In July 2020, a salvage excavation was conducted at Horbat ‘Illin (Lower), within the municipal boundaries of Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-8783; map ref. 199706–243/627797–111; Fig. 1), following the discovery of antiquities during archaeological inspection prior to the enlargement of a school. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Bet Shemesh Municipality, was directed by M. Hemed (field photography) with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), S. Halevy (photography and photogrammetry), A. Rose (drafting), M. Anton (physical anthropology), N. Ben-Ari (pottery), V. Milevsky, A. Levy, R. Be’eri and S. Gendler (scientific guidance).
Horbat ‘Illin lies on a spur on the western bank of Nahal Zanoah and consists of three parts: Upper, Lower and Southern. As a result of regional development, multiple excavations and surveys have been conducted at the site in recent years. A survey of Ramat Bet Shemesh documented antiquities within the area of the site (Dagan 2010:17–26, Sites 11.1, 11.2, 33.1, 33.2, 34.1, 34.2, 35, 37). Previous surveys and excavations conducted at Horbat ‘Illin (Upper) uncovered settlement remains, burial caves, and installations dating from the Hellenistic to the Mamluk periods (Seligman and May 1994 [Fig. 1: A-1743]; Weksler-Bdolah 2012 [Fig. 1: A-2009]). Excavations at Horbat ‘Illin (Lower) discovered settlement remains dating from the Neolithic period and a significant settlement layer from the Early Bronze Age I (Braun 1994 [Fig. 1: A-1779]; Mizrachi 2012 [Fig. 1: A-6340]; Be’eri et al. 2020 [Fig. 1: A-6416]). Surveys and excavations at Horbat ‘Illin (South) uncovered stone-lined pits containing Chalcolithic finds, as well as EB I surface pottery, Hellenistic burial caves, Byzantine rock-hewn burial caves and rock-hewn installations (Stark 1994; Balila 2020 [Fig. 1: A-8374]).
The current excavation took place in the southern part of Horbat ‘Illin (Lower). The south of the area intended for construction was uncovered mechanically down to the bedrock, revealing Chalcolithic remains. The excavation focused on the north side of this area, which had been disturbed by mechanical tools, sewage infrastructure, and wall construction. Using a backhoe to dig through a layer of modern debris, the excavation (Fig. 2) revealed four round/oval burial shafts of various sizes beneath it (L101, L102, L104, L110), which were hewn in the soft marl rock; the shafts contained Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age finds as well as the remnants of two walls (W105, W109). The excavation was conducted under the supervision of representatives from the Atra Kadisha organization, who limited its scope.
Shaft 101 (opening 1.8 × 2.5 m, depth 0.5 m; Fig. 3) was the only shaft excavated to its full depth. Its upper part contained debris consisting of large fieldstones and a fragment of a lower millstone. The stones may have collapsed from a building above the shaft or belong to a grave marker on the surface. Beneath the debris layer, a soil fill covered a surface composed of medium-sized fieldstones (L106); among these stones, in the southern part of the shaft, lay an oval stone slab that may be a tombstone. The partial dismantling of stone surface L107 revealed skeletal remains, probably human, and the excavation was halted in this location. The soil fill in the shaft yielded Chalcolithic and EB IA pottery, suggesting that the shaft was reused. Shaft 102 (diam. 1.3 m) was not excavated since, as soon as its excavation began, human skeletal remains were discovered in it. Shafts 104 and 110 were not excavated to any great depth as their excavation was also halted. Shaft 104 contained medium-sized charred stones (Fig. 4).
Walls 105 and 109 were parallel and spaced c. 1 m apart (W105—length c. 2 m; W109—length c. 1.5 m; Fig. 4); they were found under an accumulation of brown soil in an area that had been disturbed by the installation of a sewer pipe. The walls were built of large fieldstones on an east–west alignment and the marl bedrock between them was devoid of finds. The excavation was halted before any link between the walls and the shafts could be established.
