At the beginning of the 2011 season, the site was divided into four quadrants (NE; NW; SE; SW), which intersect approximately in the center of the ancient settlement and are subdivided into a grid of squares (each 10×10 m). Three excavation areas were opened (Fig.1): the ancient village (Area 2000); the synagogue and modern village (Area 3000); and the southern miqveh (Area 4000).
Area 2000 (Squares SE 7/7; 7/8—the ancient village)
Three squares were opened immediately to the south of the modern village (NE 5/2, 5/3, 5/4); these were closed after five days of excavation, when it became clear that the area was a modern garbage dump. Two new squares (SE 7/7, 7/8) were opened on the terrace farther to the south, where Late Roman–Byzantine remains began to appear c. 0.5 m below the surface (Fig. 2).
The main feature in Sq SE 7/7 is three walls: A north–south wall (W205), which is abutted on the west by two east–west walls (W207, W208), running along the northern and southern balks. The area bounded by these walls is filled with stone collapse (L2039; unexcavated). At the end of the 2011 season, the excavation neither reached the bases of these walls nor found any associated surfaces or floors.
Two walls (W201, W202), joining in the southeastern corner of Sq SE 7/8, were discovered. The north–south W201 runs along the eastern balk and the east–west W202—along the southern balk (base elevations c. 27.20 m). No floors or surfaces were found associated with these walls. The corresponding loci consisted mostly of soil fills containing Byzantine and Mamluk/Ottoman pottery, which overlay an earlier north–south wall (W206) that is parallel to and at the same elevation as W205 in Sq SE 7/7. To the west of W206 is an unexcavated stone collapse (L2029), and to the east are two surfaces: a cobblestone surface in the northeastern corner of the square (L2037; elevation 27.04–26.99 m), and a compact plaster surface laid over the cobbles (L2038; elevation 27.02–26.89 m) on the southern side of the square. The 2011 excavation ended without reaching the base of W206.
Area 3000 (Squares SW 2/7; 3/7; 4/7; 3/8; 3/5—the modern village and the ancient synagogue; Fig. 3)
The finely-carved, white limestone architectural elements belonging to a synagogue are concentrated on the top and sides of a huge mound of collapse (Sq SW 3/5; see below). At the base of the mound’s eastern slope is a cistern (depth 8.5 m), capped by a circular stone wellhead. The interior of the cistern was explored and mapped by Y. Shivtiel, who reports that there are three branches of hiding tunnels at the bottom, which were apparently hewn during the First or Second Jewish Revolt.
The clearing of weeds at the base of the western slope (Sq SW 3/8) revealed four massive paving stones and two threshold blocks, all of white limestone (elevation 28.97–28.85 m). These stones are not in situ, but presumably not far from their original location. The clearing of loose collapse and rubble from the slope immediately above these stones (along the east balk of SW 3/8) brought to light the western end of an east–west wall (W301; top elevation c. 30.79 m) and a north–south wall (W304; top elevation c. 30.42 m), which abuts W301 to the south and runs along the eastern side of the square. Wall 301 continues eastward along the north side of Sq SW 3/7 and terminates in Sq SW 3/5 (see below). Wall 304 is later than W301 and differs in being constructed of well-cut, square basalt stones. Work in Sq SW 3/8 stopped after the clearing of collapse revealed four courses of W304.
On top of the mound of collapse, excavations in Sq SW 4/7 brought to light the southern part of a room belonging to a modern village house, bounded on the east and south by W302 and W303 (top elevation 30.5–30.0 m). Beneath patches of plaster revealed by surface cleaning (L3003; closing elevation 30.32 m) were 3–4 layers of plaster (L3006 and L3008; closing elevations 30.14–30.06), containing two crushed metal canisters, a key, and a shell casing from the IDF’s training exercises in the abandoned village between 1948 and 1968.
The layers of plaster (L3006, L3008) overlay fifteen burnt timbers (L3010, L3011; closing elevation c. 29.85 m), which were lying on top of a plaster floor (L3025; c. 29.88 m; Fig. 4). Layers L3003, L3006, and L3008 apparently represent layers of mud and plaster that were laid on top of the ceiling beams—a roofing technique that was documented in traditional Palestinian houses in the Hebron Hills (Hirschfeld Y. 1995. The Palestinian Dwelling in the Roman-Byzantine Period. Jerusalem, p. 123). Among the burnt timbers on top of Floor 3025 was a hooked iron rod that lay in the center of the room and might have hung from a ceiling beam. A short wall (W305; upper elevation 30.33 m) that projects northward from W303 divided the southern side of the room into two parts. The outlines of four or five brackets belonging to a cupboard are visible on the plaster floor in the southeastern corner of the room. Objects originally stored on the cupboard’s shelves had collapsed on to the floor, including an intact glass bottle, a metal canister with its lid, a stone weight, a key, and a 20 mil coin. The northern part of this room (Sq SW 3/7) is unexcavated.
