Numerous surveys and excavations were conducted in and around the tell (for a comprehensive review, see Taxel 2005; Fischer and Taxel 2007; Kletter and Nagar 2015; Nadav-Ziv at al. 2022). In 2010–2011, an excavation conducted east of the tell uncovered the remains of an extensive complex of Byzantine period buildings and an industrial pottery workshop (Yannai 2014). From 2019 until December 2021, large-scale excavations were undertaken to the east and southeast of the tell (Areas A, B, C, G; Haddad et al. 2021; Nadav-Ziv et al. 2021). Since 2021 another ongoing extensive excavation is being conducted to the east and south of the tell (Areas D, H, J, L, M1, M2; Varga, Betzer and Weingarten 2022).
In Area H, 55 squares were excavated (Fig. 2), revealing Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron Age II, Early Roman, Middle Roman, and Byzantine period (Phases 1–3) settlement remains. The Middle and Late Bronze Age remains will be published separately (Betzer et al. 2023).
Iron Age II (Fig. 3)
The excavation uncovered Iron Age IIB–C (eighth–seventh centuries BCE) settlement remains and burials. Most remains were found in a hamra soil layer, which characterizes the site in this period and covered the kurkar bedrock. The hamra layer yielded Iron Age II pottery throughout the entire excavation area.
Remains of a round pottery-production kiln (L50434; diam. c. 2 m; Fig. 4) were discovered in the western part of the area. Only the firing-chamber floor was preserved (max. preserved height 0.2 m). The kiln was dated to Iron Age IIB–C based on potsherds found nearby. The kiln was situated between two graves covered with pottery lids (L50460, L50526; see below), and it may actually have been built to produce lids of this type.
Tamped earthen floor segments were uncovered throughout the excavation area (L50228, L50236, L50289, L50298, L50319, L50489). An oval tabun (L50305) was incorporated in Floor 50398. The south of the area contained an east–west wall foundation (W50414) built of small fieldstones, abutted on the north and south by two earthen floors (L50366, L50387). A plain pit grave with a stone marker on it (L50542; see below) was found to the south, on a level lower than the earthen floor. The earthen floor yielded Iron Age IIB–C finds, including potsherds, animal bones, olive pits and a few stone tools.
Graves. Twelve graves were revealed in the excavation area. All were single graves of adult individuals; some were disturbed by construction in a later period. Four grave types were identified (1–4): stone-built cist grave, brick-built cist grave, pit grave covered with a pottery lid, and plain pit grave.
(1) A stone-built cist grave: An east–west cist grave of limestone ashlars covered with large dressed rectangular stones was found in the southeast part of the area (L50529; Fig. 5). Its western side was not preserved. Dating the grave is difficult, since it contained only a few non-identifiable human bones with no other find. It probably pre-dates the Early Roman period, as it was cut by an Early Roman period wall (W50607).
(2) A brick-built cist grave: An east–west cist grave built of gray mud bricks was uncovered in the southeast part of the area (W50573; c. 1.3 × 2.5 m, height at least 0.4 m; Fig. 6). Its shorter sides were built of a single row (width 0.4 m) of square mud bricks (c. 0.4 × 0.4 m), while the longer sides were built of two rows (width 0.4 m) of rectangular mud bricks (c. 0.2 × 0.4 m). The grave was found robbed and its cover was missing, but brick fragments found in the rubble at its eastern end suggest that it was originally covered by bricks. The grave contained a single male individual, who lay in a supine position with the arms placed on the chest, the head on the east side and the face toward the south. The grave yielded a burnt vessel base that served as an oil lamp, as well as jar and bowl fragments dated to Iron Age IIB–C. The grave’s southern end was cut into by the Roman period wall (W50607), which left the grave’s square mud bricks scattered in the rubble.
(3) Two pit graves covered with pottery lids (L50460, L50526; 0.75 × 2.00 m; Figs. 7–9): The graves were simple, shallow pit graves, apparently dug into the hamra soil, and then filled with sand. Barrel-shaped pottery lids fired at a low temperature covered the graves; the lids were probably fired in the nearby kiln (L50434). Each grave lid was composed of two joined parts. The eastern part fitted the width of the shoulders and was therefore wider than the western part covering the legs. Each of the graves contained a male individual placed in a supine position with the head in the east; the feet of both individuals were not found. Grave goods were found near the east side of both graves. The graves were covered with a sandy mound.
