The excavation was conducted in a karstic cave (Figs. 1, 2), located on a steep slope on the southern side of Makhtesh Ramon, close to Shen Ramon (Fig. 3). Nahal Neqarot, which drains the crater, runs c. 500 m south of the cave. A shepherd’s path passes close by the cave, which may also have been used in antiquity. A gently ascending corridor (length 17 m, width c. 3 m) extends from a kind of anteroom (2 × 3 m) on a bedrock ledge, located in the entrance to the cave. Two natural tunnels that were discovered sealed emerge from the northern side of the corridor. The rear part of the corridor was enclosed by a wall (length 2.7 m, width 0.4 m), built of medium-sized fieldstones that formed a closed space (4 × 7 m, max. height 3.5 m; Fig. 4). Two of the stones had been removed from the wall in the past. Part of the cavity was excavated (2×4 m) and an upper layer of alluvium and animal remains (thickness 0.3 m) were exposed. Below it was a layer of plaster fragments (thickness 0.1 m), and below it – a layer of brown reddish soil (thickness 0.2 m), which overlaid a brown sandstone floor. A natural bedrock ledge (1.6 × 2.3 m, height 1.4 m) was discovered on the northern part of the sandstone floor.
An intact pithos (height 0.85 m, max. diam. 0.57 m) from the Early Bronze Age and a stone stopper (Fig. 5) next to it were discovered on the stone pavement. The pithos has an everted rim with a rounded edge and a high neck. A rope pattern adorns the entire circumference of the joint between the neck and the shoulder. Two prominent knobs, spaced 5 cm apart, are found below the rope decoration. The base of the vessel is flat. Dark colored stripes of various widths are preserved on the lower part of the pithos’ body. These may be remains of organic material that was wrapped around the vessel or the remnants of rope. No other artifacts were discovered in the excavation. The pithos from the cave resembles a vessel from Stratum IV at ‘Arad, dating to EB I (Amiran R. 1978. Early Arad I. Jerusalem. Pl. 12:1). To date, no intact pithos has been discovered in an EB I.cave.
A petrographic analysis of the pithos revealed that the raw material of the pithos is common to vessels from Early Bronze Age assemblages, which were discovered in sites in southern Sinai, the ‘Uvda Valley, the Negev Highlands and ‘Arad (Stratum II; EB II). It should be noted that no petrographic analyses were done on the pottery vessels from Stratum IV at ‘Arad, which is dated to EB I. The raw material of the pithos is not characteristic of the Makhtesh Ramon region; thus, the pithos was presumably brought to the site.
The distribution of EB I sites in the Negev in general, and in Makhtesh Ramon in particular, has already been addressed by various scholars. In our opinion, the proposal put forth by S. Rosen (Map of Makhtesh Ramon [204], P. 17) should be accepted; it links the distribution of steppe vegetation with grazing, which was the predominant economic branch of the period. The need for pasturage resulted in a concentration of settlements in this period north and northwest of Makhtesh Ramon. In the Makhtesh itself, seasonal sites or caves for nomads, such as the cave excavated at the site, were surveyed. It is possible that the cave was used by the nomads who traveled the path that runs close by the cave for storage, and the pithos was perhaps used to store water. Another option is the usage of the cave for the burial of a nomad, similar to the cave excavated in the Nimra Valley (‘Atiqot 22:33–40), where the pithos was used as an offering for the deceased.