The excavation (25 × 30 m; Fig. 2) revealed a built and decorated tomb; installations, including an industrial winepress, pools and a cistern with two phases of use; a reservoir; and remains of a structure. All the remains are dated to the Byzantine period. Khirbat ‘Auda was surveyed in the past, revealing finds and sherds from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (Berman and Barda 2005: Site 88). A survey carried out in the early 1950s at the site of Rasm esh-Sha‘f, within the boundaries of Massu‘ot Yizhaq, documented a marble chancel screen decorated with Maltese crosses and vegetal designs and dated to the sixth–seventh centuries CE (Segal 2006: Fig. 9). An excavation carried out in 2001 at Massu‘ot Yizhaq (Fig. 1: A-3464) unearthed two discontinuous patches of mosaic floors and a built tomb with a vaulted roof, dated to the Byzantine period; the excavators posited that the mosaic floors were part of a monastery, and that the tomb was built in a crypt in a church (Segal 2006).
The Tomb (Fig. 3)
A tomb was unearthed at the northwestern edge of the excavation area. It comprises a small, almost square courtyard (L154; 1.00 × 1.25 m) and a rectangular burial chamber (2.7 × 3.5 m, depth 3.2 m). The tomb was dug into brown clayey soil, lined with small stones bonded with gray plaster, and coated with grayish plaster. An arched opening (0.5 × 0.6 m; Fig. 4) in the western wall of the courtyard led via three steps down into the burial chamber (Fig. 5). The opening was found blocked with a stone slab (0.6 × 0.7 m, thickness 0.22 m; Fig. 6); the side of the slab facing the interior of the tomb was incised with a cross. Two east–west burial troughs (L152, L153) were installed in the tomb. Between them was a narrow rectangular space (L151), separated from the troughs by low partition walls; the floor of the chamber was made of gray cement. The western wall of the burial chamber featured four different crosses and an inscription (Fig. 7). Three of the crosses were painted in red, along a horizontal line, and the fourth, uncolored cross was incised below them, apparently at a later stage. The central red cross was painted opposite the entrance and was surrounded by a wreath. Above the horizontal arms of the northern cross were the Greek letters alpha and omega. A Greek inscription left of the main cross reads “Year 559”. During the Byzantine period, two calendars were in use in the region—the Syrian and the Ashqelonian. Because the excavation site is near Ashqelon, it may be presumed that the date in the inscription followed the latter, which would translate into the year 455 CE (Meimaris 1992:66–67).
Poorly preserved skeletal remains of eight adults, all male, and one young child, were found in the burial troughs (Nagar, below). Despite the small sample, it may be concluded that this demographic distribution of ages and sexes does not conform to that found in cemeteries belonging to ancient settlements, but rather resembles that found in Byzantine monasteries, such as Khan el-Ahmar (Hershkovitz 1992). On Floor 151 was an imported LRS bowl (Fig. 8:1), dated to the first half of the sixth century CE (Hayes 1972: Fig. 69, Form 3f); in the northern trough (L152) were fragments of a glass bottle (Winter, below); and in the southern trough (L153) were a lid (Fig. 8:2), body fragments of a cooking pot (not drawn), a simple bronze ring (Fig. 8:3) and two bronze coins too worn to be identified.
Anthropological Finds from the Tomb
The human bones found in the tomb were broken and disintegrated to the touch, and some were damaged from colluvial drift and tree roots, impeding a full reconstruction of the anthropological data. Fieldwork focused on determining the number of interred individuals and assessing their age and sex. Epigenetic characteristics were also documented in addition to the genetic changes. The bones were examined at the excavation site and were then left in the tomb.
Northern Burial Trough (L152)
Calvarial (skull cap) bones, jawbones and postcranial bones were found in partial anatomical articulation that attested to disturbed primary burial. The individuals had been laid in a general east–west direction, with the head in the west. Because the various items could not be separated into distinct individuals, the bones were classified according to type and examined accordingly. They represent at least six adult males aged 20–25, 18–30, 25–35, >18, >30 and >50.
