration pit and the collecting vat probably served as a linking channel. No datable finds were retrieved.
Building remains and rock-cuttings G3 (map ref. 20053/62248; Fig. 35). Three excavation squares were opened after wall tops were observed on the surface. The northern square revealed a wall (W15), a floor of small stones (L705) and a clay tabun (L707; B7019), that was probably installed on the floor that extended on the northern side of W15. Rock-cuttings in the two southern squares were oriented on a general east–west axis and a semicircular niche (0.2 × 0.5 m, depth 0.3 m) was hewn into the western wall of the rock-cutting (L704; Fig. 36). The pottery dated to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods (third–second centuries BCE to first century CE), and included cooking pots (Fig. 37:1, 2), jars (Fig. 37:3–8), a jug (Fig. 37:9) and spindle-shaped juglets (Fig. 37:10–12). Eight bronze coins were identified as a Seleucid coin (IAA 164534), six coins of Alexander Jannaeus (IAA Nos. 164527–164529; 164531–164533) and a coin of Agrippa I from 41/2 CE (IAA No. 164530).
The finds from the excavation indicate that the area to the east of Horbat Bet Natif was part of its agricultural hinterland in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The nine winepresses, featuring different pressing technologies that developed over time, indicate that viticulture and wine production were important activities in the area throughout these periods. Based on the finds, much activity took place in the Hellenistic (beginning in the third century BCE) and Early Roman periods, but the most intensive activity was probably in the Late Roman period, when the settlement of Bet Natif and its vicinity reached its peak. Winepress C2 should be attributed to the Late Roman period, the opulent mosaic treading floor indicating the presence of a farmstead or villa in the vicinity. Some finds dating from the Byzantine period were also discovered. In the Ottoman and British Mandate periods, the area was used for lime production, as well as for farming.