An extensive excavation carried out over the past year and a half by the Israel Antiquities Authority north of Gedera, near Rehovot, exposed a large-scale, ancient industrial site comprising an intriguing recreational area.
Many participated in the excavation alongside the permanent workers, including hundreds of Israeli youths from schools and pre-military college programs, all experiencing a closer understanding of the ancient heritage of Israel.
The excavation revealed a pottery factory that manufactured large storage jars in the Roman and Byzantine periods—between the third and the seventh centuries CE. In the factory, a room with game boards hewn out of the bedrock, and a complex of 20 hot and cold pools, raised the archaeologists’ curiosity.
Alla Nagorsky and Tamar Harpak, the excavation directors of behalf of IAA, said in a statement: “We exposed here a pottery workshop that functioned continuously for over 600 years, producing the same storage jars known as ‘Gaza jars.’ These jars were mainly used for storing wine – wine-making being a flourishing industry in this area, involving extensive export to neighboring countries.”
They pointed out that “the extremely long duration of the production of these near-identical jars indicates that the workshop was probably a family-owned business that passed down from generation to generation. Based on the huge piles of storage jar sherds exposed in the excavation, at a rough estimate, about 100,000 jars were probably considered unfit for sale and were removed from the production line.”
Nagorsky added: “On many of the jars we can see the potters’ fingerprints, greeting us from the past. Who were these potters? Men or women, or perhaps children? How many were they? The answers to these questions may be obtained with further research.”
Buildings and facilities from different periods were exposed in the excavation, including two Byzantine-period bath houses and twenty well constructed pools of different dimensions, connected by channels and pipes. A huge stove that heated one of the bath houses was revealed, and another bathhouse, with a beautiful mosaic portico, almost untouched by time.
The archaeologists believe the water complex served both the local population and the many travelers along the ancient main road connecting the port of Gaza with the center of the country.
A very rare and unexpected find was a games room. The excavation directors explained: “Archaeology reminds us that few things are new in this world. Just as Google set up a recreation area in their workplace, so did the ancients. We can imagine that the recreation room may have been used by the factory workers or by the visitors to the baths. We found four board games cut into the rock, two similar to the Mancala board, which can be found even today in any toy store, and two boards similar to those used in backgammon. Three of the boards were found in a long storeroom and one near a bench, as if the players had just left the place for a minute. In the same room, many fragments of glass cups and bowls were retrieved in a small cupboard-like unit.”