During November 2008, a preliminary trial excavation was conducted in a well called Bir Abu Yihiya, located in a tributary of Nahal Be’er Sheva‘ (Permit No. A-5550; map ref. 173263/571442; Fig. 1), prior to the conservation of the well and its installations as part of the Hazerim Forest development. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Jewish National Fund (surveying), was directed by N.S. Paran (photography), with the assistance of F. Sonntag, A. Shahar-Sabah, Y. Maimon and I. Berin (preparation of plan for publication).
The well was dug c. 1 km north of Nahal Be’er Sheva‘, in a shallow valley that drains south toward the wadi, c. 400 m south of Qibbuz Hazerim. The well and a dwelling located c. 200 m west of it belonged to Sheikh Abu Yihiya, from whom the first settlers of Qibbuz Hazerim purchased water in 1946. According to information in the Qibbuz archive, the well and the building were used in the Late Ottoman period and during the British Mandate era (nineteenth–twentieth centuries CE). Potsherds dating to the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods were found on the surface in the vicinity of the well, whose date of construction should probably be ascribed to either of these periods.
The well complex (Fig. 2) consists of several units that were built in stages. Initially, a barrel vault that covered the well (No. 1; Fig. 3) was erected and a storage pool, coated with hydraulic plaster, was constructed to its northeast (No. 3; inner dimensions: 2.0×2.5 m). The two units were built of ashlar stones bonded with lime-based mortar. Two openings that survived in the vault were used for a saqiye installation and these were surrounded by a system of water conveyance channels on the roof of the vault. Two narrow areas north of the pool, which were not examined, may have been used as troughs and could have belonged to this stage.
A larger pool (No. 8; inner dimensions: 6.0×6.5 m) was built in the second stage, c. 7.5 m north of Pool 3. The sides and bottom of Pool 8 were built of concrete. A concrete channel (Fig. 4) for conveying the water was constructed atop a wall foundation (W9), situated between the two pools. Pool 8 and W9 were built of fieldstones that were not set in conventional masonry courses.
Two rooms (Nos. 6, 7) were constructed southwest of Pool 8, on either side of W9, in the following stage, which may only be architectural and probably done together with the former stage. The building of the rooms necessitated the raising of W9, which was done with stone slabs that were placed on top of the channel. The walls of the rooms, like W9, were built of fieldstones, not placed in courses.
A cement-paved open space (No. 2; 3.5×6.5 m) was built northwest of the well’s vault in the last stage. This area was intended for a pump, which replaced the pack animal that turned the saqiye installation. The walls delineating the space, which rose to c. 1 m high, were built of roughly dressed fieldstones.
Two of the units in the well complex—a space southwest of the vault (No. 17; 2.5×3.0 m), survived only by its foundations, and a wall built northeast of Pool 3 (W12)—could not be ascribed specifically to any one of these stages and their use remains unclear.
The renovations in the well complex used concrete and were part of the remodeling work that the British Mandate authorities carried out on the wells of the Negev to ensure the water supply for the Bedouins.