In April–May 2017, a trial excavation was conducted in Nahal Yarmut (Permit No. A-7989; map ref. 19706–16/62720–6), prior to the widening of Highway 38. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Netivei Israel—National Transport Infrastructure Company, was directed by A. Eirikh-Rose, with the assistance of A. Shalev and M. Oron (trial trenches), R. Ben-Chelouche and B. Storchan (area supervision), M. Kahan (surveying), A. Wiegmann (photogrammetry) and A. Shadman (project management). Subsequently, a salvage excavation was undertaken in October–December 2017 (License No. B-457/2017) on behalf of Kedem Company and Tel Aviv University. The excavation was directed by K. Zukovski of Tel Aviv University and A. Eirikh-Rose of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with A. Gopher and C. Ashkenazi. Further assistance was provided by G. Mavronanos, A. Rotem, B. Efrati, S. Galmor, Y. Parush, T. Xenia-Atali and Y. Kedar (area supervision), A. Ze’evi (administration and drone photography) and B. Gross and A. Shavit (excavation management and general assistance). The following report presents finds from the two excavations.
The site was discovered early in 2017 in trial trenches dug prior to the widening of Road 38 at the entrance to Bet Shemesh’s western industrial area (Fig. 1). The trial trenches uncovered building remains and compact stone surfaces dated to the Neolithic period, and they allowed to successfully identify the outer limits of the site (Fig. 2), which apparently covered an area of 1.5 dunams. The site is located on a plateau sloping moderately eastward to Nahal Yarmut, about 0.5 km west of the region’s main spring at ‘Enot Deqalim.
Thirty-six excavation squares were opened (c. 900 sq m; Fig. 3), uncovering two main strata with several phases. The earliest stratum dates from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, and the later one dates from the Pottery Neolithic period (Lodian culture; Jericho IX). The PPNB stratum was found almost throughout the entire excavation area, while the PN stratum was uncovered mainly in the western part of the excavated area.
Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (Fig. 4)
Two main features were identified in this stratum: a unique architectural array of square buildings with plaster floors, and burials lying beneath the plaster floors. Five square buildings were excavated (I–V), most of which were oriented with corners facing the four cardinal directions; they were surrounded by several installations. Only the foundations of the buildings were preserved; they were built of fieldstones and partially dressed stones. The buildings’ floors were made of white plaster (thickness 3–15 cm), and in four of the five buildings (I–III, V) the plaster was decorated in red, black and yellow; due to the poor preservation of the colors, no clear decorative patterns could be identified. The plaster was laid directly on the ground or on a bedding of small stones (thickness 3–50 cm), and it covered the entire area of the rooms as well as the bases of the walls. Several phases and repairs were identified in all the floors. The floors were mostly devoid of finds, apart from a few flint items. Pits were dug into the floors, usually in the corners of the rooms, and most of these contained burials. Most of the pits were sealed with plaster, and prior to their excavation they appeared as depressions in the floor. Several buildings were found with burials placed directly on the floor of the room and not in pits, suggesting that they belong to a later phase of the buildings’ use.
Building I. The building contained a square room (exterior dimensions c. 6.5 × 6.5 m; floor size 25 sq m; Fig. 5), in which two architectural phases were discerned. In the initial phase, the walls (W129, W210, W260, W386; length c. 6 m, width 0.6–0.7 m) were constructed of two rows of stones with additional stones placed between the two rows. The walls were preserved to the height of one or two courses, except for W386 which was poorly preserved. Wall 260 continued to the northeast, where it served as the northwestern wall (W258) of Building II. The building contained two superimposed plaster floors. The earlier floor (L305) was laid on a bedding of small stones (thickness c. 0.5 m). A thick layer of small stones (thickness c. 0.3 m) was placed on top of this floor, which was overlain by the later plaster floor (L122/L160). In this phase, the building was reduced in size (c. 5.5 × 5.5 m), and Walls 210 and 260 were rebuilt; the southwestern wall of this phase was not preserved, and the main sign of its existence was that Floor 122 ended c. 0.2 m away from the walls of the earlier phase. This floor retained traces of paint in various shades of red and black (Fig. 6). Several installations were discovered on it. One of these (L442) seems to have comprised a hearth beside a built and plastered podium supporting a medium-sized elongated stone. One burial (L449) was found in a pit dug into Floor 122/160 in the building’s eastern corner.
Building II was uncovered to the east of Building I (Fig. 5); the two buildings share W258, but at this stage it is impossible to draw any conclusions regarding the stratigraphic relationship between the two. This was a square building, smaller than Building I (exterior dimensions 5 × 5 m; floor size 16 sq m). Its walls (W257, W258, W347, W348) were built of two rows of stones with a few small stones between the two rows; they were preserved to the height of a single course, apart from W258 that was preserved to a height of two courses. The northern part of W257 was renovated, and the two courses in W258 may be a later repair. The building contained three superimposed plaster floors (L284, L302, L433). The earliest floor was laid on a substantial bedding of small stones (thickness c. 0.3 m). No burials were found in this building.
