This season, the excavation focused solely in Area A to clarify the meaning of the gravelly fill that was deposited in the niche; to ascertain if the niche leads to other cavities; and to evaluate the nature of the dark material heap bounded by large stones, which extended across the southern part of Area A.
Four sub-areas (A2, A4–A6; Fig. 1) were excavated.
Sub-area A2 (Fig. 2). A niche of sorts (c. 1.5×3.0 m; Fig. 3) whose ceiling sloped toward the southwest was excavated in the southern part of the cave’s entrance. Remains of a north–south aligned wall, which sealed the opening of the cave, were discerned east of the niche. The quarrying marks of the niche were still apparent on its eastern and western sides. The niche was filled with yellow gravelly material that was apparently brought from the foot of the slopes bordering the cave. On the basis of the ceramic finds recovered from the niche, the fill should probably be dated to the Roman period.
The niche had two openings separated by a large boulder that apparently fell from the cave’s ceiling: one outside the cave to the northeast and another inside the cave to the north.
Gray–black soil mixed with stones and gravel in the front of the niche (L32001; 50.8–51.0 m below sea level [hereafter bsl]sloped from northeast to southwest (to an elevation of 52.17 m bsl). Scant remains of light calcite material were found between the cracks in the niche’s ceiling.
During the excavation it was ascertained that the niche was filled with gravelly material that was brought there from outside, probably by man (see HA-ESI 121). The recovered artifacts, like those in the 2006 season, included fragments of pottery vessels, animal bones, remains of worked wood, trees, organic matter and pits, mainly of dates and olives. A very well-preserved piece of white cloth made of flax was also found in the fill at an elevation of 52.8 m bsl.
An entrance to a cavity generally aligned north–south (L32002; length c. 2.5 m, depth at end of excavation 54.16 m bsl) was in the lower southeastern part of the niche (elevation c. 53.0 m bsl). The cavity was filled with gravelly/yellow colored powder, devoid of any archaeological finds. The excavation in the cavity was halted after it became apparent that the material is geological in nature and clean of any anthropogenic remains.
The excavation continued to a depth 53.5 m bsl, until large limestone boulders that were probably dropped inside from the opening of the niche were reached.
Sub-area A4 (Fig. 4) was located in the southwestern part of the entrance area of the cave, opposite the ritual bath (miqwe). The purpose of the excavation in this area was to clarify the nature of a dark soil heap (length c. 6, width c. 2.5 m, average height 2.5 m). The heap was enclosed on the south by the side of the cave and on the north by a large amount of fieldstones and several ashlars. The soil heap was composed of dark earth, burnt material, remains of organic matter, whose nature is unclear, and numerous archaeological finds, mainly potsherds, bones, olive and date pits and remnants of textiles and cords.
A square (2×3 m) was opened in a general north–south direction and the excavation (L34001) reached a maximum depth of 52.3 m bsl. Remains of basket tags and a newspaper left by the Avigad expedition (1961) were found close to the surface level (50.7 m bsl) inside the dark soil heap. At a depth of 51.9 m bsl, an undisturbed archaeological layer (L34002) was discerned, consisting of a light color soil layer mixed with various archeological finds including fragments of pottery vessels and Roman glass, pieces of cloth and cord, animal bones and an iron arrowhead (Fig. 5). Numerous flint tools were found below, to a depth of 52.3 m bsl. The excavation was suspended at this point, to allow prehistorian scholars to continue the work there in the future.
In retrospect, it turns out that the Avigad expedition excavated this area and the dark soil was piled up by them; it was not sifted.
Sub-area A5 (Fig. 6). A square (2×4 m, elevation 50.25–50.74 m bsl) was opened in the southern part of the cave entrance, opposite the miqwe. Powdery gray soil on the surface level (L35001) contained archaeological finds mixed with modern material. At a depth of 50.74 m bsl (L35002) light colored soil fill, mixed with a variety of finds including fragments of pottery vessels, pieces of leather, cloth and cord, and animal bones, was discerned. Remains of a leather sandal were found (Fig. 7). A layer of yellow–brown tamped earth (L35003) was discerned at a depth of 51.00 m bsl. On the layer and within it were numerous straw items and cords, including a handle of a wicker basket next to which c. 100 date pits were found. The excavation reached a depth of 51.16 m bsl.
Sub-area A6 (Fig. 8). A heap of archaeological material mixed with dark burnt organic matter was excavated west of Sub-area A4. It was bounded on the north by large stones, some of which were dressed similar to those found in Sub-area A4. A probe (c. 3×3 m) was excavated along a north–south axis. The surface level and the heap, which sloped from east to west, abutted the wall of the cave from the south.
Black–gray powdery soil mixed with organic matter (L36001; 51.65–52.70 m bsl) was excavated. At the bottom of the dark soil heap were fragments of pottery vessels, animal bones, pits, remains of wood, flint and glass. The layer of soil was brown–yellow (L36002) and similar to that discovered in Sub-area A4. The excavation reached a final depth of 52.85 m bsl.
The pottery from Area A dated to two periods, mainly the Early Roman period, including cooking pots (Fig. 9:1, 2) and jars (Fig. 9:3–5) and a small amount of potsherds to the Chalcolithic period.
The wealth of finds indicates that the vicinity of the opening, the miqwe and Area A were the main areas of activity in the cave during the Early Roman period. The cave’s inhabitants hew the niche. The finds discovered in the fill seem to suggest that in a later phase the niche was blocked by man, probably when the cave ceased to be used. The excavation of the niche was not completed and it is therefore difficult to determine its use.