Remains of a square building and related courtyards were found on a low hill slightly west of a tributary of Nahal Be’er Sheva‘ (Fig. 2). Three construction phases were discerned, which, based on the ceramic finds, all date to the late Byzantine period (late sixth–early seventh centuries CE). No habitation levels or floors were identified in the courtyards; the soil levels found at the elevation of the wall foundations were no different from those excavated in the field. The absence of habitation levels and floors may indicate that the structure was used for only a brief period. The building was constructed on the hilltop and its eastern slope, and in order to overcome differences in elevation the wall foundations on the eastern side of the structure and the courtyards were built to a relatively shallow depth compared to the foundations on the western side.
Early Phase. Remains of a one-room structure (2.8 × 3.5 m; Fig. 3) were uncovered. The eastern wall (W10005) of the building was constructed of roughly hewn chalk, flint nodules and small fieldstones and treated with mud plaster. The other three walls of the building (W10003, W10004, W10006) were built of a mud-plaster foundation lined with pottery sherds and small fieldstones that covered the mud, and an upper course of chalk fieldstones. The walls were preserved to a height of 0.11–0.61 m. A habitation level (L133) was revealed inside. No openings were found in the building’s walls; the threshold was presumably higher than the habitation level and did not survive. Two walls (W10000, W10011) constructed of fieldstones and flint nodules exposed north of the building apparently enclosed a courtyard of unknown dimensions.
Intermediate Phase. The building continued to be used in this phase and courtyards were added to it in the north and west. Walls 10000 and 10011 from the early phase continued to be used. New walls (W10001, W10002, W10007, W10008, W10010, W10012–W10015) were found that delimited four longitudinal courtyards of similar size oriented northeast–southwest (Courtyards 1 and 2—8 × 12 m; Courtyard 3—7 × 13 m; Courtyard 4—6.5 × 14.0 m). Wall 10001, initially 0.6 m wide, was later widened to 0.9 m by the addition of a row of fieldstones; this addition was apparently built during the wall’s construction and does not reflect a chronological phase. An opening was fixed in the northern part of W10007. Large stones that had collapsed from the walls were found near some of the walls. The opening and collapsed stones show that the walls were not low partition walls but rather high walls that enclosed the structure.
Late Phase. The building continued to be used during this phase, with changes made to the courtyards. Some of the walls enclosing the four courtyards were partly dismantled, surviving to a height of one or two courses (W10008, W10012, W10013), and other walls (for example W10015) were almost completely dismantled. No stone collapse was discovered next to the dismantled walls, an indication that the removed stones were taken for secondary use. The exterior walls of Courtyards 3 and 4 (W10001, W10002, W10007, W10010, W10014) were preserved to a height of 0.5 m or more and collapsed stones were discovered near them. In this phase, Courtyards 3 and 4 were evidently converted into one large courtyard adjacent to the building.
Excavation of the room and the courtyard yielded fragments of pottery vessels from the late Byzantine period, including a LRW bowl (Fig. 4:1), plain bowls (Fig. 4:2, 3), a krater (Fig. 4:4), cooking ware (Fig. 4:5–8), a neck-less barrel-like jar (Fig. 4:9), bag-shaped jars (Fig. 4:10, 11), bag-shaped jars with a ridge on the lower part of the neck (Figs. 4:12), a Gaza jar (Fig. 4:13) and Yassi Ada-type amphorae (Fig. 4:14, 15).
Foundations of a circular building (W20000; diam. 4.2 m; Figs. 5, 6) bisected by two walls (W200001, W200002) into two rooms of equal size (L211, L214) were exposed. The structure’s foundations were built of chalk. Several plaster fragments found outside the building suggest that the building’s surfaces were treated with plaster. A tamped loess floor was exposed inside the building; upon the floor was a large quantity of organic matter that included several bones belonging to doves, egg shells and many rodent bones. The plan of the structure and the finds seem to indicate that this was a columbarium (dovecote) whose upper part, including the dove niches, did not survive.
Two main types of columbaria—rock-hewn and built—dating to the Byzantine period were revealed in the south of the country (Shivta—Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006
orbat Saʽadon—Tepper and Bar Oz 2016
; Khirbat Bulei‘is—Peretz and Shaul 2011
al Gerar—Peretz 2015
ovav—Permit No. A-7175; Be’er Sheva‘ Zoological Garden—Permit No. A-7494). Most of these columbarium structures were round and divided into four rooms. Apparently, the columbarium exposed in the excavation was relatively small and was therefore divided into two rooms.
Two field walls delimiting terraced cultivation plots were uncovered on the southern slope of a low hill (Fig. 7). A trial trench excavated in the eastern wall revealed that it was built of small fieldstones arranged in an elongated pile (length 3 m, width 0.6 m, height 0.6 m). Several fragments of black Gaza Ware unearthed in the excavation date the construction of the wall to the late Ottoman period.
Areas A and B yielded an agricultural compound that included a building, courtyards and a dovecote dating to the late Byzantine period. The building’s thick walls were constructed of a mud-plaster foundation and stone courses above it. The origin of this construction technique may be the method used to line underground rock-cut cavities (see, for example, Permit No. A-7026). The construction of the four courtyards adjacent to the building is uncharacteristic of animal pens, and together with the nearby dovecote, seem to indicate they were used for agricultural purposes. Apparently, the readily available land suitable for agriculture and the high groundwater along the tributary of the nearby stream attracted settlers who engaged in seasonal farming. The dovecote reinforces the agricultural ascription of the site because during the Byzantine period, bird droppings were used to fertilize crops.
Regarding the columbaria exposed in the south of the country, there is probably a connection between the size of the installation and that of the farm or settlement nearby. For example, four columbaria, each 8 m in diameter, were exposed next to the city of Shivta, while in Nahal Gerar, a single columbarium, 5.8 m in diameter, was exposed next to a one- or two-room building. The columbarium uncovered in this excavation is relatively small and was located next to an agricultural unit that was also relatively small. Based on the paucity of finds and the absence of grinding stones in the building and courtyards, and judging by the small amount of dove bones in the columbarium, it seems that the agricultural compound was used for only a brief period and was abandoned in an orderly manner.