Trial excavations were conducted during January–February 1999 in a karstic cave at the northeastern part of Shoham (Permit No. A-2991; map ref. NIG 195238/657109; OIG 145238/157109). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Shoham Municipality, was directed by E.C.M. van den Brink, with the assistance of D. Lazar, A. Hajian (surveying), A. Ganon (administration), T. Sagiv (photography) and E. Barzilay (geology).
The cave (length 18 m, width 15 m, height 3 m) is located c. 50 m east–northeast of an ancient winepress excavated in 1994–1995 in what was then labeled Area A3 (Fig. 1; ESI 16:85). The central part of the cave’s roof (c. 5 × 11 m) had already collapsed in antiquity. This area was found filled up and covered with modern building waste materials, which were removed mechanically until the original, undisturbed topsoil inside the cave was reached. Simultaneously, the bedrock above the preserved cave’s roof and its immediate surrounding were cleaned. Two probes (Sqs A1 and A2; 4 × 7 m and 4.0 × 6.5 m respectively) in the central, caved-in area of the cave were excavated down to bedrock, as well as a third probe (Sq B1–2; 2.5 × 3.0 m) in the southern section of the cave.
The cave’s stratigraphy was homogeneous in all three probes; four strata could be distinguished and are cited from top to bottom.
The topmost two strata (thickness over 1.5 m) in all three probes were composed of natural soil fill layers that consisted of smaller and bigger stone boulders, attesting to the partial collapse of the cave’s roof. These layers contained a mixture of potsherds, dating to the Early Islamic and the Byzantine periods, Iron Age, Middle Bronze IIA and Middle Bronze I. With the possible exception of the Iron Age fragments, all other potsherds must be considered intrusive and were probably washed into the cave from higher up the hill.
This stratum (thickness between 0.3–1.0 m) is dated to the late Early Bronze Age I (EB IB) and has been exposed in all three probes. It included a reddish-brownish soil that was used to level the very uneven bedrock floor within the cave. A living surface that overlaid the soil consisted of a small pebble-stone area covered with many fragmented pottery vessels, some were still found in situ. In addition, soil and charcoal samples were collected, as well as flints and animal bones.
This stratum (thickness 0.2–0.4 m) rested immediately above the bedrock floor in the cave’s center and contained remains of the Late Chalcolithic period, namely secondary burials in ceramic ossuaries and burial gifts. The remains were badly preserved partly due to the cleanup by the EB I cave dwellers of the previous occupantion.
The collapsed entrance area to the cave was situated in the extreme eastern side of the cave and was fully exposed down to bedrock (Fig. 2), as well as sufficiently explored. The northern, southern and western extremities of the cave were inaccessible owing to the danger of roof collapse and because of the large amounts of natural soil fill that reached to roof level and sealed the archaeological deposits near or above bedrock level. Therefore, the cave was only partially excavated, which is more than regrettable since Chalcolithic secondary burials in ceramic ossuaries were usually deposited in the rear of the cave and alongside the cave’s extremities.