Ancient pottery factory uncovered south of Tel Aviv had ‘playroom’ for workers

A pottery factory built in 300 CE, discovered south of Tel Aviv, had a “playroom” as well as a bathhouse for visitors and workers on break.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed Tuesday an ancient commercial and entertainment district on the outskirts of the city of Gedera that it has been excavating for the past two years.

Besides containing a pottery factory and bathhouses, a special find that would have given “added value” for tourists or workers in the area was a game room, complete with game “boards” made of stone.

In an IAA statement to the press, excavation co-directors Tamar Harpak and Alla Nagorsky said, “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,” the statement continued. “We can fantasize that the recreation room may have been used by the factory workers or by the visitors to the baths. We found four rock-cut board games, two similar to the mankala board, which can be found even today in any toy store, mancala 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 for a minute.”

The pottery factory, uncovered with the help of hundreds of local schoolchildren as well as older students from pre-army preparatory programs, was special in its own way. It had a 600-year run of production starting in the third century CE, specializing in large storage jars for shipping liquids – and especially wine – abroad. The longevity of its operation could be proven by the varying ages of tens of thousands of sherds discovered at the site.

“The extremely long duration of the production of these similar jars indicates that the workshop was probably a family business that passed down from generation to generation,” Nagorsky surmised.

The two Byzantine-era bathhouses that were found could have served both the local population and travelers, according to the archaeologists, as the site is situated along the ancient main road that connected the port of Gaza with the center of the country. The ancient spa was large and comfortable, containing 20 finely constructed pools of various sizes for either hot or cold water.

‘They knew how to enjoy themselves better than us’

There were also dressing rooms and hallways whose floors were covered in still-visible mosaic tiles that were warmed from underneath by hot air, said Nagorsky in a video tour of the site posted online.

“They knew how to enjoy themselves better than us, that’s for sure,” she laughed, later indicating a ledge on the edge of one of the pools and describing it as “almost a jacuzzi.”

The ancient industrial zone was discovered while the IAA conducted a salvage dig funded by the Israel Lands Authority before the construction of a new neighborhood in Gedera.