During April 2010, a salvage excavation was conducted along a proposed sewage pipeline in Ramat Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-5920; map ref. 19829–30/62415–6), prior to the construction of the new neighborhood. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was directed by D. Storchan, with the assistance of Y. Ohayon (administration), M. Kunin (surveying), R. Greenwald (archeological inspection), and N. Zak (drafting).
The excavation area is located on the northern slope of a small hill, northeast of Tel Yarmut, south of Ramat Bet Shemesh and directly across from Kh. el-‘Alya (Fig 1).
The excavation was carried out inside a large oblong cave (5×16 m; Fig. 2) that was noticed during archeological inspection of the construction efforts. The entrance to the cave (width 2 m, height 1 m), nestled in a natural bedrock cliff, showed no signs of intentional carving (Fig. 3). Excavation within the cave was limited to two squares opened in the center of the cave’s interior, close to the entranceway.
A few architectural elements were documented right at the beginning of excavating the cave. To the east and west of the entrance, a wall (W1; length 6.5 m) was built along the northern face of the chamber of various sized fieldstones, assumingly to fill and seal a natural horizontal fissure in the bedrock. At the western end of W1, another wall (W2), built of a single row of large fieldstones and aligned north–south, was documented. At the corner of Walls 1 and 2, a rectangular installation (0.5×0.7 m) that probably served as a hearth, was uncovered (Fig. 4). Just to the southeast of the cave's entranceway, another wall (W3), parallel in orientation to W2, had survived by two large fieldstones (Fig. 5). In the southwestern corner of the cave, upon the surface, a halved metal barrel was located. Excavating below the base of all the walls exposed a few potsherds from the Mamluk period, dominated by geometric-painted wares.
After the excavation, the cave’s roof was removed by tractor and a small tunnel was uncovered in the eastern end of the cave’s chamber. The tunnel was then dug by a tractor and was determined to be a natural fissure in the bedrock. Excavation of the fill in the cave’s western end uncovered a massive amount of potsherds from Early Bronze Age III, including large fragments of bowls, platters, and storage jars. Little can be determined about or inferred from these remains without further excavations.
The architectural remains documented in the cave seem to be of modern origin, as all were prevalent upon the surface before excavation. In addition, the bases of the walls were reached shortly after removal of the topsoil layer. The cave was probably used by local Bedouins as an animal pen for sheep or goat herds. Further evidence is suggested by the halved barrel found in the cave, which would have served as a trough. However, the earliest occupation of the cave may be attributed to the Early Bronze Age, based on the remains discovered within the cave’s chamber. The cave is located in close proximity to the site of Tel Yarmut, where excavations revealed a large fortified city with a palace dating to the Early Bronze periods. The origin and nature of the finds from the cave remain enigmatic, although they indicate that the cave may have served as a burial site for the residents of Tel Yarmut. The cave was later used and possibly inhabited during the Mamluk period. Although no architectural remains or clear habitation levels can be securely associated with this period, the scattered ceramic remains from the cave’s fill strongly suggest that the cave was in use during this period.