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Archaeological Excavations 1998
at Nitl and Umm al-Rasas

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  • UMM AL-RASAS
    CHURCH OF ST. PAUL - SOUTHERN FLANKS


    Director: - Michele Piccirillo
    Equipe: - John Abela, Carmelo Pappalardo
    Sections and prospects: - Eugenio Alliata, Chiara Sanmorì
    Plan: - Markus Scherer
    Photographers: - Max Mandel, Fr. Michele Piccirillo

    This year's archaeological excavation regarded the South-Southeastern flank of last year's excavation which had revealed the portico on the south façade of the Church of St. Paul. We proceeded in a stratigraphical analysis of the area to better understand the subsequent stages of the structures and the continued usage of the area. Besides the excavation of the visible structures we also practised some in depth trenches. The works carried out can be synthesised: a) removal of the heaps of rubble from the area; b) excavating the structures of a winery located during last year's excavations; d) evidencing a continuous use of the area witnessed by distinct phases, going from the late VI to the VIII-IX century documented by a succession of beaten earth or lime floorings d) analysis and graphic documentation of the found structures, through various prospects and sections (scale 1:20: Eugenio Alliata, Chiara Sanmorì) and of the general plan (scale 1:50: Markus Scherer).

    The winery: The winery was located during last year's excavations during which three roofless wine pressers divided by separating walls were excavated. This year's excavation revealed the whole complex of the winery which resulted being made up of a central roofed room around which nine roofless wine pressers are located grouped in threes: three to the west, three to the south and three to the east (keeping the northern wall as the departing point these pressers have been numbered as 0905, 0907, 0908 to the west, 0913, 0920, 0921 to the south and 0914, 0912, 0911 to the east). The northern wall was the limit in this direction while a 170cm wide corridor flanked the pressers to the east and west. The pressers to the south were flanked by a courtyard (not completely excavated) which resulted 18cm higher that the eastern corridor. A stone step placed in relation to the southern enclosing wall of the presser 0914 (east-south) led from the corridor to the courtyard.

    All the six wine pressers excavated completely (three last year - 0905, 0907, 0908 - and three this year - 0911, 0912, 0913) presented the same characteristics: a thick layer of white plaster covered the walls, large traces of which had been preserved. White mosaic floors (tesserae of 2-2.5 cm) were laid in a slight incline towards the central room, or better still towards a hole in the wall which divided the pressers from the central room, from where the must flowed out. Three pressers, two on the southern wall (0920, 0921) and one on the eastern wall (0914) were only partially excavated. These same three pressers resulted to have had their entrances blocked during a successive use after the abandonment of the area. (Measurements of the pressers: 0905: 153cm (N-S) x 200cm ca.(E-W), 122cm deep; 0907: 157cm (N-S) x 190cm (E-W), 132cm deep; 0908: 150cm (N-S) x 205cm (E-W), 132cm deep; 0913: 200cm (E-W) x 185cm (N-S) x140cm deep; 0920: 193cm (E-W) x 185cm (N-S); 0921: 209cm (E-W) x 195cm (N-S); 0914: 160cm (N-S) x 195cm (E-W); 0912: 155cm (N-S) x 190cm (E-W) x 147; 0911: 146cm (N-S) x 200cm (E-W) x 160cm).

    Each of the pressers is linked to the central roofed room (1090cm x 520cm x 150-195cm ca) through a slit of 75-90cm. Two North-South arches supported the roof. The lack of long stone slabs during excavations make us suppose that the roof was made up of wood and covered with beaten earth. The walls of the central room has been preserved to a height of almost two metres, which walls were also plastered. On three of the openings to the pressers the lintel was still in situ. Furthermore in the walls flanked by the pressers (west, south, east) there remains the niche-basin for the settling of the must. These were made up of a semicupola hewn out of a block of stone and a small stone basin connected to the pressers through a hole (the central one on the southern wall did not have the niche but only a small stone basin under an opening in the wall). The niches-basins are well preserved and have traces of plaster.

    The mosaic floor of the pressers resulted to be 20-30cm higher than the floor of the central room. Thus a stone step within the wall filled the gap. The central room too had a large white mosaic floor (tesserae of 2-2.5 cm). Two-three lines of tesserae bordered the diagonal filling. On the south-east corner there is a rectangle (60cm x 35cm) with an enclosing border and horizontal filling. The mosaic enclose also a rectangular stone slab (20cm x 15cm) placed just under the doorstep of the central room which door was obtained in the north-west corner having two steps (15cm each) leading up and out of the room.

