Iron Age II–Hellenistic Period

Partial remains of a square building (estimated size 18 × 19 m), which was probably erected in the late eighth century BCE, were unearthed on a westward-sloping spur. Three of its outer walls were uncovered; the eastern enclosing wall could not be identified. The building’s walls were built of small and medium-sized fieldstones founded on the bedrock (preserved height c. 1.3 m). Along the walls were several rooms, one of which was excavated in the northwest of the building. The excavation in this room yielded late Iron Age habitation levels with various finds, including numerous fragments of holemouth jars of a type characteristic of the eighth–seventh centuries BCE, which may be associated with the reservoir.

The subterranean reservoir (length 19 m, min. internal height 4 m, min. volume 200 cu m; Figs. 8–10) was carefully hewn. Its main entrance was in the center of the building. Eight steps led steeply down from the entrance, widening as they descend (max. width 2.5–3.0 m); as the excavation within reservoir was not completed, there are probably additional steps. The reservoir was coated up to its ceiling with thick gray plaster of an unusually fine quality. The reservoir was probably first a karstic fissure reached, which the inhabitants were able to reach via a vertical shaft, whose opening is located c. 11 m to the east of the main entrance. The fissure was subsequently widened into a long and narrow corridor; this form was not accidental, as it was intended to reduce the risk of the reservoir’s roof collapsing (A. Frumkin, pers. comm.). Along the reservoir’s walls, one can discern seven human figures (height 0.15–0.30 m; Fig. 10), most of them with their arms extended upward while a few hold some kind of object; their meaning and date are unclear.

The eighth-century BCE building was at a later phase, probably in the seventh century BCE, enlarged significantly to the north and east, creating a square compound (45 × 45 m), which included four substantial walls (width c. 1.5 m, max. preserved height 2 m) and a central, open courtyard. The walls, which were founded on bedrock, were built of two rows of large and medium-sized stones with a fill of small stones between them. The east wall of the compound was excavated to its entire length, whereas the north and south walls were only partially excavated. The south wall had an opening that led to the central courtyard, and there may have been another opening in the north wall. Rows of small rooms—possibly storerooms—were built along the west and south walls (Fig. 11).

During the early Persion period, the rooms along the west wall were rendered obsolete and covered with a fill of soil and fieldstones. Several rooms were built on top of these rooms and probably also alongside them; where possible, the new walls used existing walls from the earlier construction phase, although some foundation courses were laid on the soil fill. A bedding-like layer of small stones was unearthed between the room walls. The site was probably abandoned in the Persian or early Hellenistic period. A few Hellenistic-period potsherds and coins indicate that the site was occupied during that period, but apparently only sporadically.

A wide lower courtyard extended to the west of the compound. A broad wall, the remains of which were found on a natural rock terrace on the lower, southern slope of the spur, curved southward and enclosed this lower courtyard. A trench excavated across the length of this courtyard showed that no rooms were built within it, suggesting that it served as a livestock pen, although the southern enclosing wall could not be identified. The excavation also unearthed a complex of rooms (8.0 × 22.5 m) beside the south wall of the square building. The complex was built of fieldstones, some of which were roughly dressed, and it consisted of several rooms; only the two eastern rooms were excavated. The west part of the complex was damaged by the construction of a limekiln (below), and as the bedrock on the east part was much higher, the remains there did not exhibited any discernible stratigraphy. It was thus impossible to date the construction of the western courtyard and the southern complex of rooms with any certainty, but a cautious supposition is that they were built at the end of the Iron Age or during the Persian period; in any case, it is obvious that they post-date the main square building.

 

Roman and Byzantine Periods

During the Roman period, the lower courtyard and the valley to its west were turned into arable land following stone clearance and the construction of agricultural terraces over the entire area. A few Byzantine potsherds indicate that the site was temporarily inhabited during this period. A few crosses incised on the plastered walls of the reservoir can be dated with caution to the Byzantine period. It is therefore possible that the human figures in the water reservoir (above) were incised during this era.

 

Ottoman Period

Based on the pottery, the site seems to have remained uninhabited until the Ottoman period. A limekiln (9.4 m upper external diam., 3.8 m internal diam.) was built on the west part of the southern complex of rooms, using the walls of the ancient building. Similar kilns have been dated to the Mamluk–Ottoman periods; they were usually built in the corners of ruins, and sometimes—in open areas (Shadman 2014; Haddad et al. 2015).The walls of the water reservoir were probably coated in this period with a poor-quality, light-colored plaster that was preserved in several places. A few Arabic inscriptions were found on this plaster. Several fragments of Ottoman-period jugs and tobacco pipes were found beside the water reservoir. There was probably no permanent settlement at the site during this period, and most of the activity detected here was related to the limekiln.

 

The site of Khallat es-Sihrij is part of a settlement phenomenon that began in the second half of the eighth century BCE, probably after the Assyrian conquest campaigns in the region. The archaeological surveys (Finkelstein 1981; Kochavi and Beit-Arieh 1994; Gophna and Beit-Arieh 1997) and excavations (Yeivin and Edelstein 1970; Scheftelowitz and Oren 1999; Oren and Scheftelowitz 2000; Shadman 2014; Shadman, Tendler and Marcus 2015; Shadman 2019) amassed data on c. 40 rural sites, most of which were buildings constructed within a narrow strip along the southwestern fringes of Samaria, between Tel Afeq and Tel Hadid. The majority of these buildings were farmsteads, and they were probably founded under the auspices of the Neo-Assyrian Empire that occupied the region, near the cross-province highway and on the empire’s southern border. The farmstead’s inhabitants may have included exiles who were settled in the area by the Assyrian kings, as well as a local population that survived the Assyrian conquest (Na’aman 1993; Na’aman and Zadok 2000; Faust 2006; Aster and Faust 2015).

The site at Khallat es-Sihrij, like most of these farmsteads, was probably continuously occupied until the Persian period. This is attested to by the pottery from the excavation: over 80 percent of the diagnostic potsherds date from the Iron Age II and the Persian period. The distinctive reservoir, which we believe to have been hewn as early as the eighth century BCE and in continuous use throughout subsequent periods, was probably the main reason for sporadic human presence at the site over the centuries. No comparable reservoir has been discovered at farmsteads excavated and surveyed in the surrounding region. The site also yielded several sherds of Assyrian-style pottery and a seal—finds which have no parallels at other farmsteads in the vicinity. Thus, it can be surmised that Khallat es-Sihrij was not initially built as a typical farmstead, and that it may have served as a local administrative building or road station. The site probably joined the array of farmsteads dotted along the southwest fringes of Samaria only at a later stage.