Work Area to the North of Buildings I and II. The open space between the two buildings contained two stone-built and plastered installations (L454, L459; Fig. 7) and a wall remains (W315), attesting to activity outside the buildings.
Building III. Most of the walls of Building III were not preserved (Fig. 8), but based on the well-preserved plaster floors, also this building was square (external dimensions 6.5 × 6.5 m; floor area c. 25 sq m). Although immediately to the northeast of Building II, it appears to have been built on a slightly different alignment from that of Buildings I and II. Only two wall sections were preserved (W251, W319; length up to 2 m, width c. 0.7 m), built of two rows of stones with a few stones between the two rows, and were preserved to the height of a single course. This building also contained evidence of several phases: at least two plaster floors were identified (L365, L423), and possibly even a third one. Along the north side of the building was a triangular plastered surface (L320), with a plaster floor at its eastern end (L421); the surface may have served as an entrance area for the building. Several burials were found beneath the floors and two additional ones were discovered on the floor, making a total of about ten interments. One of the burials on top of the floor (L378) contained two adults in a flexed position facing each other (Fig. 9).
Building IV. This structure was only partially preserved (Fig. 10); none of its walls survived due to damage caused during the PN period (below). The preserved sections of plaster flooring suggest that its plan was square or rectangular. The building had at least three floors (L356, L371, L460+L461; Fig. 11). Numerous burials were found beneath the floors and along the sides of the building. Most striking among them is a group burial of about ten individuals, including adults, young people, children and infants (L426). A concentration of stone and bone beads—some of which were probably part of an anklet—was found beside one of the interred.
Building V. Two distinct construction phases were identified (Vb, Va), and each phase comprised several floors (Fig. 10). Phase Vb, the earlier of the two, was rather well preserved (5 × 5 m; Fig. 12). Its walls (W468, W469, W470, W472) were built of two rows of stones with a core of additional stones; they were preserved up to one to two courses. In the earlier phase, at least four superimposed plaster floors were identified (L465, L474, L483, L484 from the upper to the lower). Two pits (L471, L475) were dug from Floor 474. Floor 483 contained two narrow elliptical protrusions formed in the plaster, one opposite the other along the floor from east to west (Fig. 13). One of the protrusions (c. 0.2 × 0.7 m) extended from the building’s southeastern wall up to Pit 475, while the other protrusion (c. 0.20 × 0.69 m) extended from the building’s northwestern wall up to Pit 471. The function of these protrusions in unclear. To the northwest of W472, outside the building, was a plastered rectangular floor (L480) that may have been an entrance area of sorts, as in Building III. This entrance area was demarcated on the east by two stones. With the laying of Floor 474, a wall was apparently built in this place, blocking the entrance area. A burial (L477) was found beneath the Phase Vb floors of the building.
In Phase Va, the later phase, a building was erected on a slightly different alignment from that of the earlier phase (Fig. 10). The remains from this phase consist of the western wall (W430), the eastern wall (W446) and two superimposed plaster floors (L450, L356, earlier and later respectively). The northern part of the building from this phase was damaged during the Pottery Neolithic period. Two burials were found beneath the floors of this phase; at least three individuals were identified in one of them (L464) and the other (L467) was on top of a Phase Vb wall.
The Burials. The excavation uncovered over 40 burials, of which the large majority date from PPNB. Nearly all are clearly associated with plastered floors; most were found in pits beneath the floors, and only a few were found on top of the floors. Some of the burials show clear evidence that the plaster was removed and resealed after the burial. Most of the burials are primary interments in anatomical articulation, and most of the interred were flexed in a fetal position, with only a few were buried differently; one individual was buried sitting on a raised stone seat. In most of the burials, the skulls were intact. Most burials contained a single individual, except for three burials in which several individuals were identified. Two burials contained an adult together with a child or an infant. The burials yielded only few grave goods: several beads, marine and land mollusk shells, flint tools and animal bones.
The Finds. The material finds include flint items, worked limestone, grinding and crushing tools, several bone tools, animal bones, a few fish bones and an abundance of marine and land mollusk shells. The special finds from the site consist of a fragment of a stone slab with two depressions (a game board?) and an anthropomorphic stone figurine.
