Today was, I hope, the last day we spent most of our time on the stone feature. We've dropped a bit of the material to the side of it down, so as to show the section, as well as cleared most of the material to the left (west) of it.
I had been thinking of trying to get a picture in tomorrow morning, but it might be wise to hold off on that, and spend tomorrow bringing the rest of the area down, rather than going after the feature; it's the latest material we have, so it should come out first, but I'm starting to think that the most orderly thing to do would be to fully excavate the material around it, and then go after it.
Did I say that I was getting ready to take it out? If so, that is because I am. As you can see from the second picture, we seem to have gotten to the bottom of the feature. Or not; it's a little hard to see. But the ashy gray fill that we've been following throughout the excavation of the feature is gone, and we're coming down on the sort of pottery we're finding to the east of the thing, and there's a line where digging doesn't seem to find any stones, more or less where that fill ended.
The first question that has to be answered is, when the thing was in use, was it above ground or below ground? And I think that there's evidence both ways. One thing that points to it being underground is that the outer surface is lumpy, with rocks sticking out every which way. If you were digging a pit, and lining it with rocks, that's the sort of thing that would happen -- you'd want the inner surface to be relatively smooth, whatever it is you were doing with it, but the outer surface wouldn't be visible at all. Another point in favor of the lined pit theory is that the material between the rocks seems very similar to that ashy gray material we were finding as we went down. Again, this makes sense if it was a lined pit; the rocks would have been stuck into the walls of the pit, and the material from the pit would have filled the spaces between them. Finally, it's a pretty thin walled structure for something as tall as it is; I'm not sure something like that would have survived as a surface installation.
All of which seems pretty convincing. But there are reasons to think that it wasn't a surface installation. For one thing, the feature is slightly bell shaped, in its upper layers. And that's not how you dig a pit; if you dig a bell-shaped pit, it falls in. If anything, you'd expect the opposite -- wider on top, narrowing as it goes down. And then there was the dirt that filled the feature. In the areas where we didn't get the ashy gray fill, we got material that was similar to the stuff from the outside of the feature. Which isn't what you'd expect in an abandoned pit -- if it was left partially empty, you'd expect things to fall from above. If they were falling from the side, you'd expect to see disruption relating to that spill. Which we were looking for, but didn't find. And then there's the question of where the missing rocks went. It's possible that they were robbed for later use, but that seems unlikely to me, given that the rocks are pretty small, and small rocks are something that Ashkelon has in abundance. If it were exposed, the rocks might have fallen and then rolled away, but that can't happen to a feature in the ground.
On the balance, I think that the evidence does seem to favor it having been a lined pit, but there are still problems with that theory. As far as function goes, honestly, I'm not sure we're going to know that; there are a few bags of that ashy gray fill that's going in for additional analysis, but if those don't give us something definitive, it's going to be a matter of guesswork, rather than hard data.