Stratum III (seventh–eighth centuries CE)
Two underground installations were exposed (Figs. 2, 3). The eastern installation (L192) was rectangular, rock-hewn and built and the western installation (L193) was irregular and rock-hewn.
The wall of the eastern installation (W22; internal dimensions c. 2.8 × 8.5 m, min. height 4.55 m) was constructed of roughly hewn indigenous limestone set in the bedrock; the wall lined the subterranean cavity. On the inside surfaces of the walls, c. 1 m above the floor, were rows of mostly rectangular niches (c. 0.13 × 0.20 × 0.25 m, about 100 niches; Fig. 4) and a few triangular niches (c. 0.20 × 0.20 × 0.25 m) built of limestone slabs. Steps protruding from the southern and eastern walls facilitated descent from the upper part of the installation down to its floor. In the northern wall was a built pillar, probably used to support the upper parts of the installation. A thin dark layer of material that yielded dove bones was excavated on top of the installation's floor, beneath a layer of stone and soil collapse. Dressed ashlars, including a doorjamb, were removed from the layers of collapse.
The western installation was rock-hewn (c. 6.0 × 8.0 × 5.3 m) with a circular opening (diam. c. 1.2 m) in its ceiling. In the western wall were several small niches (max. dimensions 0.20 × 0.25 × 0.10), incompletely quarried. Walls surviving to a height of two–three courses were exposed along the southern and western sides; these may have been meant to retain the bedrock wall or serve as a shelf.
A burial cave (L400; about 3.5–6.5 × 10.0 m; Fig. 5) with an ashlar-built opening and at least five loculi (min. length 1.7 m, width 0.50–0.84 m) in its walls was located c. 75 m northwest of the underground installations. The excavation was halted after the modern refuse inside the cave was cleaned.
Stratum II (ninth–eleventh centuries CE)
Remains of human activity were found on top of the levels of collapsed stones excavated in the underground cavity in Stratum III. Two walls and a staircase were constructed above the wall of the built installation and were used as a stepped passage that led to the rock-hewn cavity. A habitation level, exposed c. 1.3 m above the cavity’s floor, was probably used as a dwelling or for storage.
Stratum I (twentieth century CE)
A sheepfold delimited by walls (W10, W11, W13, W15, W18, W19; c. 26 × 33 m), field walls (W14, W29) probably used to demarcate cultivation plots, and two cisterns, were found on the surface. Next to the eastern cistern (L125) were built walls (W16, W20, W21; that included the use of concrete) for diverting and draining runoff into the it. The other cistern, situated c. 300 m west of Cistern 125, was not excavated.
The excavation site was located at the edge of Horbat Kasif, a large settlement from the Late Roman to the Early Islamic periods. The finds from the excavation shed light on the livelihood of the residents at that time, as well as on the history of the place in the modern era.
The dove bones and the architectural style of the underground installations indicate it was a dovecote (columbarium). The pottery vessels and glassware found date the installations to the end of the Byzantine–beginning of the Umayyad periods. Installations of this sort were constructed to raise doves and to gather their droppings, as we know from other sites in the Negev (Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006
; Tepper 2007
), where it was proposed that the dove manure was collected to improve and fertilize cultivation plots. Presumably, the cisterns and the agricultural walls alongside the dovecote were already used by the residents of the site, and they reflect the agricultural-rural character of H
orbat Kasif. In the late Umayyad period, the dovecote and the adjacent cave were abandoned. The later construction remains and a temporary habitation level documented in the cave on top of the accumulated layers of collapse and destruction were dated to the ‘Abbasid/Fatimid periods. The remains from the end of the Ottoman period, especially the animal pens, boundary walls and the evidence that the cisterns were renovated, are indicative of another phase of human-agricultural activity at the site.