Remains of a Byzantine settlement with an
impressive wine press, probably owned by Christians, were recently excavated on
behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) near Hamei Yo'av, near
Ashkelon, during salvage excavations prior to the construction of a banqueting
garden in the area.
According to Dr. Rina Avner, the IAA
excavation director, "The wine press exceeded 100 square meters in area.
It consists of a large treading floor surrounded by six compartments on the
north and east. These compartments were used for fermenting grapes upon their
arrival from the vineyards, to produce high quality of wine. The treading floor
slopes to the west, where a settling vat and two collecting pits are situated
in a row. A led pipe connects between the treading floor and the settling vat,
which in turn is connected by two led pipes to the two collecting pits".
"In the center of the treading
floor is a depression, intended for a screw press. This device would allow
applying further pressure to the grape remains from the compartments and thus,
to produce vinegar and low-quality wine, mentioned in rabbinic sources as
"paupers' wine". The owner of the winepress was probably Christian,
as attested by a ceramic lantern found nearby, which was decorated with five
crosses. The lantern has the shape of a miniature church building; an oval
opening on one side served to insert an oil lamp. The other sides of the
lantern were decorated in geometric patterns, creating a design of palm
branches. The crosses adorned the walls of the lantern, so when the lantern was
lit, crosses were projected on the walls and the ceiling.
The wine press at Hamei Yoav and three
similar wine presses are located along the ancient road leading from Beit
Guvrin to ancient Ashkelon and its port, thereby facilitating the
transportation of wine to Ashkelon and
onward from the port of Ashkelon to Europe and North Africa. The wine press
will undergo conservation and will be incorporated into the modern complex of
the banqueting garden, near the spa of Hamei Yo'av.
Studio photographs: Clara Amit, courtesy of
the Israel Antiquities Authority.