Grave 50460 (Figs. 7, 8) was dug into a sand layer and reached down to the kurkar bedrock. The kurkar was leveled at the bottom of the grave. A step hewn in the kurkar rock led westward to a leveled rock surface, upon which the burial of a horse’s head was found (L50475; below). The interred individual was placed in a supine position, his arms extended along the body’s sides. Above the head, the lid had a hole, probably symbolizing an outlet for the soul. The deceased was identified as a warrior, as an iron artifact resembling a mace head was found beside his left arm. The grave goods found to the east of the grave were placed on two levels. On the grave’s level were a jar with a bowl on top of it, S-shaped bowls, and oil lamps. On a higher level, one or more jars were placed on the sandy mound covering the grave, probably to mark the burial location. All the pottery assemblage dates from the seventh century BCE. A severed horse head and some vertebrae (L50475) were found buried 2.5 m west of this grave, placed on leveled rock. The two graves may be part of a single burial complex intended for a warrior and his horse. Another pit grave (L50482; below) found west of the equine remains may belong to the same burial complex.
Grave 50526 (Fig. 9) contained two parts of a lid with a combed decoration. The deceased was placed in a supine position, with his right arm stretched along the body’s side and his left arm folded toward the stomach. A bead fragment made of organic material was found on the skeleton. The grave goods placed east of the grave include a jar and bowls, dated to the end of the eighth and the seventh centuries BCE. The lid’s eastern part was partly broken off. As a result, this lid fragment had been pushed into the grave and damaged the skeleton’s upper left side. A fill of sand, small stones and potsherds covered the grave, which differed from the sterile sand that originally covered the grave. It thus seems that the grave was opened shortly after the burial, possibly to rob a weapon similar to that discovered on the individual buried in Grave 50460; the robber may have broken the lid’s eastern part. To hide the theft, the grave was covered with the new fill.
(4) Eight simple pit graves: The graves were dug into the ground, mostly on an east–west axis. Only four were preserved (L50315, L50477, L50482, L50542); the others were severely disturbed. Grave 50315 contained a male individual without feet placed in a supine position, with the arms extended along the body’s sides. Grave goods found east of the head included an oil lamp and a jar. Grave 50542 contained a female individual without feet placed in a supine position, with the arms bent toward the hips. A limestone grave marker was placed above its south side. While no grave goods were discovered next to it, Iron Age IIB–C potsherds were found on the same level as the grave marker; probably, these were originally grave goods. Graves 50477 and 50482 were the only ones dug on a north–south axis with the head in the south. In Grave 50482, near the equine burial, a female individual with no feet was interred in a supine position, and with the arms extended beside the body. A few Iron Age IIB–C potsherds were found next to the grave. Construction of a later Roman period wall (W50607) disturbed Grave 50477 such that only an adult individual’s legs were unearthed, facing northward. A complete Iron Age IIB–C jar was found beside the grave. As the burials were severely disturbed the individual’s position and gender could not be identified, and ceramic finds were not always discovered in context.
The stone-built cist grave may post-date the Iron Age. The other graves are similar in style, depth and alignment, and do not intrude upon one another, so they are probably contemporaneous and part of the same burial ground. The cemetery is dated to Iron Age IIB–C, based on pottery found beside some of the graves.
Early Roman Period (first century BCE–first century CE) (Fig. 3)
The excavation uncovered a wall (W50607), a crushed limestone floor (L50231), three refuse pits (L50204, L50470, L50484) and collapsed stones in the eastern area, all found beneath a Middle Roman installation (below).
Wall 50607 (excavated length c. 28 m, max. preserved height 1.3 m) was built of fieldstones and set into the sand layer above the hamra soil. Aligned north–south, it continued northward, beyond the excavation limits. It is attributed to the Early Roman period, since it was cut into by a wall (W50368) associated with the Middle Roman installation. Analysis of the pottery from loci abutting and underlying the wall will provide more precise dating. Perhaps this was a retaining wall built to stabilize the earth to its east. Another possibility—based on the rubble found beneath the Middle Roman installation—is that the wall was a foundation belonging to an earlier installation, which was destroyed when the Middle Roman installation and a nearby building were constructed.