Calvaria. Six calvarial bones were found in the northern burial trough:
1. Skull of an adult individual. Medium brow ridges and a developed mastoid process are typical morphology of a male. The sutures on the inner surface of the calvaria were in the process of closing; however, they had not yet closed on the outer surface, which is typical of an individual aged 18–35 years (Hershkovitz et al. 1997).
2. Skull of an adult individual. The skull was distorted as a result of soil pressure. Nevertheless, the glabella was developed, indicating a male individual. The parietal bone was separated along the sutures, which is typical of an individual aged 18–30 years (Hershkovitz et al. 1997).
3. Fragment of frontal bone and parts of facial bones of an adult. The glabella and brow ridges are developed, which is typical morphology of a male; its age is unclear.
4. Fragment of frontal bone and parts of facial bones of an adult. The glabella is developed, which is typical morphology of a male. In the upper jawbone (left side), the first molar showed abrasion to the root; the second molar was worn to approximately half the crown height; the third molar was worn to the point of formation of a deep dentine cup in one of the cusps. The age, based on tooth wear, is estimated at >60 years (Hillson 1986).
5. Fragment of frontal bone of an adult. The glabella is developed, which is typical morphology of a male; its age is unclear.
6. Fragment of frontal bone. The bone was separated along the sutures, which is typical of an individual <35 years of age. The brow ridges are developed, which is typical morphology of a male.
Jaws. In the northern burial trough were remains of an upper jaw bone and three lower jaw bones:
1. Upper jaw. A right second premolar shows wear of over half the crown height. All the molars on the left were lost during the lifetime of the individual, and the bone had resorbed at that point. An abscess was also observed in the maxillary bone above the second premolar. The age assessment of the individual, based on tooth wear, was >50 years (Hillson 1986).
2. Lower jaw. The first molar showed wear to the point of formation of a dentine cup in one of the cusps; the second left molar had been lost during the lifetime of the individual, and the bone was resorbed at that point; the third molar showed slight exposure of the dentine in one of the cusps. The age assessment of the individual, based on tooth wear, was 25–35 years (Hillson 1986).
3. Lower jaw. The canine showed wear to the point of formation of a deep dentine cup; the first premolar showed wear to the point of formation of a deep dentine cup in one of the cusps; the right first molar had been lost during the lifetime of the individual, and the bone had resorbed at that point; the second molar showed wear to the point of formation of a dentine cup in all cusps; the third molar showed wear to the point of formation of a deep dentine cup in one of the cusps. The age assessment, based on tooth wear, was >50 years (Hillson 1986).
4. Lower jaw, front and right side. All the teeth were lost in the soil; however, the bone clearly belonged to an adult.
Postcranial bones. Four postcranial bones were found in the northern trough:
1. Sacrum of an adult. The epiphyseal ring of the S1 vertebra was fused; however, the vertebrae had not yet fused to each other—a finding characteristic of an individual 20–25 years of age.
2. Distal fragment of an arm bone (left side). The epicondylar width (c. 61 mm) is characteristic of a male (Bass 1987).
3. Fragment of an pelvis. The horizontal ridges in the symphysis joint were still clear and the epiphyseal ring was in the process of fusion (Phases II–III, according to Brooks and Suchey 1990)—a finding characteristic of an individual 25–35 years of age.
4. Left radius, showing a healed fracture on the distal quarter (Colle’s fracture).
Southern Burial Trough (L153)
The bones were scattered in the trough and poorly preserved. The original position of the interred could not be determined. Seven indicative bones were found, representing at least three individuals, among them a child of 3–4 years, and two adults aged 18–40 and >40 years. At least one of the adults was a male.
1. Fragment of frontal bone of an adult. Medium brow ridges; probably male.
2. Fragment of frontal bone of an adult. Medium-sized glabella; sex identification unclear.
3. Fragment of upper jaw (right side). The premolar showed a very slight exposure of dentine on one of the cusps; the first molar showed exposure of dentine on one of the cusps; the second molar had a closed root; the third molar was lost in the soil, however it had apparently erupted. The age assessment, based on the tooth wear, was 18–40 years (Hillson 1986).
