Report – 2008 Excavation Season

Beit Lehi (Horbat Beit Loya)—The 2008 Excavation Seasons

Oren Gutfeld and Michal Haber

The Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The fourth and fifth excavation seasons at Beit Lehi (Horbat Beit Loya), grid ref. 1433/1080 (IAA permit G-28/2008), were carried out in May and October–November of 2008. The excavations were directed on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Oren Gutfeld and Yakov Kalman (co-director and Area M supervisor), with the participation of Michal Haber (Area M supervisor), Avner Ecker and Ben Gordon (Area B supervisors), Pablo Betzer (Area P supervisor), Shmulik Freilich (logistics), Anna Iamim (surveyor), Barbara Johnson (pottery), Miriam Lavie (conservation), volunteers from the United States, students from the Hebrew University, and workers from the village of Hares in Judea. The excavation was sponsored by the Beit Lehi Foundation of Utah, United States, with the assistance of Glenn Kimber, Alan Rudd, and Gary Rudd. Valuable assistance was given by the Israel Antiquity Authorities (IAA), especially by Gideon Avni, director of Excavations and Surveys, Yigael Israel, regional supervisor, and Jack Nagar, director of mosaics conservation.

Alongside the excavations, we continued to document surface remains as well as locating new subterranean complexes. In addition, the conservation unit of the IAA, under Nagar, undertook a conservation survey of the mosaic floor of the Byzantine church as part of our preservation initiative at the site.

The 2008 excavations were carried out in the following three areas:

1. Upper Area B: above the olive press and ritual bath subterranean complex
The purpose of the excavations in this area was to fully expose the remains found to the west of the entrance to the oil press by expanding the 2007 excavation area southward; and to open new squares south and east of the oil press entrance in order to trace the continuation of walls uncovered in previous seasons. The ultimate goal in this area is to locate the original upper entrance of the olive press and, as in the other excavation areas, to better understand the general stratigraphy through further exposure of surface remains (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1. Area B, architectural remains to the west of the entrance to the
subterranean oil press and ritual bath complex, looking west.

Excavation of the area was carried out in three continuous areas (Fig. 2). First, an area measuring approximately 7 × 8 m (Squares L-17 and L-18) was excavated, constituting the southward extension of the 2007 excavation area. Bedrock was reached in this area. Second, an area to the south (Square M-18) was excavated, following the clearance of the dump pile from the oil press, carried out by a tractor during the second week of excavations in May. Third, another square was opened to the east to the upper entrance of the olive press, where a few “clean” Hellenistic-period (second and first centuries BCE) loci (smaller excavation units) had been found (Fig. 3). On the surface of this area a Mamluk (thirteenth to fifteen centuries CE) bread stamp was found (Fig. 4).


Fig. 2. Area B at the end of the October–November season, looking east.

Fig. 3. Avner holding a Hellenistic unguent aria found in Area A. This vessel type was
used for perfume and precious oils.

Fig. 4. A Mamluk bread stamp with an undeciphered Arabic inscription found in Area B.

Preliminary analysis of the data suggests that the remains exposed in Area B can be divided into two phases: late Hellenistic and Mamluk. In the first phase, a large structure or a number of structures stood to the south of the subterranean oil press, perhaps part of the oil press complex. There may have been two Hellenistic-period construction phases in Square M-18, or perhaps this was a structure with an outer encasing, the nature of which is unclear. Further excavation is required. Perhaps the structure was related to the operation of the oil press itself, containing storerooms or additional workrooms.

Following the end of this phase, this area appears to have been subsequently abandoned until the Mamluk period. While at this stage this is a tentative conclusion, it helps in understanding the general stratigraphy of at least the western reaches of the site, and also implies that the Byzantine-period monastic village and impressive church exposed on the eastern part of the site did not extend to the western slopes of the hill.

