Area A is a large area on the northern slope of the hill of Khirbat el-‘Alya. The area is somewhat rocky and characterized by high bedrock surfaces, some of which were exposed prior to the excavation. Remains of rock-hewn agricultural installations were discovered, consisting of simple installations such as work surfaces, cupmarks and rock-cut crosses (Fig. 3); simple basins and basins with sumps at their bottoms that were probably crushing and pressing installations (Fig. 4); and more complex agricultural installations, such as a cistern, a winepress and an olive press (Fig. 5). Several field walls were also documented in this area (Fig. 6).
The excavations inside the installations and alongside the walls yielded accumulations of natural alluvium that included abraded and mixed ceramic finds; therefore, the agricultural installations and the field walls could not be dated with certainty. However, we suggest that (1) the simple agricultural installations (the cupmarks and crushing and pressing basins) were used during the Intermediate Bronze Age; (2) the winepress and the olive press were used from the Early Roman to the Byzantine periods, based on the identification of settlement remains from these periods in Khirbat el-‘Alya (Dagan 2010
:155–156); (3) and the field walls were constructed in the Ottoman period. The rock-cut crosses on the bedrock surfaces are probably also from the Ottoman period, and may have been hewn by monks from the nearby Beit Jamal monastery, who were the landowners until recently. It should be noted that crosses of this sort have also been identified as boundary markers designating ownership of cultivation plots or their borders (Tepper 2009
Area B is a broad farming terrace established on the natural terrain east of Area A. The disjointed and damaged remains of an Intermediate Bronze Age building were exposed on the southern part of the terrace (Fig. 7). The remains of a bodeda (domestic winepress)and an installation, also from the Intermediate Bronze Age, were discovered on the northern part of the terrace; the nature of the installation is unclear (Fig. 8).
Intermediate Bronze Age pottery vessels, several fragments of flint, a stone object and animal bones were discovered near the installation remains, and on the floor of the building and in the bedding beneath it. These remains are probably the continuation of the settlement excavated by Paz (2012
:36–39), and the paucity of remains in this area indicates that this is the outskirts of the site or that the area was damaged in later periods or a combination of the two.
Area C is in the wadi at the foot of Khirbat el-‘Alya, northeast of the hill, east of and at the foot of Area B. As was evident in the survey and the preliminary trial trenches, the excavation revealed that the area had relatively few archaeological remains and was clearly used for farming. Several field walls, some of them agricultural terraces and others, dams (Fig. 9), and a simple winepress hewn in a large boulder (Fig. 10) were found. The remains excavated could not be dated with certainty. Pottery vessels from the Early Islamic period (seventh–eighth centuries CE) were discovered in the fill alongside the terrace wall; however, the quantity of the artifacts and their stratigraphic context did not make dating possible. Soil samples were taken from the wall of the dam for OSL dating. The anticipated results will make possible an accurate date as to the time of its construction and presumably, the period when the rest of the field walls were also built in the area.
Area D, north of Area C, is located on two broad terraces at the bottom of a slope east of the wadi channel; the terraces were cultivated, and shaped by leveling the area and by the construction of long, massive terrace walls. Three strata of archaeological remains were identified on top of the upper terrace: settlement remains from the Intermediate Bronze Age (Stratum III), a section of a road, probably from the Iron Age (Stratum II) and remains of agricultural activity (Stratum I).
Stratum III. Settlement remains ascribed to the Intermediate Bronze Age were discovered in the earliest layer. Sections of walls, probably belonging to three architectural units, were identified, as well as the remains of domestic installations (Fig. 11). Stone collapse was uncovered next to the buildings and beneath it, habitation levels containing scattered finds such as fragments of pottery vessels, flint items, stone objects and animal bones. Fragments of pottery vessels were exposed in situ in one of the installations and the remains of charred olive pits were recovered from between the sherds (Fig. 12). These remains, together with the burnt wooden remains that were revealed in pits next to buildings, were sent for C14 dating.
Stratum II. The remains of the Intermediate Bronze Age buildings were found beneath stone surfaces, which, when excavated, yielded pottery vessels from Iron IIB together with ceramics from the Intermediate Bronze Age. The stone surfaces may be an ancient road, but it is also possible that these are the collapsed remains of buildings or part of the leveling of the area for agricultural purposes. The premise that these stone surfaces are part of a road is based primarily on the exposure of a section of a road in the northern part of Area D. The ancient road was formed by erecting a long narrow wall along the road’s shoulder. A roadbed of small stones placed west of the wall was delimited on its western side by a natural bedrock outcrop and a wall that was built in places where the bedrock was too low (Fig. 13). Pottery vessels dating mainly to Iron IIB were found in the excavation of the fill in the road pavement in the north of Area D. These were the latest finds that were excavated in a clear context with the remains of the road, and together with the large quantity of potsherds from this period, indicate that the road was paved in Iron IIB. However, since this is fill, these pottery vessels may not reflect the period when the road was paved, but rather, remains that were dismantled for the sake of its foundation. Soil samples were taken for absolute dating using OSL.
Stratum I. In the center of Area D were two walls that rested on top of the stone roadbed—in other words, they postdated the road (Fig. 14). The walls’ construction style was different both from the walls of the road and from the walls of the ancient buildings—they were built of large fieldstones placed next to each other without mortar. These walls could not be defined with precision because no adjoining floor was found, and the nature of their construction seems to indicate that they were intended for agricultural purposes. They were the latest phase in the stratigraphic sequence in Area D.
Another terrace wall was in the western part of Area D (Fig. 15), alongside a cross, hewn in the bedrock. Although the wall is not an element in any stratigraphic sequence, it was presumably also part of the field walls of Stratum I, which could not be dated.
The excavation contributes to an understanding of the array of settlements and agricultural activity during the various periods. In the Intermediate Bronze Age, despite the exposure of complex settlements on the eastern side of the Jordan River (e.g., Khirbat Iskandar, Richards et al. 2010
), in the Jordan Valley (e.g., Sha‘ar Ha-Golan, Eisenberg 2012
) and on the central mountain range (e.g. Nahal Refa’im, Eisenberg 1993), most of the settlements were still small, meager and agricultural-based, evidence of a pastoral and even a semi-nomadic existence (Prag 2014:394–396). The settlement remains discovered in Areas B and D, which include scant remains of buildings with no evidence of a long stratigraphic sequence, suit this picture. It is possible that the simple agricultural installations—cupmarks, crushing and pressing installations and work surfaces—documented in Area A, which seem to date to the Intermediate Bronze Age, are a kind of ‘industrial zone’ on the outskirts of the settlement.
The cluster of sites near Khirbat el-‘Alya revealed by the excavation results, combined with information from prior excavations and surveys, are part of a concentration of settlements that will be discussed at length in the final publication. The large cemetery (Paz 2012
; Paz and Radashkovsky 2016
) may have served as a traditional-community burial ground that operated for decades or even hundreds of years, drawing people to it who felt connected to it.
It is possible that the Iron IIB road connected the communities in the area, including Khirbat el-‘Alya, Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Zenoah.
Remains of agricultural activity were exposed in Areas A and C: installations, agricultural terraces, dams and field walls. Although they could not be dated to a specific period, they reflect the quality of the farmland nearby—in the wadi and on the slopes— that attracted people to the area throughout history.