Pottery Neolithic Period (Fig. 14)
The remains from this stratum are attributed to the Lodian culture (Jericho IX) and were found in the western part of the excavation area. The architectural remains were less well preserved than those of the earlier period. The main structural remains were two curved stone walls (W107, W197) built of an inner row of medium-sized fieldstones and an outer row of large fieldstones; they probably belonged to round buildings. Wall 107 may have been part of a round building (diam. 2.7 m). A section of a tamped-earth floor near the wall was probably the building’s floor. A habitation level on the floor yielded a large holemouth jar beside a circular cluster of stones—probably a hearth (Fig. 15). Beneath W107 lay another wall, but its stratigraphic context is unclear, as there were no abutting floors or layers. A layer of stones (L317) near W197 may be a floor bedding. In the southwest part of the area, another wall stump (W318) was built of medium-sized stones and bricks and was poorly preserved; it may have been part of an installation.
This stratum is characterized by surfaces of compact, tightly packed stones (Fig. 16), usually made of small and medium-sized fieldstones, some of which were roughly dressed and at times burnt. Some of these surfaces contained river pebbles that probably came from Nahal Yarmut, which flows to the south of the site. Some of the surfaces are rectangular, and at least some of them were placed in shallow pits dug in the ground. On the stone surfaces was an abundance of pottery, flint items and animal bones. These may have been work surfaces, or possibly beddings for the floors of buildings with mud-brick walls that did not survive. Burnt rectangular mud bricks were found in a few places in the excavation area. Several pits dug in the ground and filled with stones or a mixture of soil and stones yielded rich finds.
At least two burials were found in this stratum. One (L406) was partially excavated and contained a primary burial of an individual placed in a flexed position. The burial was delineated with stones, and a large pottery sherd was placed on top of the deceased. The second burial (L327), uncovered on one of the surfaces of compact stone, also contained an individual placed in a flexed position.
The Finds. This stratum yielded pottery, flint tools, stone artifacts, spindle weights, two figurines characteristic of the period, as well as large quantities of animal bones and shells. The ceramic finds (Fig. 17) are of types that appear in the Lodian culture (Jericho IX; Garfinkel 1999). They include bowls (Fig. 17:1, 2), kraters (Fig. 17:3–6) and holemouth jars (Fig. 17:7, 8), some with loop handles (Fig. 17:9) or knob handles (Fig. 17:10). Most of the vessels have disc bases (Fig. 17:11) or flat bases (Fig. 17:12). Some of the vessels are decorated with red burnished bands on a light background (Fig. 17:5). The spindle weights are made of pottery fragments in secondary use (Fig. 17:13). The flint assemblage includes small arrowheads of ‘Haparsa’ and ‘Herzliya’ types, trapezoidal sickle blades shaped by using pressure retouch and a few bifacial tools. The groundstone assemblage consists of bowls, grinding stones and an axe made of hard limestone, as well as a unique limestone slab incised with a geometric pattern. The excavation yielded a pit that contained in situ limestone debitage and several limestone cores, attesting to a limestone-production industry.
In recent years, many sites dating from various stages of the Neolithic period have been discovered and excavated in the Judean Hills, on the western edge of the mountain ridge and in the eastern Shephelah. Together with sites identified in the past, the newly found sites reveal a rich settlement array from the Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic periods. These include Abu Ghosh (Perrot 1952; Khalaily, Marder and Bankirer 2003), Moza (Khalaily et al. 2007; Khalaily and Vardi 2019), Eshta’ol (Golani et al. 2016), Yesodot (Nativ, Iserlis and Paz 2012), Nahal Yarmut (Khalaily 2011) and Teluliot Batashi (Kaplan 1958). The current site joins these sites and augments our knowledge of the Neolithic periods in the region.
Despite the site’s moderate size, its finds and features are significant (see also Gopher et al. 2019). Unlike other PPNB settlement, this site is small in area (compare, e.g., with the nearby settlement at Eshta’ol; Golani et al. 2016), has a high concentration of burials relative to its size, exhibits a close association between burials and buildings, and comprises particularly uniform buildings and colored plaster floors. The almost complete absence of habitation levels and domestic installations, the absence of roofed structures and the rather large number of burials—all suggest that the PPNB site uncovered in the excavation was used as a burial ground, as has been proposed for the Neolithic site at Kefar Ha-Horesh (Goring-Morris 2005).
The PN site has a completely different character. Despite its modest size, it was evidently a residential settlement. It contained very few stone-built structures, and most of the activity was apparently carried out on stone surfaces outside the buildings. Some of these stone surface may have served as foundations for structures built of mud bricks or other perishable materials. It can be assumed that this represents another Lodian (Jericho IX) culture settlement, in which a small group of people lived near a steambed, resembling the site discovered in the Neve Yaraq neighborhood of Lod, on the banks of Nahal Ayyalon (Gopher and Blockman 2004).
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