Tel Hevron (Tell Rumeida) is located on a spur with a spring at its foot (‘Ain Jedida). One of the most important fortified cities of the central highlands was located on the tel in the Bronze Age. In the Iron Age, this was the most important city in Judah. During the Second-Temple period Judah Maccabee conquered the city of Hevron from the Edomites, and during the Great Revolt it was destroyed by Vespasian. In the Ottoman period the tel was dedicated to agriculture, and olive groves were planted on it.
Tel Hevron was excavated in 1964–1966 by an American expedition (Hammond 1965; 1966; 1968) and in 1984–1986 by an expedition from the Tel Aviv University and the Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria (Ofer 1986; 1988; 1992). In 1999, an excavation was carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority along the northwestern edge of the tel (Eisenberg 2011). These excavations, which have only been partially published, uncovered fortified settlement remains dating to the EB II–III and the MB II–III; meager remains from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I; remains of a large settlement from the Iron Age IIB–IIC, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods; and scant remains from the Roman and Early Islamic periods.
This area (1.8 dunam) was located between the tel and the Qaraite cemetery of Hevron. Its northwestern part is narrow and steep, forming a natural defense line. Meager remains of rooms of buildings from the Second Temple period, refuse pits containing numerous fragments of pottery from the Early Roman period, and two cist graves of the Late Roman period were found, covered by a thick layer of topsoil (max. thickness over 3 m). In the northern part of the area a segment of a massive retaining wall, probably part of the Iron Age II fortification system was discovered, and farther down the slope, a circular installation (diam. 3 m), which was partly hewn in a rock step. In its last phase, in the Iron Age I, the installation was used as a lime kiln. Large stones which may have originally been part of the Iron Age city-wall were found among the collapsed buildings of the Second-Temple period. Once the excavation was completed, the remains were covered with soil.
Area 53 (4.5 dunams) was located south of Area 52. The boundary between the two was on the saddle between Tel Hevron and Jebel Rumeida. The western part of the area is high, wide and with a moderate slope, while the eastern part descends steeply and narrows toward the east, until it meets the MB II city wall.
The Western Part. Settlement remains dating to the time of the Second Temple were exposed below the terrace soil (average thickness c. 0.6 m) in the upper part of the area. They include buildings, a stepped-street and an industrial area, in which four construction phases were identified. The excavation did not reach the floors of the early phase, but the pottery suggests it was part of the Hellenistic-period settlement, whose remains were uncovered on the tel in previous excavations.
Two buildings, one each side of the stepped-street, were discovered in the middle of Area 53 (Fig. 2). The street ran from the settlement at the top of the tel in the north, to the industrial quarter in the southwest. Three rooms with white plaster floors were uncovered of the building that stood east of the street. The building was adjacent to a wide wall that was exposed in previous excavations, in 1984–1986. The date of construction and the function of this wall could not be determined, because most of it was outside the excavation area. The building on the western side of the street was only partially preserved. One of its rooms was a cellar, and may have been used as a kitchen (Fig. 3). Complete pottery vessels, including a jug(?) filled with charred olive pits, were found in this room, under a level of fire-destruction. The pottery dates the destruction of the two buildings to the time of the Great Revolt against Rome.
The stepped-street led southwest, toward a large rock-hewn ritual bath (miqveh), with well-plastered rock walls (Fig. 4). The miqveh included a large immersion pool with fourteen steps descending to it. Two low railings divided the staircase into three parts, probably to separate people entering the bath from those exiting it. Ritual baths with railings dividing the steps are known from the Herodian period, particularly in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas (Reich 2013:61–67), however, two railings are very rare. Baths such as this were excavated in Qumran (Reich 2013:168).
An industrial area extended west of the miqveh. Remains of a building with two or three rooms, which may have been a pottery workshop were uncovered. An elliptical lime kiln with a rock-hewn firebox was discovered near the building. It seems that the heaps of refuse and pottery sherds that were found near the kiln in Area 52, were waste from this kiln. Three shallow pools of different sizes were discovered near the building and the kiln. They drained into three deeper pools, which were connected by plastered water channels (Fig. 5). A short channel led from the lowest pool, in the southwest, to a large cistern (not excavated). The capstone of the cistern was a crushing basin in secondary use, probably from a nearby oil press. It seems that the pools were originally used to filter clay for the pottery workshop. Another water channel emerged from the lowest pool, and supplied water to another large miqveh, which also had a staircase divided by two low railings (Fig. 6). The immersion pool of this miqveh was joined to a covered rock-hewn pool with two openings. The excavation of the miqveh is not yet complete. An oil press whose walls were not preserved, was found west of the pools (Fig. 7). It comprised a rock-hewn crusher, two hewn plastered vats, and a collecting vat. The oil was expressed into the two plastered vats by two beams. Adjacent to the oil press, on the south, were two hewn winepresses (Fig. 7). Their treading floors were coated with white plaster. Only the collecting vat of the western winepress was discovered. Slightly west of the winepresses was a square hewn cistern that was partially covered. The excavation of the cistern was not finished.
The fourth and final phase of the Second-Temple period settlement in Area 53 probably dates between the Roman destruction in the Great Revolt, and the Bar Kokhba uprising. Scant building remains were discovered from this period, some of them erected on top of buildings that were destroyed in a fire, and some continuing from the previous phase. Apparently the pottery workshop did not operated in this phase, but the cistern was in use, and a new paved path led to it. Some of the pools and one of the ritual baths also remained in use. A new sloping stone-pavement was laid in the stepped street.
Several installations which remained exposed were used again in the Late Roman and/or early Byzantine period. One of the winepresses was repaved with a mosaic floor, while stone arches were built over two of the ritual baths, which were converted into water reservoirs.
The Eastern Part. Another section of the MB II cyclopean city wall was uncovered in the lower part of the area. The southern city wall from this period is now exposed over c. 70 m. A tower in this stretch of the wall was exposed in the 1964–1966 excavations (Fig. 8). This city wall (width of upper part 3.6 m, preserved height 4.1 m) was constructed on the bedrock, of polygonal blocks with no quarrying marks. Thanks to its strength, the wall remained in use for about a millennium. Substantial repairs were apparently undertaken in the Late Iron Age, and a tower (5.4 × 12.5 m) was constructed where the wall seems to have collapsed. In this phase a sloping stone glaçis (min. width 3.5 m, preserved height 2m; Fig. 9) was built parallel to the wall and tower, approximately 2–3 m from them. The function of the glaçis was to reinforce the fortifications and prevent water from undermining them. Part of the tower and the stone glaçis were exposed in the past, in a trial excavated of one square in 1984–1986. A solid stone wall (exposed length 22m, width 1.6 m) was erected parallel to the cyclopean wall, at a distance of 6 m. The area between the stone glaçis and the massive wall was filled with thick layers of marl and tamped soil, and it may have served as a road toward the gate on the west. These fortifications were dated to the Late Iron Age (eighth–seventh centuries BCE) on the basis of pottery and a Hebrew seal—apparently of a city official—which were found in the marl and soil fill, beneath collapsed stones that fell into the area between the city wall and the massive wall.
A rounded installation (lime kiln?) was built near the cyclopean wall during the Late Roman/ Early Byzantine period, and after the installation had gone out of use, a two-room ashlar building was constructed over it. Pieces of a bi-conical mill were discovered on the floor of one of the rooms, suggesting that the structure was a flour mill or a bakery.
The MB II city wall which was exposed on the tel is impressive and indicates the importance of the city at that time. The fortifications that were added to this city wall at the end of the Iron Age, seem to indicate that it remained in use for more than a thousand years. The settlement remains from the Second-Temple period were well-preserved and are extremely important for understanding the site during this period. The monumental structure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Me‘arat Ha-Machpela) is attributed to the reign of Herod, and it seems that an important urban settlement continued to exist on the tel at that time. The Jewish character of the settlement is manifest in the public ritual baths. The division of the miqveh’s staircase into three parts by two railings was apparently unique to Hevron. Following the Second Temple period the site was not as densely built-up and the settlement became rural.