Israel's Good Name

Ruins around Givat Ze’ev

In Israel, Jerusalem on January 2, 2022 at 10:33 AM

This post is about two documented excursions to the ruins in the outskirts of Givat Ze’ev, a small city nestled between Jerusalem and Ramallah. I’ve become somewhat acquainted with the city and its outskirts in recent years, as my in-laws are residents of the Neve Menachem neighbourhood on the eastern side of the city. Avid walkers, my in-laws took me out on several undocumented visits to the various archaeological remains in the vicinity, located in open garrigue scrubland. Then, in August of 2020, I had the opportunity to document a trip to some ruins, accompanied by Bracha and our local guide, my father-in-law, David Berman.

Satellite view of the area (photo Google)

Satellite view of the area (photo Google)

We made our way through the construction sites to a stretch of concrete was once the main road north of Givat Ze’ev, since replaced by a larger road and a security checkpoint. Our destination was the ruins of Khirbet el-Lattatin, the ninth mile marker north of Jerusalem which even appears on the famous Madaba Map from the 6th century CE. Due to the site’s locational importance in antiquity, a wayfarer’s station was built in the Byzantine period, complete with a basilica plan church. As time progressed and the Arabs took control from the Byzantines, the church was somewhat repurposed as an agricultural installment, yet travelers still sought shelter on-site. The complex seemed to have gone out of use in the 9th century CE, according to archaeological finds such as pottery and coins.

The ruins of Khirbet el-Lattatin

The ruins of Khirbet el-Lattatin

Upon approach we noticed two things: the remains of a nice ashlar wall, likely connected to the ruins, and a collection of IDF soldiers and dogs from the elite “Oketz” unit. Checking with the soldiers that we weren’t interrupting any important training session, we left the road and found the semi-concealed ruins of Khirbet el-Lattatin which were excavated in 1995. What we saw before us was a complex of rooms and partial walls, nothing quite discernable so we climbed down into the ruins.

Byzantine floor mosaic

Byzantine floor mosaic

A simple white mosaic floor from the Byzantine stage of construction was easily found, as were these round floor features which looked to have belonged to the Arab agricultural complex. We explored the rooms from below, walking in and out of the many rooms and making note of interesting things. I found a thickly plastered wall section, incised with a simple chevron motif, and of its origin and purpose I still don’t know. It was peculiar to the eye to see some different building styles, but due to the site’s dramatic change under new ownership, it only made sense.

What appears to be the apse of the Byzantine chapel

What appears to be the apse of the Byzantine chapel

Also of interest were a collection of columns and bases, with one column still embedded in the sunken wall, which were originally part of the Byzantine church. In addition, we found the empty water cistern where a Sinai fan-fingered gecko was hiding, scampering away when I tried taking its picture. Overall, it was quite an interesting site, especially so close to home, so to speak. We headed back, finding a dried ram skull in the grass, bringing an end to the fun outing.

Basilica column still buried in the dirt

Basilica column still buried in the dirt

On a previous visit we had taken this abandoned road to the end, where a large agricultural watchtower is located, but this time it didn’t warrant the effort just for one photo (see HERE instead). There are other captivating ruins in the immediate area that we didn’t end up seeing, including other watchtowers, hewn mikvahs and a hewn burial cave.

Happy adventurers in the ruins

Happy adventurers in the ruins

When researching Khirbet el-Lattatin I found a fascinating document (see HERE) from the archive of the Department of Antiquities of Mandatory Palestine detailing a local villager’s visit when he reported finding antiquities in a local burial cave (which seems to be the same one that we missed). Within the report, written in the Queen’s English, it says that the villager found and presented to the British part of a limestone ossuary, several bracelets and other jewelry that were actually found and looted from the bones within the ossuary, one of which he had initially gifted to his daughter!

Happy "Oketz" dog

Happy “Oketz” dog

If that’s not enough post-adventure excitement, just after I had written this post I had gone on a field trip with my university department. Among the sites on the day’s itinerary was the Good Samaritan Museum, where assorted mosaics from around the country are preserved and displayed. To my surprise, one of the first mosaics that I saw there was one from Khirbet el-Lattatin – the original Byzantine church floor that was transplanted to the museum for safekeeping. Not having known of its existence in the first place, this finding was electrifying and so I’m adding a wide-angled photo of it to this post for maximum effect.