4. Lower jaw. All the molars on the left side were lost during the lifetime of the individual, and the bone had resorbed. The first right premolar showed wear to half the crown height. The age assessment, based on the tooth wear, was >40 years (Hillson 1986).
5. Lower jaw, fragment of left site. All the teeth were lost in the soil, but the third molar had erupted. The age assessment, based on the tooth eruption, was >40 years (Hillson 1986).
6. Four proximal fragments of a radius. The epiphyses were fused, indicating there were at least two adults in this locus (Johnston and Zimmer 1989).
7. Bones of a child, including a fragment of an unidentified lower long bone, a lower limb phalange without epiphyses and a tooth. The tooth was identified as an upper first molar at the developmental stage of a complete crown, characteristic of a child aged 3–4 years (Hillson 1986).
Reservoir (Fig. 3)
A circular reservoir (L155; diam. 3.6 m) was found near the tomb on the south; its walls were built of small unworked stones bonded with cement and coated with gray plaster. The reservoir was not excavated, and its depth is therefore unknown.
Installations (Figs. 9–12)
Early phase (Fig. 10, 12). A winepress was uncovered whose walls were built of small unworked stones bonded with cement and plastered inside and out. The winepress had a rectangular treading surface (L115; 3.8 × 4.5 m), a filtration vat (L137; 0.5 × 1.8 m, depth 0.75 m) and a collecting vat (L131; 2.0 × 2.4 m, depth 1.65 m), which are connected by two channels. The treading floor was paved with white mosaic and enclosed by low walls (width c. 1 m). The center of the treading floor was decorated with a cross enclosed by three circles (diam. 1.5 m; Fig. 13). The bedding of the treading floor was made of a layer of cement, which was laid on a fill of stones bonded by mortar (L150; thickness 0.15 m). The filtration and the collecting vats were built in a terraced manner and were coated with thick gray plaster; a circular sump was cut into their floors to collect the dregs from the must.
Two pools (L126, L128) and a trough (L129), plastered with gray hydraulic plaster, were built alongside the collecting and filtration vats (Figs. 14, 15). The pools were built on a slope slanting from north to south and were connected by a channel. In the southern wall of Pool 126, a clay pipe was installed that led to an ovoid cistern (L130; diam. c. 2 m, exposed depth 1 m) with a square opening (0.7 × 0.7 m). The cistern was built on a lower elevation than the pools. Its upper part protruded above the surface and its lower part was dug into the earth. The walls of the cistern were meticulously built of gray concrete with small stones. The presence of pools next to a winepress is unknown elsewhere; it may be posited that in summer they were used in the wine-production process, while in winter they helped collect rainwater, augmenting the water supply.
The late phase (Figs. 11, 12, 14, 15). The winepress underwent extensive changes and was expanded northward and southward in this phase. The size of the treading floor did not change, but a rectangular filtration vat (L120; 0.6 × 2.0 m, depth 0.74 m) was built north of the treading floor, and a large square collecting vat (L121; 3 × 3 m, depth 1.5 m) was added on a lower level. A stone channel connected the treading floor to filtration Vat 120, and a lead pipe connected Vat 120 to collecting Vat 121. The opening of the pipe was incorporated into a semicircular niche in the southern wall of the collecting vat. Both vats were meticulously built of small unworked stones bonded with cement and coated with light gray plaster; their floors were paved with white mosaic. A round settling pit was incorporated into the northern side of the mosaic floor of the filtration vat. A round settling pit (diam. 0.7 m, depth 0.5 m) was set into the center of the mosaic floor of the collecting vat, and a ceramic bowl (diam. 0.12 m) was set into it. The upper parts of the walls of the collecting vat were covered with mosaic, and two niches were installed in its western part. A lid was probably placed above the flooring and the niches, closing the vat so the must could ferment. A plastered rectangular vat (L119; 0.3 × 0.5 m, depth 0.8 m) was built alongside the filtration vat; based on its dimensions, it may have been used to store the marl that was added to the must.
