The excavation was conducted in the heart of the village’s ancient nucleus, c. 25 m north of the church and 10–30 m northeast of the northeastern tower of the Crusader castle (Castellum Regis, ‘the king’s castle; Fig. 1). Two houses built in the excavation area during the Ottoman period (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries CE) were demolished after 1950. The westerly of the two houses was reconstructed at the beginning of the twenty-first century, whereas the eastern house was completely destroyed at the beginning of the excavation. In 2007, an excavation was conducted west of the nearby church (Porat 2009); in 2017, another excavation was conducted at the site (License No. B-451/2017).
Two excavation areas were opened inside the plots of the Ottoman houses (170 sq m), the western area (B) in the plot of the restored western house, and the eastern area (A) in the plot of the destroyed eastern house. The excavation uncovered three settlement strata from the Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods and a cistern hewn no later than the Roman period, based on the finds. The excavation’s most important discovery was a large Crusader winery.
Roman Period. In Area A, a rock-cut cistern (depth 6 m, mouth diam. 2.4 m, base diam. 8 m) with a layer of mud at the bottom (thickness c. 0.2 m) devoid of finds was uncovered. This layer had accumulated in standing water, probably in the last phase of the cistern’s use in this period. It was overlain by a sealed layer of soil that yielded Roman pottery, mostly cooking pots and discus oil lamps. This layer was sealed by a pile of stones that was devoid of finds and that had evidently shattered the pottery in the cistern. A layer of mud devoid of finds had accumulated around the pile of stones; it was 0.6 m lower than the stone pile and resembled the layer at the bottom of the cistern, indicating that the cistern was filled with water for a long time but was not in use. The site was evidently abandoned for many years after the Roman period.
Crusader Period. In both excavation areas, the remains of a compound were uncovered, including two wings, one eastern (Area A) and one western (Area B), used as a wine factory. The area of the compound was leveled and paved with a layer of white mortar, only small patches of which were preserved. The compound had substantial curtain walls as well as internal walls. The compound’s northern wall (width 2.4 m) was part of the outer perimeter wall of the settlement and the King’s Castle in this period. The compound’s main entrance, set in the southeastern corner of the eastern wing, led northward to a flight of steps, which led down to a room that contained the cistern in its center (Fig. 2). The room’s western wall had a large entrance (width 2.5 m) that led to the western wing where treading floors were discovered (Fig. 3).
The stone pile and mud inside the cistern were overlain by a layer of loosely packed soil that yielded a few non-indicative potsherds, which had probably accumulated when the surrounding area was re-occupied at the beginning of the Crusader period. The loosely packed soil was overlain by two successive layers of stones and soil that yielded ceramic finds and coins from the twelfth century CE. This layer marks the beginning of the cistern’s use in the Crusader period; the cistern was apparently not cleaned out but was leveled c. 2 m above the bottom (4 m below the mouth of the cistern). In this phase, the cistern was probably used to hold jars of fermenting must (Khamisy 2020). Above these deposits was a thick destruction layer that contained coins and potsherds from the Crusader period (twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE). The compound was destroyed and rendered obsolete in this phase, probably due to the Mamluk conquest in 1266.
The winery’s construction was dated based on pottery from a sealed layer beneath the paving of the treading floors and by pottery and coins retrieved from a sealed layer inside the cistern. The pottery from beneath the treading floors’ paving includes fragments of glazed cooking pots dating from the tenth–twelfth centuries CE; however, since no Early Islamic remains were found throughout the entire excavation area or during previous excavations nearby and since the architectural style—including the masons’ marks—is attributed to the Crusader period, the treading floors and the entire winery should be dated to the twelfth century CE. This date corresponds to the finds in the sealed layer from the Crusader period inside the cistern. The remains from above the floors included thirteenth-century pottery and coins, among them cooking ware from Beirut and St. Symeon and proto-majolica bowls, attesting to the continued use of the compound in this period.
Mamluk Period. Four pillars were built on top of the Crusader winery’s treading floors and a vault (height 1.1 m; Fig. 4) was built over the cistern’s mouth to stabilize the area before leveling it. Above this building and the Crusader remains, a soil fill (thickness c. 1 m) was laid throughout the area containing the ruins of the Crusader building; the fill leveled the area to create a base for construction. The same fill also blocked the cistern. Two houses were built on top of this soil fill; their remains consist primarily of stone floors and walls, some of which incorporated parts of the Crusader walls (Fig. 4). The Mamluk building work severely damaged the Crusader architecture. The thick layer of fill in the area yielded abundant pieces of pottery, glass fragments, and coins; the pottery and numismatic finds date from the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE.
Ottoman Period. During this period, two houses were built in the two excavation areas (Fig. 5). Floors from the Mamluk period were used in their construction, but these were damaged in some places as a result of alterations and new building work. The houses’ walls were founded mainly on walls from the Crusader period that were also re-used in the Mamluk period. Numerous sherds of Rashaya el-Fukhar ware date this excavation layer. Modern finds post-dating the establishment of the State of Israel were also discovered on the floors, showing that the houses were still not completely destroyed when the state was established.
The current excavation uncovered the largest winery from the Crusader period known at present, which probably belonged to the lords of the place and indicates a monopoly (Khamisy 2020). Finds beneath the winery’s treading floors and from the cistern show that the winery was built in the twelfth century CE. Finds above the treading floors show that it also continued to be used in the thirteenth century, after the Mamluk conquest in 1266. These finds and the suggestion that the winery operated as a monopoly are compatible with document no. 128 of the Tabulae Ordinis Theutonici (‘Archives of the Teutonic Order’; Strehlke 1869) and many other documents from the Crusader period; these mention numerous vineyards in Mi‘ilya but not wineries. In the Mamluk period, the village became a regional administrative center. The winery was covered over, and two houses were built on top of it; in the Ottoman period, they served as a base for houses built above them. Although in the past, I suggested that there were no Crusader houses within a distance of at least 30–40 m from the castle (Khamisy 2013:46), the current excavation did discover houses from this period near the castle.