To the north of W105, human skeletal remains were uncovered by a backhoe (L111; Fig. 4); at least two had been buried in the marl bedrock. There may have been hewn burial shafts in this location filled in with quarried material after burial, as it was almost impossible to distinguish between the bones and the soft rock. Walls 105 and 109 may have marked the location of the hewn shafts.
The excavation yielded Chalcolithic and EB IA pottery (below), a few small flint chips, and two hammerstones found on the surface. The surface layer of modern debris yielded an Ottoman tobacco pipe fragment (L100, B1000/7 ; Fig. 5).
The excavation yielded nearly 500 sherds, including rims, body fragments, and a few bases and handles, most are dating from the Chalcolithic and EB IA periods and some from the beginning of EB IB period. The Chalcolithic assemblage is known from sites of the same period in the Ramat Bet Shemesh region and the Shephelah. Yet, the Early Bronze Age assemblage is almost unknown in Ramat Bet Shemesh and the surrounding area. An excavation conducted in 2012 at Horbat ‘Illin (Lower), near the current site, uncovered remains of an Early Bronze IA–IB settlement (Y. Paz, pers. comm.; Be’eri et al. 2020) and there is a direct link between the two excavations.
Chalcolithic Period (Ghassulian) The pottery assemblage from this period is made of light yellowish ware containing medium and small gray grits. The assemblage comprises numerous bowls (Fig. 6:1–16) with plain, tapered or rounded rims, some thickened and some flaring slightly outward. A few bowls were decorated with red paint: on some, the rim had a red painted band (Fig. 6:2, 3, 5, 6) and on others, the exterior was red slipped (Fig. 6:5, 8–10, 15). The assemblage also includes an open basin with a thick rim that is square in section (Fig. 6:17) and a holemouth basin with a thickened, slightly inverted rim (Fig. 6:18), as well as holemouth jars (Fig. 7:1–4) with plain, tapered or rounded rims. Most holemouth jars are undecorated, although one (Fig. 7:3) has a short, slightly upturned rim decorated with a red painted band. Other finds are short necked jars (Fig. 7:5–7 with an outward flaring rim and cornets (Fig. 7:8, 9). Similar assemblages were found at Beqo‘a (Golani, Storchan and Eirikh-Rose 2018), at Horbat Zur (Eirikh-Rose et al. 2017) and Horbat ‘Illit B (Milevski et al. 2013: Figs. 23–27, 29, 30).
Early Bronze Age IA The pottery assemblage from this period is made of brown ware containing large to small gray or white grits. The assemblage includes bowls (Fig. 8:1–8) with plain, tapered or rounded rims, a few slightly thickened. One bowl (Fig. 8:5) has a pinched rim, probably for pouring liquids. Some bowls are decorated with red paint on the inside and outside (Fig. 8:5, 8), and some are decorated with a red painted band on the rim (Fig. 8:1, 6). The assemblage also contains holemouth jars (Fig. 8:9–13) with rims that are square in section; some of these are thickened and resemble the rims of the Chalcolithic closed basins, although the two types are made of different clays. Most holemouth jars lack any decoration, apart from one (Fig. 8:13), with a thumb-indented decoration on the rim and an impressed rope decoration below it. The assemblage also contains jars (Fig. 9:1–4) with plain, tapered or rounded flaring rims. A body fragment with an incised decoration was also found (Fig. 9:5), as was a handle with a double cross-section (Fig. 9:6) that is typical of the beginning of EB IB (Yekutieli 2000:137, Fig. 8.7:10). Similar assemblages were recovered in the vicinity of the current excavation in the past (Be’eri et al. 2020), at Azor (Golani and van den Brink 1999), at Afridar in Ashqelon (Braun and Gophna 2004; Golani 2004; Khalaily 2004) and at Taur Ikhbeineh (Oren and Yekutieli 1992).
The rock-hewn burial shafts and the burials in the marl rock show that the area was used for burial and that it lies on the fringes of an extensive settlement dating from the Chalcolithic period and mainly from the EB I, remains of which were discovered to the northwest of the current excavation in the past (Braun 1994; Mizrahi 2012; Be’eri et al. 2020).
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