The second, Mamluk phase seems to comprise two sub-phases. In the first sub-phase, a quadrangular structure perhaps divided by a ceiling arch was erected over a crushed lime layer that covered the remains of the early, Hellenistic phase. In the second sub-phase, flimsy walls built of soft limestone were incorporated into the structure. They are oriented with the domestic remains found in 2007 (the small oil crushing installations and the tabun (oven)), but the nature of the structure itself remains uncertain. These two late sub-phases both appear to reflect a domestic occupational phase, likely part of the simple agricultural village whose remains spread over the entire hill.

2. Area P: The village ruins
Area P is situated at the summit of the site, about 200 m east of the Byzantine church and 50 m west of Area B. Various structures comprised of both fieldstones and ashlars (finely hewn stones) were discovered in this area, dating to the Hellenistic, Early Roman (first centuries BCE and CE), Byzantine (fourth to seventh centuries CE), and Islamic (seventh to sixteenth century CE) periods. This year, our two main goals in the area were to further understand the stratigraphy of the massive public building uncovered in 2007 in the southern part of the area, as well as to complete our stratigraphic knowledge of the area before its expansion.

The Northern Room
Three construction phases, all dating to the Islamic period, have thus far been identified in the expansion of Area P, north of the above-mentioned public building. The remains include massive fieldstone walls and domestic installations such as an oil press and tabun (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Area P, the Northern Room, looking northwest.

The Arch Room
An Early Roman-period stratum was discovered in the southern part of the area, containing the remains of a public building that has yet to be entirely excavated. A thick conflagration layer was found underneath this layer, sealing the Hellenistic-period stratum, similar to the stratigraphy of the neighboring site of Maresha. The conflagration layer yielded numerous Hellenistic finds that support the layer’s dating and may well have been the result of John Hyrcanus’ military campaign in the area in the late second century BCE. Such archaeological data does much to extend our knowledge of the demographic changes that took place in the region during this time, and it would seem that from this time on, Jews settled in the area in significant numbers.

Fig. 6. Area P, the Arch Room, looking west.

The Western room
Alongside the step walls uncovered in the previous season four wide walls were uncovered in the western part of Area P, comprising a massive structure of some sort dating to the Hellenistic or Early Roman period. While it is too early to understand the structure’s plan or function, it is clear that its size points to either a public building or a fortification (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Area P, massive walls in the western room, looking west

During an excavation in an area where the floor had not been preserved, a capital fragment and a drum column were found. The use of such ornamentation supports our belief that a public building stood here. Pottery and a coin dating from the Early Roman period were found in the earthen fills from this area.

Fig. 8. A capital fragment found in Area P.

3. Area M: the entrance to the columbarium
Excavation continued in the passageway descending into the columbarium, exposing seven roughly hewn steps and yielding mainly Late Islamic pottery (Fig. 9). Work was also carried out in the entrance room, revealing that at one point it was in fact physically separate from the columbarium itself, and served as an oil press (Fig. 10). At some point, the floor collapsed, which was what had erroneously led us to believe that it and the columbarium were one unit.

Fig. 9. Area M, the stepped passage descending into the columbarium.

Fig. 10. Area M, work in the entrance room of the columbarium, which is now
known to have been physically separate from the columbarium itself.

4. Upper Area M: the expanded excavation area above the main entrance to the columbarium
In the Spring 2007 season, attempts were made to locate from above-ground the main entrance of the columbarium (which had been sealed by large stone slabs and an arch from inside) and/or the columbarium shafts in order to facilitate future excavation of the columbarium. We succeeded in locating the main entrance above the arch, and subsequently expanded an excavation area around it.

Evidence has been found of a building complex surrounding the entrance itself, comprising the remains of crudely built walls dating from the Late Islamic period and, thus far, one impressive wall of hewn stones to the north of the entrance, apparently dating to the Byzantine period (Fig. 11). A dump of construction waste was found underneath collapsed stones to the west of the entrance. The goal of next season is to extend the excavation area eastward, following the line of the Byzantine wall and to continue exposing the entrance complex.

Fig. 11. Upper Area M, the Byzantine-period wall with a packed pile of construction waste
seen in the bottom right, looking south.