The fancy mosaic floor of Khirbet el-Lattatin displayed at the Good Samaritan Museum

The fancy mosaic floor of Khirbet el-Lattatin displayed at the Good Samaritan Museum

Excited by my first adventure, my next archaeological excursion took place only in the beginning of December, 2021, when I had a few hours on one particularly chilly afternoon to explore the local hill – named after a squad of Palmach fighters who set out on a mission only to fail and later be commemorated in various ways. The hill is just north of the Neve Menachem neighbourhood, and is home of a semi-active archaeological excavation, which I had tried to join two years ago, but it was being postponed due to the initial coronavirus outbreak.

Open garrigue scrubland outside of Givat Ze'ev

Open garrigue scrubland outside of Givat Ze’ev

With camera and binoculars safely secured around my neck, I set out for the slopes, happily seeing my first signs of wildlife in the form of a male black redstart and a handful of chirpy chiffchaffs in the conifer line that borders the city. Entering the open garrigue scrubland, I encountered the many tiny caves and visibly quarried bedrock along the southern side of the hill. The Steven’s meadow saffron was in blossom, as was the winter saffron, both classic winter wildflowers despite it being so cold.

Hewn bedrock atop the hill

Hewn bedrock atop the hill

The walk up the hill is best taken along the flat bedrock that wraps around the southern side, decorated with hewn cup marks and agricultural installations that were full of the last rain’s water. As I walked along the unintentional path, I kept scanning for birds but only a few stonechats were to be seen. Then, climbing up on some rocks, I saw a medium-sized bird fly out from shelter and managed to get it in my binoculars before it disappeared over the ridge. I was elated as I had just seen my first (living) woodcock, a very elusive bird that can be seen locally in the winter months.

Kestrel in the cold wind

Kestrel in the cold wind

With a smile on my face I then reached the archaeological excavation area, where ongoing efforts to learn more about this hill’s role in history have been happening. Thus far, it was revealed that a fortress was built in the Middle Bronze age (some 4,000 years ago), and that the site was also in use in the Iron Age, during the time of the First Temple. Frankly, there’s not much to see at surface level, save some stubby wall bases and scattered potsherds.

Recent excavation efforts

Recent excavation efforts

As I walked around the northern side of the hill I noticed more excavation areas, some with exposed walls, as well as more modern simple rock walls that divided the slope up into designated areas. With not much to see, I continued around to the eastern slope and made my way down into the flat area in the direction of the nearest Arab village. The bird situation didn’t improve much at first, with just more territorial stonechats perched hither and thither, but then I saw a nice long-legged buzzard who soared off into the distance.

A donkey friend

A donkey friend

When I reached the easternmost point of Givat Ze’ev, located to my right, I discerned a small flock of corn bunting on a small tree, which gave me hope. I continued along the dirt road outside the city, where ploughed fields and chilly orchards provided a change in scenery. The birding improved, if only by a little, with some starlings, greenfinches and another black redstart. With my free time running out, I turned back around and headed into the city, making my way back to my in-law’s place. These trips served as a successful and joyous preliminary reconnoitering of the immediate surroundings, but there is still more to be seen and documented in the days and years to come.

  1. Birds or no birds, I enjoy the journey by your elbow.

    If you ever get down into the Aravah, I would especially enjoy seeing your report from Ovot, where my wife and I lived in 1983-84. Now the site of Biblical Tamar Park.

    Dave *Elijah and Friends *

    On Sun, Jan 2, 2022 at 2:33 AM Israel’s Good Name wrote:

    > Israel’s Good Name posted: ” This post is about two documented excursions > to the ruins in the outskirts of Givat Ze’ev, a small city nestled between > Jerusalem and Ramallah. I’ve become somewhat acquainted with the city and > its outskirts in recent years, as my in-laws are residents o” >

  2. So very interesting! Thank you for sharing with us about Khirbet el-Lattatin. What an amazing coincidence that you saw the original mosaic in the museum.

  3. Shem, Another great adventure you went on. I really enjoy seeing your birding pics. The Byzantine church floor was so worth protecting & so it was good to see the original mosiac floor saved. I was surprise to see the Oketz dog. That was the first time I had seen an Israel working dog.
    Always good to see Bracha, good to see that she appreciates your ventures. The dried ram skull in the grass was shocking. Till the next adventure that you post, may you & Bracha continue to be well. 2022

    • Thank you Bobbie for your comment, as always! I hope you’re ready for another post about Byzantine church mosaic floors, because I have one in the works. Happy new 2022 to you too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: