Phase 3 (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B)
The earliest remains were identified in Sq B, founded upon alluvial virgin soil. At a depth of 1.6 m from the surface, a layer of packed dark brown earth with small pebble inclusions was uncovered (L111, L112; Fig. 2: Section 1-1). A few small flint bladelets and fragmentary animal bones, some of which were burnt, were discovered.
Several medium-sized stones were uncovered in the southeastern area of the square. These may represent the remains of a wall (W3), oriented east–west (Fig. 3). A large limestone mortar fragment (Fig. 4) was found abutting the wall to the north. A densely packed habitation level (L111), composed of beaten earth with occasional bits of charcoal, was discovered to the north of W3. Upon the packed surface was a small, oval-shaped chunk of thin red-painted white plaster (Fig. 5).
Phase 2 (Chalcolithic period)
Remains of Phase 2 were reached only in Sq B, immediately underneath the Phase 1 surfaces (see Fig. 2: Section 1-1). Phase 2 consisted of a thick layer (1.5 m) of earthen fill composed of light brown alluvial soil with dense inclusions of cobbles and pebbles (L109). The stone cobbles and pebbles form seemingly sloping horizons that may indicate the ancient topographical gradient of the area. The formation of the sloping horizons seems to suggest a natural deposition process, such as water erosion. Although no architectural remains were uncovered, excavation of the fill produced massive amounts of undamaged potsherds, flint chips and tools that may be associated with the Chalcolithic period.
Phase 1 (Early Bronze IB)
Remains of this settlement phase were found in both Squares A and B, having a wide exposure. The remains can be associated with one or more of the EB IB phases that have been revealed in previous excavations of Areas A, B, C and D, located to the north and south of the Eshta’ol junction (HA-ESI 120, HA-ESI 121, HA-ESI 122
The manual excavation in Sq B from the surface down revealed two separate construction phases, dating to Early Bronze IB. The earliest phase (Phase 1a; Fig. 6) consisted of a wall (W1; exposed length 4 m; Fig. 7), oriented east–west and built of two parallel rows of large fieldstones with a core of earthen and chinking stone fill. The wall, founded directly upon an alluvial earthen fill, was preserved to a maximum of two courses high. At its eastern end, the wall abruptly ends; it was cut by a modern intrusion and no clear continuation was found. To the north, a beaten-earth floor (L104) was uncovered, abutting the base of the lower course. Upon the surface, several large flat-laying potsherds were discovered. To the south, another beaten-earth surface (L105) was revealed.
Another wall (W2) was uncovered to the east of W1 in the later phase (1b; Fig. 8). The wall, oriented northwest-southeast, was built of a single row of large fieldstones. To its east, a beaten-earth surface (L106) was identified. During this phase a small stone-lined rounded pit was cut into the western end of W1 (L108; Fig. 9). Excavation of the pit uncovered a plethora of large body fragments. It is unclear if W1 continued to function during this phase, as no distinction could be made between the ceramic assemblages associated with both construction phases.
Square A (Fig. 10) was located on a higher level, adjacent to and north of Square B; its topsoil overburden was removed with the aid of mechanical means. When a layer of large and medium-sized boulders within a light brown alluvial soil matrix was exposed, manual excavation commenced in the square, yet no clear wall lines were identified. Among the jumbled stones that appear to represent debris (Fig. 11), a partial ring of small stones was uncovered, encompassing a large concentration of potsherds.
The assemblage from Phase 2 of the Chalcolithic period cannot be directly correlated to architectural remains, although it comprises a wide range of types and forms. The pottery from this phase could easily be distinguished by the generally poor quality of its material and workmanship. Almost all the vessel fragments were made of light brown-yellow ware with large grit inclusions. The majority of open vessels included V-shaped bowls (Fig. 12:1–4), as well as fragments of a churn handle (Fig. 12:5) and a cornet base (Fig. 12:6).
The ceramic remains from Phase 1 of the EB IB period are very similar in nature and in many cases, compare to the ceramic assemblages of the same strata from the former excavation areas at the site. The assemblage comprises diagnostic styles and types, including bowls (Fig. 12:7–9), storage jars (Fig. 12:10) and holemouth jars (Fig 12:11).
The lithic assemblage in Area F is small; hence, the estimation of its nature and its chronological attribution should be viewed with caution. Similar to other lithic assemblages from Eshta’ol, the raw material consists of two dominant flint types: locally available brecciated Campanian flint used for ad-hoc flakes and bifacial tools, and translucent brown and gray Eocenic or Senonian flints used for blade, bladelet and flakelet industries. It is likely that the variety of technologies and the relative lack of formal tools indicate household activities.
Among the diagnostic artifacts, two sickle blade fragments should be noted, made on bidirectional blades and a transversal chanfrein spall common to the PPNB period. Another formal tool recognized in the assemblage is a tabular scraper.
Although the excavation of Area F was extremely limited in scope, the results are important to the general understanding of the site. Phase 1 is no doubt a component and continuation of the EB IB settlement, partially exposed in Areas B and D (HA-ESI 120, HA-ESI 122
). The distance between the excavation areas and the nature of the remains suggest that the site of Eshta’ol was a rather large village, extending from the valley floor toward the southern-facing slope. Little can be concluded from the Chalcolithic stratum at Area F; however, the deep accumulation of alluvial soil and ceramics point to intensive habitation.