The site and its surroundings
Air photography, archaeological excavations and surveys carried out in the early fifties and sixties revealed the existence of a large fortified site, which encircles the area of the harbor. It consists of a square enclosure bounded by freestanding ramparts and marked by fortified gates, dated to the Middle and Late Bronze Age (2nd millenium BCE) by architectural evaluation and small finds. Underwater surveys carried out in the area of the ancient harbor also revealed remains of a continuous naval activity since the Middle Bronze Age onwards.
Several findings from Yavneh-Yam
Archaeological evidence for the importance of the area of Yavneh-Yam during the Iron Age (7th century BCE) is offered by findings from the site of Mazad Hashavyahu, located about 1 kilometer south of Yavneh-Yam. At this site, two main finds have been made, reflecting the situation of the Mediterranean coast at the end of the Iron Age: one is a huge amount of Eastern Greek Pottery of the "Wild Goat Style", and two, local pottery and several Hebrew inscribed pottery sherds (ostraka), including the famous "Reapers Letter". According to the excavators, during the first phase, the site could have been a sort of Greek colony, of merchants or soldiers (?) in the service of the Egyptian rule, whilst later on, after it was conquered by the Kingdom of Judea under Josiah as related in the Bible (2 Chronicles 34), it became an economic center of the area. According to the ostraka and the material evidence Jews, Canaanites, Phoenicians and perhaps also Greeks inhabited the site. Finally the place was destroyed by the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco around 609 BCE on his way to Mesopotamia (2 Chronicles 35).
|The archaeological evidence from Yavneh-Yam
The recent archaeological investigation of Yavneh-Yam
started with a trial excavation in 1992 carried out in the area of the bay and the
In 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999 excavations were carried out in four main areas, A, at the southern end of the site, C, to the west of Area A, toward the promontory of the harbor, and Area B about 100 meters north of them. In 1995 a funerary cave from the Byzantine period was excavated at the eastern outskirts of the site, which is Area T.
The earliest remains found insofar by the Yavneh-Yam Project belong to a monumental building from the end of late Iron Age (7th century BCE). They include artifacts of local and imported origin, such as Egyptian scarabs and east Greek pottery, representing the intercultural encounter of this period. However, the main archaeological evidence revealed by the first five seasons of excavations carried out at Yavneh-Yam belong to the Persian, Hellenistic, Early Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, covering a span of more than fifteen centuries (6th century BCE - 11th century CE).
The Hellenistic period
A destruction layer of the Hellenistic period was unearthed at the site,
mainly in Area A overlooking the harbor. The buildings belonging
to this stratum (layer) were apparently built on the earlier foundations preserving
their Phoenician style. From the collapsed stones we may conclude that they were covered
with colored plaster, red, yellow and white. During this period, a well was dug from
the courtyard level (about 6,60 m above the sea level) into the earlier layers of
the site by reaching the 0 level in order to catch the aquifer of drinking water.
The walls of the well were accurately embedded with finely cut ashlars. This kind of water
supply was quite common along the coast during antiquity. A great amount and many variants
of pottery reflect the prosperity and the advanced Hellenization of the population. Fine moldmade bowls (Megarian vessels),
painted lagynos and many amphora fragments, including stamped handles enabling us
to identify their origin and date. Fishing instruments
and a great amount of murex shells, used for
the purple production, reflect part of the activities carried out at the site. Among the
more impressive artistic finds, are terra-cotta and glass statuettes representing Greek
figures and mythological heroes, such as a Hetaira
playing the harp and the small god Harpokrates.
The Hasmonean destruction layers
both in western and eastern Palestine are crucial to understanding archaeological sites of
that period. Some sections in The Books of Maccabees
and the writings of Josephus Flavius are relevant to the issue in general and the destruction of Yavneh-Yam in
particular , relating of Judas Maccabaeus' attempts punishing Yavneh-Yam.
However, the destruction of the site seems to have been occurred later,
at the end of the 2nd century BCE, during the days of John Hyrcanus or
Alexander Jannaeus, at least judging from several pottery types,
stamped amphorae handles and coins. One of these
belongs to the Seleucid king Antiochus VII Sidetes (138-129 BCE).
It was found on the destruction layer representing the latest datable find of this period, and thus corresponding with the military activity of his contemporaneous Hasmonean ruler, John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE). This also seems to reflect results of excavations and research concerning other Hellenistic cities of the Land of Israel as well, such as Marisa, Beer Sheva, Samaria and Scythopolis.
The Early Roman period
In recent years, archaeologists have excavated at
Yavneh-Yam parts of monumental buildings in Area B
It was cut into the rock, containing a central room and smaller rooms linked with the latter by smaller openings or a rock-cut distylos in antis. The walls of one of the larger rooms were covered with plaster and frescoes depicting crosses surrounded by medallions. Although heavy iconoclasm destroyed a great part of this decoration, it is obvious that the cave belonged to the flourishing Christian community of Yavneh-Yam during the Byzantine period. On the other hand, our excavations uncovered quite a large number of Samaritan oil lamps and Jewish ones, decorated with a MENORAH implying on the existence of a Samaritan and Jewish community during this period.
The site of Yavneh-Yam was intensively reoccupied
sometime during the Early Islamic period. Artifacts from the Ummayad period have
been found in Areas A and B, yet architectural activity, pottery and coins seem to imply a
settlement of mainly the 9th to 10th centuries CE.
The site is mentioned by several Islamic sources either as Mahuz e-Tanieh (according to Idrisi, of the 12th century CE, The Second Harbor, the first one being that of Ashdod) or as Minet Rubin. Several marble columns that had been taken from the Byzantine monuments of the site were found reused in the fortifications, one of them bearing seven Arabic graffiti inscriptions. Since the Arabic term shahada (martyrdom, death of a martyr) occurs in one of them, it may hint at the role played by the harbor of Yavneh-Yam in the sacred war of the Muslims against the Christians. In the saddle between the promontory and the site itself the remains of a building were unearthed containing an elaborate staircase leading from the sea up to the fortress. Pottery, coins and glass objects (including a glass medallion of medical instruments) point to the 9th-10th centuries CE.