Twenty-six tumuli and a line shrine were documented at the site (Galili 2019; Fig. 1). The site is situated on a spur of sedimentary limestone of the Cenomanian Tamar Formation (the Judea Group), across from the wide streambed of upper Naḥal Peres (Biq‘at Ẓeva’im [Ẓeva’im Valley]), and is part of the tumulus field of Biq‘at Yamin (Yamin Valley). The environment is arid, and the closest permanent water sources are found c. 7 km downstream in Naḥal Ẓafit. A base site excavated in Naḥal Ẓafit, about 3 km from Tamar 1, was dated to the end of the fifth millennium BCE (Knabb et al. 2018). Sites from the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages were excavated and surveyed at Be’er Ratav, Har Dimon and Har Zayyad (Cohen 1999:91–105), more than 10 km from the site.
Six of the tumuli and the shrine were excavated in the current excavation (Fig. 1); another six tumuli had been robbed by cutting their wall from the side to the center and down to bedrock. The line shrine—referred to in the research literature as an open-air sanctuary or shrine—was discovered at the center of the site. Our assumption that it served a cultic purpose is based on previous studies (Avner 1984; Rosen et al. 2007).
Tumuli. The six excavated tumuli are of the built-up (heap) type (Haiman 1994). They were all built of local fieldstones with no mortar and seem to follow the same construction phases: construction and flooring of the burial cist; construction of an outer ring of stones into which fieldstone mazzevot (standing stones; 150–400 kg) were incorporated; filling the space between the burial cell and the outer ring with medium-sized stones; and covering the cist after interment (Figs. 2, 3). Although the maẓẓevot do not appear to have been worked, their large size and fine shape indicate they were carefully selected. A courtyard-like square installation (4–6 sq m) built of a single course of medium-sized fieldstones was built in the eastern part of three of the tumuli. A comparison of the sand grains found within the burial cells with those found between the stones of the outer rings clearly indicates that no mortar was used. Rather, the sand accumulated between the tumulus stones through aeolian deposition processes—the tumuli turning into ‘sand traps’, as suggested previously (Rosen et al. 2007). Human bones were found at various elevations in the burial cells of five of the tumuli. Funerary offerings in two tumuli (1, 3) comprised animal bones (carnivores and a raptor; Fig. 4:1); four beads of various materials, including ostrich eggshell (Fig. 4:2), carnelian (Fig. 4:3), faience (Fig. 4:4) and an unidentified material; a copper ring (Fig. 4:5); and two pieces of a copper earring. As both copper items contain a low percentage of arsenic, they were probably made with reused arsenical copper.
The line shrine (length 8 m, width 1.0–1.2 m, height 0.70–0.95 m; Fig. 5), built on a northeast–southwest axis (azimuth of the long axis: 16 degrees), features two walls of fairly symmetrical, unworked stones of regular shape interspersed with small stones; it was preserved to a height of three courses. Part of the sanctuary and the courtyard to its east were excavated (depth of courtyard excavation 7–15 cm, to bedrock) in twelve squares (1 × 1 m). The sanctuary walls were dismantled down to bedrock. A bead made of a tooth (Fig. 6:1) was found between the stones (Sq B3), and a stone bead (Fig. 6:2) was discovered on the surface (Sq E4). The location of the sanctuary in the center of a flat spur devoid of fallen stones, in the center of the site, was one carefully selected; this phenomenon has been observed in most of the Yamin Valley sites (Galili 2019). The walls of the sanctuary were well preserved; the small quantity of accumulated sediment on the bedrock and the small number of fallen stones indicate that the walls were preserved almost to their original height. The accumulated sand derived mostly from aeolian transport, and the sanctuary became a ‘sand trap’ (Rosen et al. 2007:43). Finds from the sanctuary were meager, and at the current stage of the study they cannot indicate what activity took place there.
The finds in the burials at the site reflect a recurring pattern of internment in the burial chambers; the periodical removal of the human remains from the chambers seems to have been an integral part of the burial tradition. The beads and the copper jewelry found in Tumulus 1 recall the finds from the nawamis excavations in southern Sinai, which were dated to the fourth millennium BCE (Petrie 1906:243; Bar-Yosef et al. 1977); no parallels to these were found in excavations of tumuli in habitation sites in the eastern Negev (Cohen 1999:91–94, 280–281). This lends support to the assumption that there is no correlation between the habitation sites and the tumulus sites in the Yamin Valley (Galili 2019). In the past, we have argued that the distribution of the tumulus sites reveals a complex spatial division and territorial marking and reflects temporary habitation by groups of nomadic shepherds in the fertile pastureland of the Yamin Valley (Galili 2019). The significant investment in the construction and design of the site, the tumuli, the line shrine and the architectural elements incorporated into them underlines the great importance attached to the site and its cultic practices and supports this argument.