South of the treading floor two symmetrical secondary floors were built (L116, L133; 2.45 × 5.50 m), obviating the use of the pools and the trough from the early phase. The floors were paved with mosaic and in the center of each, a square collecting vat (L118, L125) was set. The purpose of the two secondary treading floors was to augment the production of the must. The cistern continued in use in the later phase as well. A new limestone floor (L138) was installed around it, and a pool (L139; 1.0 × 1.2 m, depth 0.75 m) and a trough (L141; 0.75 × 1.20 m, depth 0.4 m; Fig. 10: Section 1–1) were built.
Structure (Fig. 11)
Remains of a large structure (Rooms 1–5) that extended beyond the boundaries of the excavation were uncovered near the winepress, north and west of it. The structure, in which two phases of use were discerned, was preserved to the height of the foundations, which were built of kurkar and limestone fieldstones. Rooms 1–4 were built in the earlier phase, and in the later phase, Room 4 was refurbished and Room 5 was built. Room 1 was enclosed by three walls (W108, W146, W147); the room’s floor (L148) was made of smoothed stones. Of Room 2 only the southwestern corner (W108, W145) was unearthed. Room 3 revealed the remains of the northern wall (W147), the southern wall (W143) and a plaster floor (L149), which was partly preserved. In Room 4 only the eastern wall (W107) and western wall (W124) were preserved. Later, probably in the later phase of the winepress, when the secondary treading floors were added, W107 was thickened and a partition wall (W142) was built, replacing W124. Wall 142 delimited Room 5 on the east, and the northern wall was repaired and continued in use in the later phase (W143). In Room 4, grayish soil was found together with fragments of plaster, which were probably preserved from the floor of the room (L135). Another plaster floor (L144), uncovered in the northeastern corner of Room 5, was attributed to the later phase of the structure’s use. A large quantity of Gaza Ware jars was found in Rooms 4 and 5 and throughout the site. Rooms 4 and 5, which were near the winepress, were part of a wine jar storehouse.
The finds from the winepress and the nearby structures include two coins found on the surface and dated to the fourth century CE, glass shards (Winter, see below) and pottery dated to the Byzantine period (fifth–sixth centuries CE). The pottery assemblage includes imported LRC bowls (Figs. 16:1–6), large FBW bowls (Figs. 16:7–8), including a bowl with an incised floral and faunal decoration (Fig, 16:7), kraters (Fig. 16:9–12), a krater with handles (Fig. 16:13), a pithos (Fig. 16:14), Gaza Ware jars (Fig. 16:15, 16), bag-shaped jars (Fig. 16:17), jugs (Fig. 16:18, 19) and a juglet (Fig. 16:20).
The Glass Finds
Most of the roughly 70 glass finds recovered during the excavation were discovered in the winepress. The fragments, about half of which are diagnostic, date mostly from the Byzantine period, with three pieces (from L101 and L109) characteristic of the fourth century CE, and several modern-day fragments (from L102 and L136). The finds are made of several shades of green and greenish blue glass and bear various degrees of weathering and iridescence. Some of the vessels were mended, but none are complete.
The diagnostic Byzantine-period assemblage comprises wineglasses (Fig. 17:1) and vessels with a slightly concave or pushed-in bottom (Fig. 17:2–8), as well as a rim and a bottom of bottles recovered in Burial Trough 152 in the tomb (not illustrated).
Wineglass (Fig. 17:1). The wineglass rim presented here is adorned with a thin blue trail wound and fused-in on and below the rim. Wineglasses were widespread in Syria-Palestine and the eastern Mediterranean basin during the fifth–seventh centuries CE. Specimens adorned with a trail decoration discovered in southern Israel include examples from nearby Zerahya, south of Qiryat Mal’akhi (Katsnelson 2013: Fig. 17:1), and Ashqelon (e.g., Katsnelson 1999:70*–71*, Fig. 2:9–11).
Vessels with a Slightly Concave or Pushed-In Bottom (Fig. 17:2–8). The rounded rims (Fig. 17:2, 3) measure about 50 mm in diameter, and the bottoms (Fig. 17:4–8) are 30–50 mm in diameter. The bottoms may have supported beakers or bottles with rounded rims, possibly like those in Fig. 17:2, 3, which were recovered from the same basket; the rim illustrated in Fig. 17:2 may have belonged to the bottom in Fig. 17:4, while the rim illustrated in Fig. 17:3 may have belonged to one of the bottoms in Figs. 17:6, 7.