Square SW 2/7 lies to the north of SW 3/7 and W301; it is bounded on the east by a north–south wall (W308; top elevation c. 30.85 m). The surface was covered by an extensive stone collapse that fell on top of a plaster floor, only patches of which survived (L3021; closing elevation 30.32 m). A north–south row of cut stones, bisecting the square, probably represents a collapsed arch.
Square SW 3/5 on the east side of the mound of collapse was opened for the following reasons: (1) an assumption that the cistern (which is immediately to the southeast) must have been located in a courtyard outside the synagogue; (2) an expectation that the Roman–Byzantine period ground level would not be far below the mouth of the cistern; and (3) the presence of a number of decorated architectural fragments among the stone collapse.
At the beginning of the excavations, the eastern end of W301 was visible in the northwestern corner of the square, joining with the north–south W307 (base elevation 29.32 m; Fig. 5). The corner enclosed by the junction of these walls contained packed fill on top of a plaster floor (L3013;elevation 29.60–29.55 m). Wall 301 and W307 were founded just below the level of the plaster floor. The soil layers (L3015, closing elevation 29.30 m; L3014, closing elevation 29.22 m) below the level of Floor 3013 contained pottery dating to the nineteenth–twentieth centuries.
The rest of the square was covered with fills containing pottery and objects dating to the nineteenth–twentieth centuries, several probable Late Roman coins, numerous tiny tesserae, roof-tile fragments, and a fragment of a marble basin with decorated rim. The fills overlay a hard plaster and cobble surface (L3018, L3022–L3024) on which thirty-two lead musket balls were piled (elevation 28.77 m), associated with a hollow iron musket barrel that was discovered a few days earlier protruding from the south balk (an additional ball was fused to one end of the barrel). The plaster and cobble surface scaled and overlay the top of a monumental north–south ashlar wall (W310; top elevation 28.72 m). The south face of the southern ashlar block is carved in the shape of a doorframe, and below it, to the south, is a smooth threshold block that continues into the south balk (top elevation 28.18 m; Fig. 6). The modern fill around the east side of the wall was probably dumped to level the area when the modern cobble and plaster surface was laid.
A north–south row of large stones lying to the west of W310 was reused in connection with the modern cobble and plaster surface. The southernmost stone is floating and has a slight curvature on its eastern face, suggesting that it is a flat (relieving) arch, which originally was located above the lintel of the adjacent doorway. A thin, east–west wall (W309; top elevation 28.85 m) abuts the western side of the row of stones and continues into the balk. Excavation in the narrow space (L3029) between W310 and the row of large stones was halted when a thick layer of plaster began to appear on the western face of the southern ashlar block in W310. The discovery of the threshold and the plaster adhering to the western face of W310 indicate that this is the east wall of a monumental building, presumably a synagogue.
Area 4000 (Squares SW 27/7; 27/8; 27/9—the southern miqveh)
The stepped passage (length c. 6 m, width 1.2 m) and the southern half of the immersion room of the miqveh were excavated (Fig. 7). The uppermost five steps of the passage are constructed from cut stone blocks, and the remaining seven steps are hewn in bedrock. The steps (tread length c. 0.4 m, height c. 0.3 m) show evidence of wear in the center, and Step 11 seems to have been repaired or filled with cobbles. Plaster is preserved on the lowest five steps and on the south wall of the passage. Two vertical molded plaster ribs that align with the edges of Steps 11 and 12 extend to the top of the plaster on the south wall.
The rock-cut immersion room has a trapezoidal shape (Fig. 8). It was entered through an opening (length 2.3 m, width 1.3 m; lintel c. 3 m below the surface) in the middle of the western side. The eastern, inner wall of the immersion room is twice as long (4.6 m) as the western wall and 4.5 m distance from it. The bottom of the immersion room has an unusual arrangement of only two steps. The upper step (L4005; width 1.5 m, height 0.4 m) is by the entrance and the second step (L4006; width 0.4 m, height 0.4 m) is narrower. The area from the edge of Step 4006 to the inner eastern wall (distance c. 2.6 m) is taken up by a wide and shallow immersion pool. The ceiling in the inner part of the room is 2.35 m above the floor, rising gently toward the entrance, roughly following the steps.
The pottery from a thin layer of silt (L4002; thickness 0.07–0.10 m) that covered the plaster floor of the immersion room (L4007) dates to the Roman and Byzantine periods, suggesting that by the Byzantine period the pool had ceased to function as a miqveh. The walls and ceiling of the immersion room are plastered with several layers of hydraulic plaster attesting to prolonged use. Ribbed potsherds dating to the Byzantine period (D. Avshalom-Gorni, per. comm.) are visible in the make-up of the plaster on the eastern wall. Perhaps these are associated with the later conversion of the miqveh to a cistern, as indicated by the shaft cut into the roof from the surface above (height 3.0–3.5 m), through the earlier plastered ceiling.