A limestone floor (L50231) was partially uncovered with no associated architectural remains.
The three refuse pits were found beneath the Middle Roman-period building. Pit 50204 yielded Hellenistic-period pottery, including a stamped amphora handle, and a lead sling bullet bearing an inscription (Ustinova, Betzer and Varga 2022). Pit 50470 yielded abundant Early Roman pottery and a stone measuring cup handle. Pit 50484 yielded multiple animal bones along with Early Roman pottery.
Middle Roman Period (first–third centuries CE) (Fig. 10)
The remains comprised a large building along with an installation to its east. The installation was probably water-related and functioned simultaneously with the building. Two phases of use were identified.
Building (Fig. 11; exceeding 315 sq m). The building was founded on a sand layer accumulated on top of the hamra soil. Some of its foundations penetrated the hamra soil layer that characterized this region’s Iron Age landscape. Its construction conformed to the west–east slope on which it was built. The building’s walls were built of roughly dressed kurkar stones and small fieldstones, mostly preserved to the foundations’ height (0.5 m). A courtyard (11) was uncovered in the building with a series of rooms to its south (1–10).
A rectangular structure (12.5 × 15.1 m) with at least seven rooms (1–6, 9) and Courtyard 11 (at least 40 sq m) is attributed to the early phase. A tamped earthen floor (L50240, L50350) was partially preserved in the south and east of the courtyard. The floor abutted the building’s northern wall (W50302), which delimited the courtyard on the south. Most of the building’s rooms also contained tamped earthen floors abutting the walls; some were only fragmentarily preserved due to repairs made in the later phase. A habitation level (L50239) found west of Room 1 suggests that the building continued westward. A tabun was incorporated in the floor of Room 6 (L50170; see Fig. 4). In this phase, the building appears to have extended southward as far as W50306; no rooms south of Rooms 6 and 9 have been discovered. Habitation levels of compacted earth and white limestone (L50181, L50260) south of W50306 may be part of an open courtyard to the south of the building. Two tabuns (L50304, L50412) were incorporated in Floor 50260.
The later phase saw extensive building repairs in the building, including extending its length to 27 m and adding rooms (7, 8 and 10), rebuilding walls and floors, and adding new tabuns. A kurkar-fieldstone floor laid in Courtyard 11, where a clay tabun (L50193) was installed, was surrounded by a stone wall. In this phase as well, most rooms had tamped earthen floors abutting the walls. Room 1 was diminished in size, with a tabun (L50084) surrounded by a stone wall. A clay tabun abutted by a tamped earthen floor (L50239) discovered west of the room suggests that the building extended westward, beyond the excavation limits. In Room 6, a floor of irregularly shaped kurkar slabs (L50223; Fig. 12) abutted the room’s northern and southern walls; it canceled the earlier phase tabun (L50170). A new wall (W50177) uncovered in this room incorporated two bases that may have supported pillars. Room 8’s construction in this phase damaged the Iron Age II kiln. In the north of this room, a bedding of small stones (L50221) was probably originally covered by a plaster floor. In Room 10, also built in this phase, part of a floor of irregularly shaped kurkar slabs (L50224) was set on a bedding of soil and small stones (L50162).
The building appears to have been abandoned in an orderly manner during the second or third century CE. Its walls were dismantled during the Byzantine period, probably during the fifth-century CE construction of a series of winepresses and storerooms that belong to a winery located c. 15 m west of the current site (Area G).
Installation (Fig. 13). The installation built immediately to the east of the building was rectangular in plan and surrounded by four walls. It had two thick plaster floors, attributed to the two phases of its use (Fig. 14). A small part of a plastered pool, probably used only in the installation’s early phase, was uncovered immediately to the west of the installation.