    A monolithic block of stone (115cm x 60cm) with a hewn out hole (62cm x 52 cm x 25cm), to hold the wooden wine-press, was embedded in the floor at the centre of the room. This stone was then blocked by large stone slabs around which there is the mosaic border, which mosaic is also used to fill up any resulting spaces. The mosaic floor toward the north-west corner was patched with stones of different sizes.

    The floor is inclined toward a hole in the northern wall near the north-west corner, which poured into a collecting basin for the must obtained within the wall (between the north arch and the door). The basin (80cm x 120cm x 105cm) is more than half of its length buried under the door and lies completely under the floor level. Excavations showed that the hole for the wooden wine-press was full of ashes which spilled around the area. The pottery found in the abandonment level above these ashes, and also directly on the mosaic floor, belong to the Umayyad type. The central room had been reused at a later period blocking off three pressers and levelling the abandonment stratum of yellowish soil (20cm ca) to create a threading level on which a tannur (oven) was built. This we found very badly damaged helped explain the quantity of ashes found at this stratum. The complete abandonment of the winery brought with it the filling up of the structures with rubble. The arches were the last to fall down on top of all the rubble. From the excavations carried out last year there results that a beaten earth floor unearthed in front of the portico of the Church of St. Paul, containing Ummayyad sherds, was the threading level for those going in or out of the winery. Furthermore the two cisterns discovered last year outside and almost under the winery's doorstep have no connection whatsoever with the winery even if a "water channel" from the cisterns leads in that direction (south). This channel lies about 20cm below the floor of the central room. To date we do not have further explanations for these cisterns.

    Excavations to the east of the portico (north of the winery): by extending the excavation to the east of the portico of the church of St. Paul we were able to localise an entry corridor for the church which came from the street flanking the buildings. The corridor is delimited to the south by two walls, one of which is out of axis, and goes directly to rest on the Southeast corner of the portico. The door (120cm) for this corridor had a lintel decorated with crosses and lied at 14 metres from the eastern façade of the portico of the church. A cistern with a well-curb lied in the Northeast corner of the corridor while a round stone basin (55cm outer radius) raised on a rectangular plastered platform lied towards the centre of the corridor, in a corner resulting from the meeting of the two east-west southern walls. From under this stone basin a water channel led to the cistern. All the area resulted to be re-laid with various modifications and additions.

    The trenches revealed various threading floors belonging to the various modifications of the area with some being cut for the insertion of the various additional walls:

    1) in a trench towards the centre of the corridor (near the round stone basin) we could notice that in 48cm there where 5 superimposed threading floors, three of lime and two of earth. The lower three lime threading floors (being also the most ancient) were cut to insert the southern enclosing wall while the upper two beaten earth floorings go to rest directly on the same wall. The small stone basin and the water channel were laid directly on top of the most ancient floor. No significant sherds were collected yet to be able to date the different phases.

    2) another trench (on the outside of the Southeast corner of the church of St. Paul - picture above left) revealed that even parts of the church walls were re-laid (under a 20cm lime threading floor which is attached directly to the church walls, there is a beaten earth flooring which had been cut to insert the stones of the church wall. It is interesting to note that on the surface of this threading floor various roof-tiles splinters were found, splinters which result from the work carried out in the laying of the roof-tiles. The trench revealed also that the lowest filling, which is directly attached to the church wall's foundation, contains pottery sherds belonging to the first decades after the mid sixth century. The thick layer of lime, present on all the surface of the portico, preserved some fine white smooth plaster with which the outer walls of the church were covered.

    3) a third trench next to the north wall of the winery (picture above right) revealed that the area next to this wall had been completely re-laid by removing two superimposed lime threading levels (the lowest laid on a bed of rounded stones) and filling up the area from the rock bed upwards with earth containing Ummayyad pottery sherds.

    Other areas: during the excavation campaign at Umm al-Rasas the areas to the Northwest of the winery were freed from the upper rubble.

    © Michele Piccirillo
    Studium Biblicum Franciscanum,
    Mount Nebo - Jordan
    The material published here
    cannot be reproduced without prior consent of the author

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