From March to June 2003 trial excavations were conducted at Modi‘in, within the Buchman southeast precinct (Permit No. A-3856; map ref. NIG 2010/6420; OIG 1510/1420). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was conducted by A. Onn and E.C.M. van den Brink, assisted by E. Braun, G. Hillel, W. Shlomi and Y. Zelinger (field supervision), L. Barda (GPS), Y. Dangur, S. Ya‘aqov-Jam, (administration), V. Essman, T. Kornfeld and V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting) and T. Sagiv (field photography).
Plans to enlarge the Buchman neighborhood of modern Modi‘in to the south called for a surface survey of this area, which was undertaken by H. Khalaily and L. Barda in early 2003. The survey pointed to the presence of numereous archaeological features in the area, which was subsequently excavated, with A. Onn excavating the southwestern zone of this area and E.C.M. van den Brink––the southeastern zone.
The southeastern precinct included a large hillside, initially sloping gently and then steeply from north to south and west to east (at elevations c. 260–240 m asl). Most of the hillside was marked by large, barren outcrops of limestone bedrock, some bearing flint nodules. Visible on surface were numerous concentrations of rock-cut installations, a number of oval and circular shafts and lines of fieldstones. Various stone mounds that may have contained the structural remains of dwellings or built installations were mainly concentrated on the lowermost terraces of the hill. One hundred and thirty-four archaeological features, covering an area of c. 150 × 200 m, were identified, cleared or excavated.
Oblong, shallow basins. These were the most common type of installation at the site. They were mostly oval (length 0.35–0.45 m, width 0.20– 0.25 m, depth c. 0.15 m; Fig. 1) and possibly served as bedrock surfaces for grinding of dry, foodstuffs, such as wheat or barley.
Round, deep mortars. These were circular and smaller installations (diam. 0.20–0.25 m, depth 0.40–0.45 m). They either appeared alone, though never far away from the oblong basins, or, occasionally, within the oblong basins. These installations were most likely used as mortars for pounding and crushing commodities similar to those processed in the oblong basins, or perhaps for extraction of olive oil. A number of stone implements, including grinding and pounding stones, as well as fragments of limestone vessels (portable mortars?) were uncovered in close association with both types of installations. The relative antiquity of these rock-cut features is suggested by the weathering found on the surface of bedrock, and, more directly by various in situ Chalcolithic deposits between, and in some cases, overlying and sealing the installations. The oblong basins and mortars were first identified in 1985 as potential wheat grinding and olive oil installations during a survey of the Chalcolithic sites by D. Eitam (BCH Supplement 26:65–90). Both types of installations had been recently exposed at the nearby site of Nevallat, where they were positively associated with Chalcolithic occupation remains (ESI 117). This association is further corroborated and amplified by the present finds at Modi‘in.
Large, circular basins. About 30 large, shallow rock-cut circular basins (diam. 12–15 m) were often located near clusters of cupmarks. They displayed similar evidence of weathering that had defaced cupmarks as well. These basins were somewhat difficult to date, although some inferences about their likely dating can be made. One such large, circular basin was uncovered c. 0.15 m below surface and contained an accumulation of soil with large quantities of Chalcolithic pottery. Another case witnessed the singular occurrence of a shallow, oblong (Chalcolithic) basin, cutting a large circular basin and clearly showing that the latter must be earlier than, or near-contemporary with the Chalcolithic oblong basin. These large basins, unknown at other contemporary sites, except for a site near Mevo Horon (B. Har-Even, pers. comm.) may have possibly functioned as threshing floors.
Shafts. At least four large circular shafts, filled with soil and leading into cavities, were identified. All but one were located in a cluster on the higher part of the hillside, perhaps indicating an area of subterranean storage pits and dwellings. One shaft, which was excavated in its entirety, led into a carefully hewn bell-shaped pit (diam. 2.5 m, depth c. 2 m) that yielded an appreciable amount of fragmented EB IA storage jars and bowls. The rather large sherds were embedded in a c. 1 m thick layer of very fine, alluvial soil, overlying the bedrock floor. Of interest was the presence of a typical EB IA stone bowl made of phosporite, rather than the usual basalt. Another shaft led to what seemed to be a deep cistern or, more likely, a natural, karstic cavity. Excavations were stopped at a depth of c. 3.5 m below surface, without yielding any evidence of human use.
Lines of fieldstones. These wall-like lines were located at edges of bedrock outcrops, most of which were curving. Sometimes they bridged open spaces between bedrock outcrops. They may have been terrace walls at some stage, but none has retained soil that would suggest it was an agricultural terrace. In at least two instances, such wall-like alignments were directly overlying bedrock outcrops with shallow, oblong basins. The majority of these stone lines seem to be of a recent date.
Stone mounds. Seven stone mounds were found concentrated mainly on the lowermost two terraces of the hill. Surface potsherds in and around these prominent topographical features suggested Chalcolithic and/or EB IA occupation. Soundings carried out in three small mounds, partially down to bedrock, revealed two soil layers, sometimes superimposed. The upper layer contained structural remains, dating from the Byzantine, EB IA and the Chalcolithic periods. The lower layer directly overlaid bedrock and contained in situ remains spread over a clearly visible earthen surface, unrelated to any structural remains, but possibly associated with cupmarks. Artifacts recovered from this surface included a carefully retouched, bifacial circular flint scraper (Fig. 2), which corroborates a date within the Chalcolithic period.
The three mounds were located in the immediate vicinity of cupmarks and basins. Although they may have been associated with each other in ancient times, it is virtually impossible to prove it. The mounds overlooked a small, dry wadi in which considerable quantities of Chalcolithic-period pottery were noted, apparently on floors of dwellings. Additional evidence for occupation in this or other periods is likely to be found to the south, across the wadi where the topography rises toward another hill of similar landscape, straddled with bedrock outcrops, bearing numerous circular and oval cupmarks, as well as large circular basins, yet to be explored.
Finally, eleven probes were manually excavated, partially down to bedrock, in open spaces between exposed bedrock outcrops with cupmarks. They were intended to check potential undisturbed archaeological deposits in association with these features. At least four of the probes yielded positive evidence of in situ Chalcolithic remains on earthen surfaces with spreads of pottery and flints, similar to and possibly contemporary with the lower layer in the stone mounds, down the hill. However, none of these earthen surfaces had been directly associated with structural dwelling remains. Yet, the bulk of the recovered data seem to suggest the presence of a once thriving Chalcolithic community (or communities), possibly residing in houses on the lower slopes of the hillside or in caves and cavities up the hill and apparently fully exploiting the available scarce natural resources. The earthen surfaces yielded pottery, flint tools, grinding and pounding stones, basalt and limestone vessels and, surprisingly, only a few animal bones.