The site of the Arab village of Bureir (Burayr, Breir) is located at Helez Junction, near the modern Kibbutz of Beror Hayyil, at the juncture of Nahal Beror/Wadi Simsim and Nahal Helez/Wadi el-Qa‘a (Fig. 1). Bureir is attested in historical sources dating as far back as the Roman period, including Rabbinic sources that mention the ancient village of Beror Hayyil, the location of which has been identified c. 400 m southwest of Bureir, at Tel Beror (Tosefta Ma‘aseroth 2, 2; Vilnay 1975:229; Efrat 1982). Bureir is also occasionally mentioned in accounts of European travelers of the Middle Ages, and increasingly so in documentary sources from the Ottoman and British Mandate periods (Sharon 2004:XLVII–XLVIII; Cytryn-Silverman and Blakely 2013). Nineteenth-century accounts describe Bureir as the only source of drinkable water between Gaza and Hebron, known to have had a saqiya well at its entrance and troughs made of toppled marble columns in secondary use (Robinson and Smith 1856:35, 4546; Bliss 1898:147). At that time, the village is reported to have had a population of 100 and comprise mostly mudbrick houses and one stone-constructed house, which belonged to the local sheikh.
Maps of the British Mandate period depict Bureir with several wells and rainfed pools, a flourmill and several threshing floors, located at the western and southeastern edges of the settlement, as well as many orchards (Survey of Palestine 1931; 1942; 1946). A school was built northwest of the village in the 1920s, and by the 1940s, the population had grown to 1894 people. Mudbrick construction remained the dominant form of building at Bureir during the British Mandate period (J. Ory, Report on Bureir, June 7, 1928, IAA Scientific Archive 1919–1948, Series 524; Survey of Palestine 1931; Mills 1932:3).
The 2013 survey aimed to determine the periods of occupation represented at Bureir and the chronological development of the village; to reconstruct its layout and assess the accuracy of historical descriptions; and to collect surface pottery for the purpose of studying the material culture of the village in comparison to that of other nearby settlements of the Ottoman period (Saidel et al. 2020). In preparation for the survey, Bureir was divided into 12 areas (100–111), using visible aboveground features, such as pathways and cacti hedges (Fig. 1). Occupational remains were then documented using GPS. Four of the areas (100, 104, 106 and 109) yielded no visible remains, and the southwest area (111) was only superficially surveyed due to the presence of a modern Bedouin camp.
A cursory exploration of nearby Tel Beror (Tell el-Mashnaqa) was also conducted, during which a Byzantine-period pottery kiln was identified on the northern crest of the tell (Fig. 1:17). The installation was heavily eroded and bored by numerous rodent burrows, and it could not be further explored due to dense vegetation cover. This survey was followed by a more recent one by Y. Huster (2017: Site 61).
The Survey Areas
Area 101. A building (8 × 12 m; Figs. 1:1; 2) constructed of a platform and corners of poured concrete was identified in the southwestern part of the area. A row of kurkar blocks were bonded with cement to the western edge of the platform. Three of the building’s corners are still standing at nearly their original height. These were piers of poured concrete containing ample amounts of small rocks and water-worn pebbles and reinforced with four rebar rods. The walls were probably built of kurkar blocks, as some of these blocks are still attached to the concrete piers. A large rectangular concrete slab attached to the northwestern pier may have been part of a large doorway. The function of this structure remains unclear.
The remains of a flourmill are 70 m to the southeast of Structure 1 (Figs. 1:2; 3; see also Huster 2015:167, Site 57). The flourmill of Bureir is known to have been built by a Jewish merchant from Gaza, al-Khudajah Hayyim, who also had a well dug near it so that its water could be used to cool down the milling machinery (Efrat 1982:280); the well was identified in the survey and found sealed. The flourmill is marked on a topo-cadastral map of the British Mandate period (Survey of Palestine 1931: Sheet 11/10) that was based on surveys conducted from 1923 to 1925. The mill also appears on later editions of the map (e.g., Survey of Palestine 1942; 1946).
Other features identified in association with the mill were a water reservoir and seven small rectangular poured-concrete platforms with protruding rebar rods; the platforms were situated immediately to the east of the mill and appear to have been mounts for motors and/or mechanical pumps used in its operation.
The water reservoir (6 × 6 m; height 2.3 m) was built of cut kurkar stones of variable size (0.15 × 0.40 × 0.20–0.80 m). Its exterior was coated with applied concrete that contained roof-tile sherds, reddish-orange to orange in color (Fig. 4). A metal pipe was observed protruding from the eastern exterior face of the reservoir. Large chunks dislodged from the interior of the reservoir revealing the walls’ interior face were coated with a layer of gray-white concrete; sherds of ‘Black Gaza’ ware were pressed into this surface when it was wet, and subsequently it was overlaid by another cement coating of a pink color.
