Past Excavations

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
also point toward the end of the Iron Age period (7thcentury BCE), such as pottery and Egyptian scarabs.


The Iron Age

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 "Reaper’s 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 recent archaeological investigation of Yavneh-Yam started with a trial excavation in 1992 carried out in the area of the bay and the promontory (Area A).

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 Persian Period

Remains of buildings made partly of stone, partly of mudbricks have been unearthed both in Area A and B. Walls revealed in Area A, Showing traces of the Phoenician building technique. The latter is characterized by the use of sandstone ashlars (cut stones) that were arranged as stretchers for the outer face with smaller stones in between them. The finds of this building include bag-shaped jars with carinated shoulder and bag handles, open pinched oil lamps (of local fabric), and imported closed lamps of Attic style. In addition to these artifacts, we found a large amount of sherds decorated witth mythological figures in red-figure style, characteristic of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. 

Some terra-cotta statuettes of Greek-Persian style are also noteworthy. Phoenician coins, mainly of the 4th century BCE, date the end of the occupation at the complex. These finds reflect the encounter between local cultures and Greek civilization. It reveals again the issue of the Hellenic presence and its character before the official Hellenization of the Near East by Alexander the Great.

The Hellenistic Period

The main bulk of archaeological evidence revealed so far at Yavneh-Yam may be attributed to the Hellenistic period, mainly the 2nd century BCE. Already during a preliminary survey on the promontory at the southern edge of the site in December 1986, a fragmentary Greek inscription (33x23 cm) was discovered representing the correspondence between the Seleucid king and the citizen of Yavneh-Yam. It was dated to June-July 163 BCE a date which is further corroborated by the occurrence of the name of King Antiochus (V) Eupator, who ruled from 164-162 BCE.

A destruction layer of the Hellenistic period was unearthed at the site, mainly in Area Aoverlooking 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 aquiferof 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 archaeological remains revealed at Yavneh-Yam seem to evidence the Hellenization of the Land of Israel that finally led to the Greek- Jewish conflict of the 2ndcentury BCE. Cities, which had been richly developed according to the Greek fashion, now became targets and finally victims of the bitter struggle of the Maccabees and later the Hasmoneans. Yavneh-Yam also became a victim of destruction. 

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

Architectural finds of the Early Roman Period (1st century BCE and the 1st to 2ndcentury CE) are so far rather scanty. On the other hand, both written sources (Pliny the Elder and Ptolemaios the Geographer) and several artifacts point to the occupation of the site during this time. The artifacts include pottery (including ‘Herodian’ and Roman ‘discus’ lamps), ‘Jewish’ stone vessels and coins (such as those of Herod Agrippa I and Roman city-coins), and even four limestone ossuaries, which were found in the area of the Bronze age rampart about thirty years ago.


The Byzantine period

 In recent years, archaeologists have excavated at Yavneh-Yam parts of monumental buildings in Area B. and Area A,  including fine mosaic pavements. Several water installations have been unearthed, including a complex composed of a central round pool and four adjacent square pools. The central pool was filled with water and then ‘pumped’ into the lateral pools through lead pipes built into the dividing walls. It seems that then the water was dispersed among the different components of the architectural complex of the area after having been filtrated!

Many drainage channels leading from the site toward the sea also confirm the architectural development of the area. Pottery, glass, coins, metal artifacts and stone objects have been found present everywhere abundantly all over the site. Jars of ‘Gaza’ type and pear shaped lamps, partlyclick to enter the cave inscribed are also very frequent. Among the coins, some gold coins of Justinian I (527-565 CE) are noteworthy.  Along the coast, several installations from the Byzantine period including huge pithoi evidence the economic activity of the site. The large amount of lead weights found during the excavations also speaks of an intensive economic activity. Some of them were decorated and inscribed hinting at the urban organization of the site. On the eastern outskirts of the site, below the Bronze Age ramparts, we excavated a funerary cave in 1995.

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 the existence of a Samaritan and Jewish community during this period.


The Early Islamic 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.

Area C extending west of Area A, toward the site of the harbor promontory represents the main core of the Early Islamic settlement which has often been visited by travelers. A strong wall built of partly reused kurkar ashlars, pebbles and a huge amount of plaster, encircled the promontory.

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-10thcenturies CE.