The rectangular installation (4.5 × 5.5 m) attributed to the earlier phase was bounded by four walls (W50383, W50384, W50574, W50575) built of two rows of fieldstones. The installation was founded on a fill of gray soil that leveled the slope’s west–east gradient and covered the collapsed stones of the early phase. This raised its surface level to be even with the building to its west. The installation contained a thick white hydraulic plaster floor (L50343) laid on a bedding of fieldstones and small pebbles. Adjacent to the northern wall was an east–west channel coated with white hydraulic plaster (L50406), of which only a short, partially collapsed section was preserved. Approximately 2 m west of the installation was a north–south wall (W50368) built of small fieldstones bonded with plaster and preserved to a height of c. 0.8 m. This wall’s western face was plastered; it probably served as the eastern enclosing wall of a stepped pool—now largely destroyed—which was dug into the sand layer above the hamra soil. A wall segment (W50606) perpendicular to W50368 probably divided the pool into two. To the west of W50368 was the edge of a white hydraulic plaster floor (L50608). Both this plaster and that on the wall are identical to the hydraulic plaster coating the installation’s floor (L50343). Nevertheless, the relationship between the installation and the pool is not clear.
In the later phase, the installation was enlarged (6.0 × 6.8 m) by building three new walls (W50218, W50258, W50385). The wall’s construction is similar in both phases. Only a single earlier wall (W50574) continued to be used in this phase. A new gray hydraulic plaster floor was laid (L50210) with embedded large pottery fragments. The floor’s bedding was made of a fieldstone layer set on the earlier floor. The installation’s enlargement apparently made the plastered pool obsolete. Potsherds, glass shards, animal bones and coins found on the installation floor represent its later phase of use. The pottery assemblage includes bowls, cooking pots, jars and lamps. This differs from the uniform pottery assemblage found in the building, which comprises mostly jar fragments.
Byzantine Period (fifth–seventh centuries CE) (Fig. 10)
Phase 1. A north–south wall (W50250) in the south of the area is attributed to the earliest phase, built of fieldstones bonded in plaster; preserved to the height of c. 1 m. A limekiln built in Phase 2 cut the wall’s northern end, and its southern end was found in nearby Area G beneath an Umayyad-period warehouse wall. Built sloping from east to west, it may be a retaining wall to prevent soil erosion, and it may relate to the nearby winepress complex to its west. Pottery from the soil fills abutting it (L50248, L50267) and a fifth-century CE limekiln (below) that cut into its northern side point to the wall’s construction in the Early Byzantine period.
Phase 2 (Fig. 15). A round limekiln (L50322) dug into gray soil and hamra soil and lined with fieldstones was attributed to the middle phase. Burnt stones, a marble fragment, potsherds and a layer of lime from its final firing lay on the kiln’s floor. A limestone floor (L50379) serving as the kiln’s operating level abutted its eastern side. Pottery from the bottom part of the kiln dates its operation to the fifth century CE. The kiln went out of use in the sixth or seventh century CE, when it became a refuse pit (L50317; see below).
The northern part of the area yielded sparse, fragmented patches of a white mosaic floor and of its bedding of lime and small stones (L50085). The floor shared the same elevation as the floor abutting the limekiln, indicating that it should be attributed to this phase.
Phase 3. In the last phase Area H became a refuse disposal area, as it lay to the outside the town’s functional area—to its west, beyond the winery. Huge quantities of storage jar fragments were found throughout the entire excavation area. These were manufactured in the nearby pottery kilns (Yannai 2014), produced to hold the wine made in the neighboring winery’s industrial winepresses (Viezel and Torge 2022; Seligman, Haddad and Nadav-Ziv 2022). Gaza Ware jars (fifth–early seventh centuries CE) are almost the only jar type found in the area (Tsuf 2022).
The Area H remains attest to daily life and industrial processes from the Middle Bronze Age to the Byzantine period on the outskirts of the city of Yavne. The Middle Bronze Age pottery kilns testify to a long-standing tradition of pottery production in the east part of the city. This tradition continued into the Iron Age, when the area was also used for burial. Although the study of the burials in this area is in its preliminary stages, some burial styles suggest an Assyrian origin for the interred individuals (Haller 1954: Figs. 14, 16). Roman-period architectural remains and finds also attest to the area’s industrial nature at that time. In the Byzantine period, with the construction of the winery in Area G, Area H lay beyond the city limits, and its earlier remains were covered with huge quantities of industrial waste.