These vessels may have also served as beaker-shaped lamps, of a type that was in use in the region during the late Byzantine–Umayyad periods. Several such vessels, labeled “tumbler-shaped lamps”, were excavated near the Church of St. Theodore at Gerasa-Jerash (Baur 1938:521–523, Figs. 17:8, 9; 19:10). Bottoms of this type of beaker-shaped lamps were discovered in the northern Negev, for example, in the monastery that functioned in the late sixth–seventh centuries CE at the site of Nahal Pehar (Giva‘ot Bar; Paran 2009 and Permit No. A-5960), and in a refuse pile dated to the Byzantine–Umayyad periods near the cemetery church at Horbat Karkur ‘Illit (Katsnelson 2004:278–281, Fig. 62:27, 28). Beaker-shaped lamps with a pushed-in bottom were uncovered in other parts of the country as well, for example, in and around Jerusalem and at Bet She’an (Winter 2019:57–58, Type LBEpib).
Most of the glass finds from the excavation are associated with the Byzantine period, particularly the sixth–seventh centuries CE, coinciding with the excavator’s dating of the winepress complex and the vaulted tomb. The glass corpus comprises mostly beakers and bottles. This selection of vessels is uncharacteristic: a typical Byzantine-period assemblage would have included a rather large number of wineglasses, whereas this assemblage includes only three such fragments (e.g., Fig. 17:1), as well as lamps and windowpanes, of which none were documented in the excavation. Furthermore, all but two of the glass finds were recovered in the winepress complex. A rather large quantity of vessels with a concave or pushed-in bottom (Fig. 17:2–8, and at least one more) was found in an accumulation in a room (L136) to the north of the winepress’ collecting vat (L121). It seems that these Byzantine-period vessels, found in the same locus with modern-day fragments, were not used at the winepress, but probably accumulated there with earth from elsewhere.
The incorporation of the cross, an obvious Christian symbol, both at the winepress treading floor and the tomb, may show that the installations, the nearby structure and the tomb were part of a monastery complex. The decoration of structures and installations that are not cultic with crosses indicates their association with a church or a monastery (Hirschfeld 1992:109); this was a common practice in winepresses and cisterns in monasteries in the Judean Desert (Hirschfeld 1992:152–156).
The inscription found in the tomb dates its construction to the beginning of the sixth century CE. The installations and the monastery had already been in operation at that time or somewhat earlier. The date also conforms to the pottery and glass finds discovered at the site. The human skeletal remains, which all belonged to males more or less of the same age group, underscore the assumption that the structure was a monastery. The tomb was in use at the same time as both phases of the winepress, and its construction style was common in the region in the Byzantine period both at settlement sites and cultic structures (Huster and Sion 2006). The tombs were identical to those found in the crypt of the nearby church at Massu’ot Yizhaq (Segal 2006) and near the monastery at Khirbat Jemameh (Gophna and Feig 1993).
The discovery of a winepress in this area is not surprising given that wine production was key to the region’s economy in that period, and the winepress unearthed here shows that the inhabitants took part in the production. The extensiveness of the wine industry manifests itself in the numerous industrial winepresses discovered at Ashqelon and its vicinity (Huster et al. 2015:53, Fig. 2.12). Enormous quantities of wine were exported throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe via the port of Ashqelon (Johnson and Stager 1995). The plan of the winepresses in both phases of use consisted of a treading floor associated with a settling pit at a lower level and, below it, a large collecting vat—all aligned. This plan is not typical of winepresses in this country; however, parallels have been found in monasteries in Sinai. The monasteries were built in the wake of the spread of the monastic movement from Egypt, reaching Sinai and Palestine (Dahari 2000:162, Pls. 28, 34, 46). Thus, it may be proposed that the plan of the winepress shows that Sinai was the origin of the monks who established the monastery and the winepress at Khirbat ‘Auda.