The excavation (Fig. 2) focused on remains that were documented in a preliminary survey conducted in 2009 (Haimi and Lender 2011: Area B). They are located on the northern slopes of the Negev Highland ridges, a region of low chalk hills interspersed with broad, shallow streambeds flowing northeast. The excavated remains include a burial structure (Area A), two terrace walls (Areas A1, A2), a stone circle (Area A3), flint scatters and a field tower (Area M), dated to the Early–Middle Bronze Age and the Ottoman period. Traces of twentieth-century military activity were also noted in the excavation areas. Approximately 0.5 km northwest, two sites were uncovered: One was attributed to the Late Natufian and Ḥarifian cultures of the Late Epipaleolithic (Vardi, Pasternak and Roskin 2019, and see further references therein), and the other was attributed to the Ramonian culture of the Middle Epipaleolithic (Permit No. A-7931).
Area A extended across a low hill—a bedrock outcrop in a broad tributary of Nahal Be’er Hayil. Three construction phases were observed on the southern part of the hill. The early phase consisted of a round burial structure (L126; inner diam. c. 1.5 m, height c. 1 m; Figs. 2–4)—a nawamis. It was built of one row of large fieldstones (W130; max. width 1.5 m), set on bedrock and preserved to a height of six courses. The structure had a north-facing opening, flanked by stone doorposts (height c. 1 m) and superimposed by a large stone slab (0.4 × 1.4 m), possibly serving as a roof. It was blocked from the outside with fieldstones. Inside the structure, an accumulation of loose loess soil was found, containing the disarticulated remains of at least four individuals—an infant, a young individual and two females—encountered at varying depths. Also discovered were 40 small beads and four large beads (Fig. 5).
The second phase of construction featured four walls (W113–W115, W128) built around and enclosing the nawamis. The walls were built of fieldstones, set on soil, and were preserved to a maximum height of two courses. While no sherds or flint items were recovered whhen the walls were excavated, modern olive pits were found; these may have fallen among the stones or were cached by animals.
In the third phase, a stone circle (L117; diam. c. 1 m) was built on top of a heap created by the collapsed walls of the second phase. It is the last sign of early human activity on the southern part of the hill. North of the burial structure, traces of rock-cutting were observed.
Areas A1 and A2 comprise two terrace walls (A1—length 81 m, height 0.5 m; A2—length 81 m, height 1 m; Figs. 2, 6); they were built in a broad, shallow tributary of Nahal Be’er Hayil, constructed of fieldstones and set on local loess soil. Apparently, the stones were removed from the structure uncovered in Area A. These terrace walls are part of nine terrace systems documented in the area during the preliminary survey and found to consist of c. 200 terraces in total. The walls’ excavation retrieved only a few, mostly non-diagnostic, sherds. Notwithstanding, preliminary identification dates them to the Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age or Iron Age.
Area A3 yielded a stone circle, perhaps an animal pen; no datable finds were retrieved.
Area M, c. 1 km northeast of Area A, contained a flint scatter —probably originating uphill—and a field tower built in the wadi bed. The field tower (c. 5 × 6 m) was built of roughly dressed stones and preserved to a maximum height of four courses. Sherds found in it were dated to the Ottoman period.
Flint finds. The flint assemblage from Area A consists of c. 200 artifacts, representing both on-site activity and secondary deposition. An ad hoc flake industry existed at the site, apparently during the Early Bronze Age. Intrusive objects were also found, representing activity in the area but not at the site itself. Several items were dated to the Middle Paleolithic, some of which were made by the Levallois technique. The flint assemblage from Area M consists of variably worn items that were clearly transported to the site by water. The assemblage features both ad hoc items and a bladelet industry. Some items exhibit two phases of processing, but, in general, the assemblage could not be dated.
The remains uncovered at the site attest to various human activities that unfolded in the course of several periods. The burial structure represents cultic activity, apparently of the Early or Middle Bronze Age. The structure features characteristics of round, tower-shaped tombs of a type that was widespread from Sinai to Yemen, and are dated to the end of the fourth and third millennia BCE (Steimer-Herbet, Davtian and Braemer 2006). This type includes the nawamis of Sinai (Bar-Yosef et al. 1977; 1983; 1986), the tower tombs of southern and eastern Jordan (Rollefson 2011; 2013), and similarly structured tombs from throughout Arabia and as far south as Yemen (Steimer-Herbet 2004). In Sinai, the region closest to Ashalim, the tombs are dated to the fourth millennium BCE (the Chalcolithic and beginning of the Bronze Age; Bar-Yosef et al. 1977:87; 1983:52).
At a later date, walls were built around the tomb. When they collapsed, their stones were reused to build the terraces—evidence of agricultural exploitation of the broad, shallow tributaries of Nahal Be’er Hayil. In Area A, in situ flint knapping was documented as well as transported flint artifacts, and in Area M, ex situ flint knapping was recorded. The field tower in Area M dates from the Ottoman period and, like the terraces, attest to the agricultural activities in the area. The remains and the finds from the excavation augment the picture produced by the survey and enrich our understanding of the region’s archaeology.