Three fragmentary circular millstones of the ‘French burr-stone’ type, the most complete of which had a diameter of 1.4 m, were recorded to the south of the water reservoir. French burr-stones were manufactured by setting stones in cement to form a round millstone, and then wrapping a reinforcing iron strip around its circumference (e.g., Tucker 1977:2, 5). One of the millstones featured a metal tag bearing the label ‘Barron and Son Ltd Makers Gloucester,’ indicating that it was of a British manufacture.
Two long hedges of prickly pear cacti found along the northern edge of Area 101 presumably demarcate the northern boundary of the Arab village (Fig. 1:3, 4).
Area 102. Here there is a concentration of broken circular millstones and a concrete column topped by a metal finial (Feature 201; Figs. 1:5; 3; 5). The distance between the mill’s southern perimeter wall and this concentration is c. 22 m. According to an aerial photograph of the village of Bureir from 1945 (Royal Air Force 1945) no structures were present in this location at that time, and therefore the broken millstones were most likely found ex situ and originated in the nearby flourmill. Remains of a two-step platform built of roughly hewn, cement-covered stones (Feature 301; length of lower step 6 m, length of upper step 24 m; Figs. 1:6; 3; 6), marking the northern edge of a dried-out pool, were encountered to the south of Feature 201. This pool (c. 40 × 84 m) can be identified in the southwestern part of Bureir on a topo-cadastral map (Survey of Palestine 1931).
Area 103. This area represents the core of the village of Bureir. The undulating topography of this part of the site may be attributed to the toppled remains of buildings, razed following the Israeli War of Independence (Huster 2015:167, Site 58). Small scatters of cut stones were observed in different parts of the area, while a large concentration of construction debris—five massive concrete beams reinforced with rebar and arranged in a U shape—was also found (Figs. 1:7; 7). A small hedge of prickly pear cacti was recorded near the eastern boundary of Area 103.
Three vaulted Byzantine-period tombs (Fig. 1: T3, T4, T9), investigated by M. Dan in 1975 (Permit No. 572; unpublished report, IAA archive) and Huster (2015:170, Site 62; see also, Huster and Sion 2006), were identified along the northern boundary of Area 103. In a previous publication, T9 was erroneously identified as T5 (Saidel et al. 2020:147, Table 1).
Area 105. A bridge was partially exposed near the eastern edge of Bureir, c. 20 m to the east of Road 232 (Fig. 1:9). The western facade (length 2.5 m) is built of roughly hewn stones set in concrete; the eastern facade is completely covered with sediments. On top of the bridge are remains of a narrow-paved road, some segments of which are covered by Road 232; the modern road follows the course of the older one.
North of the bridge there is a concentration of architectural remains, including the northern edge of a pool/trough, a motor mount and an east–west mudbrick wall (length 4.6 m; Fig. 1:10). The pool/trough is made of cement-covered hewn stones. The motor mount is made of stone and reinforced concrete, and it was possibly used to hold an engine or a mechanical pump. The mudbrick wall extends eastward toward the location of Bureir’s saqiya well, which was described by nineteenth-century travelers.
Area 107. A road connected Bureir to the former nearby town of Simsim, which lay to its west. Now a dirt road, it passed from east to west through the village center. Three ruined structures, known as Complex 82, were recorded along the southern margin of the road, near scatters of hewn stones, fieldstones and chunks of concrete (Fig. 1:11). Adjacent to this complex are a well and a date palm.
Area 108. This area contained two clusters of olive trees, one of three trees and the other of five trees—the relics of olive groves—and a cactus hedge 167 m in length (Fig. 1:12–14).
Area 110. A concentration of architectural remains and a ruined structure were identified on the northwestern side of the former village. It was not possible to ascertain the plan of this construction, as it was obscured by a tree and dense vegetation. Adjacent to the ruin is part of a foundation, heaps of cut stone and chunks of concrete reinforced with rebar (Fig. 1:15). The location of these remains broadly corresponds with that of the school building marked on topo-cadastral maps of the British Mandate period (e.g., Survey of Palestine 1931).
Area 111. While this area could not be systematically surveyed, it is noteworthy that it contains a cactus hedge c. 95 m in length, extending into Area 107 to the east (Fig. 1:16).
The Finds
Pottery. Surface sherds retrieved in the survey comprise pottery from the Hellenistic through the Ottoman–British Mandate periods. The Hellenistic period is represented by two sherds, a fragment of a cooking pot and the incurved rim of a bowl. Vessels from the late Byzantine period include ubiquitous sherds of Gaza wine jars corresponding to two forms in Majcherek’s (1995:168–169, Pls. 6, 7) typology: Form 3, dated to the sixth century CE, and Form 4, dated to the sixth–early seventh centuries CE. Vessels from the Early Islamic period are attributed to the eight–tenth centuries CE. These include two sherds of glazed ware, both made of buff fabrics and dated to the Abbasid period. One appears to be of a monochrome-glazed bowl decorated on the interior with a turquoise glaze, and the other bears traces of a pale-yellow slip on the base.
Sherds of Gaza Ware of both black and gray hews are ubiquitous; this ware group is broadly dated between 1700 and 1948 (Rosen and Goodfriend 1993). Open forms, such as bowls, kraters and mortars, comprise 57% (n = 78) of the Gaza Ware assemblage, while closed forms, such as cooking pots, jars and jugs, comprise 43% (n = 58). The majority of the closed forms are represented by water jars (n = 33) of a form very common in the southern Levant (e.g., Mershen 1985:76; Salem 2009:34).
Finds from the pottery kiln at Tel Beror comprise fourteen sherds of Byzantine Gaza wine jars, Majcherek’s (1995) Forms 3 and 4, and one sherd of a Haluza wine jar.
Ceramic Artifacts. One roof tile is provisionally dated to the Byzantine period (Fig. 9). A concentration of shattered, orange-colored Marseille roof tiles of the Ottoman period (Fig. 10) was documented in connection with the flourmill. These roof tiles were manufactured by the Roux Frères Factory and imported into Ottoman Palestine from as early as the 1870s–1880s (Volynsky and Arbel 2015). Similar roof tiles have been unearthed at many late Ottoman- and British Mandate-period sites in Israel (e.g., Kletter 2004:201, Fig. 13; Finkielsztejn 2008).
Clay Tobacco Pipes. Three sherds of clay tobacco pipes were found: a shank end from an eighteenth-century pipe, varying in color from buff to white-gray (e.g., Simpson 2000:151, Nos. 33, 34, Group II); a red burnished and rouletted shank of a late nineteenth–early twentieth-century Lily pipe (Simpson 2000:157–163,165); and a rim and bowl of another red burnished and rouletted Lily pipe, varying in color from brown to red-brown. Such Lily pipes are a very common find in surveys and excavations in the southern Levant (Dalali-Amos 2013: Fig. 6:10; Dalali-Amos 2016: Fig. 4:17).
Stone Artifacts. Among the stone artifacts collected are a fragment of a shallow basalt stone platter (Fig. 11:1); a limestone fragment which may belong to an incised bowl, bearing two incised parallel lines on its exterior (Fig. 11:2); part of a basalt grinding stone (Fig. 11:3); and a small broken stone vessel with a short leg (not illustrated).
Metal Finds. Five metal implements were retrieved during the survey: a metal padlock, akin in its general shape to Mandate-period padlocks (e.g., Berger 2015: Fig. 10), although its chronological attribution is uncertain; a plowshare with a broken tip of a type that is commonly found at sites of the late Ottoman and British Mandate periods (Ramot Nof; Ustinova and Nahshoni 1994:175, Fig. 15; Fig. 12); a hook that may have belonged to a double-hooked agricultural implement (Fig. 13), an example of which is known from Ramot Nof (Ustinova and Nahshoni 1994:175; Fig. 15: first row, first item); and a metal handle attached to a square-shaped bolt with a circular ring attached to it.
Ammunition Cartridges. Two discharged 8 mm Mauser cartridges were collected, one each from Areas 102 and 103. The cartridge from Area 103 (Bkt 15; base diam. 11.82 mm, neck diam. 8.08 mm, base to shoulder length 46.44 mm) bears a headstamp with the code S 5 17 S67, indicating that it was manufactured by Königliches Munitionsfabrik, Spandau, Germany, in May 1917 and was made of 67% copper and 33% zinc. The cartridge from Area 102 (Bkt 10; base diam. 11.81 mm, neck diam. 8 mm, base to shoulder length 47.2 mm) bears a headstamp with the code 47 Z and a six-pointed star, indicating that it was manufactured in 1947 at the Zbrojovka Brno Factory in Brno, Czechoslovakia (47 Z), and that the case is made of brass; a bullet of the same manufacturer was found at Ashqelon (Peretz 2017: Fig. 25:3).
Varia. Ceramic wasters and metal slag were found in Areas 107 and 108 (Fig. 14).
Based on the dates of the surface sherds, Bureir was occupied from the Hellenistic period through modern time. The distribution of pottery from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods compared to Black Gaza Ware—whose spatial distribution was noticeably more confined—indicates that the ancient village extended beyond the confines of the Ottoman- and British Mandate-period village.
All architectural remains identified in the survey were of poured-concrete structures dated to the British Mandate period, while no clearly identifiable earlier architectural remains from the nineteenth century CE were found. Among the structural remains documented in the survey, only those ascribed to the flourmill can be dated with some accuracy, as this complex appears on maps based on surveys conducted between 1923–1925. An additional date is provided by the manufacturer’s mark of ‘Barron and Son Ltd Makers Gloucester’ on one of the millstones, as this company bears this name only since 1904 (Mills 2007:47, Fig. 2). This information suggests that the flourmill of Bureir may be ascribed to a period between 1904 and 1948, when the village was destroyed. The presence of this millstone at Bureir, as well as that of Marseille roof tiles, demonstrate that the village of the British Mandate period and the northern Negev in general were well connected to regional and international markets of the time.