Kafr Bara extends across the western foothills of the Samaria hills, near Nahal Qana and an alluvial plain that has been settled over long periods. The area is characterized by bedrock of the Menuha formation—a nari rock cover overlying calcareous rock containing flint fragments. Previous salvage excavations at the site exposed settlement remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Mamluk periods (Arbel 1999; Sari 2000; Abu Fana 2003; Abu Fana 2010; Ariel and Sokolov 2018). The settlement established at the site in the twentieth century CE was founded on the remains of the ancient settlement (Grossman 1994:190).
The excavation was conducted in three rock-hewn caves (19, 54, 64), four hewn tombs (79, 82, 85, 104), a hewn water cistern (51), a hewn winepress (62) and a farming terrace (L123). All excavated features, as well as additional field walls and farming plots, were documented in a survey conducted prior to the excavation (License No. S-671/2016). The finds from the early periods—the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, Pottery Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods and the Early Bronze Age—will be preliminarily presented in what follows and will be extensively published in the future. The finds from the late periods—the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Mamluk and Ottoman periods—will be fully described below.
Rock-Hewn Caves
Cave 19. The northern part of the cave revealed two openings: a small round opening in the northwest, likely the original entrance to the cave, and a wide opening in the northeast, apparently a breach or a late cave-in. Both openings lead to an oval entrance hall (168 sq m; Fig. 2). Five round pits were hewn into the floor of the hall (Fig. 3); adjacent to them were remains of a stone paving. Two passages hewn into the southern wall of the hall lead south and southeast. The southern passage (exposed length 11 m, width 1–3 m; Fig. 4) splits at its end into three passages, extending south and southeast. A probe sunk just before the junction exposed three superimposed beaten-earth floors, laid over bedrock and separated by earth fills (total thickness c. 1.5 m). The southeastern passage (exposed length 6 m, width c. 2.5 m) leads to a large space (6 sq m), which was only partly excavated.
The cave yielded finds from eight periods. In the southern part of the entrance hall, near the opening of the southern passage, were flint items from the end of the PPNB (7000–6400 BCE; Tendler, Brailovsky-Rokser and Krispin 2023:86–94). It appears that the cave’s entrance hall was hewn during this period. In the Pottery Neolithic period, the cave was considerably enlarged. Numerous finds from this period (the Yarmukian culture; 6400–5800 BCE) include complete decorated vessels (Tendler and van den Brink 2022:7–11), flint tools and a green stone pendant; these were found on a beaten-earth floor along the southern passage and in two round pits in the entrance hall, adjacent to the entrance of the southern passage. Other finds from this period were found in the probe at the end of the southern passage, on the three superimposed earth floors and in the fills between them. Finds from the late Chalcolithic period (the Ghassulian culture; 4000–3900 BCE) were discovered on the rock floor of the entrance hall and within three round pits hewn into the floor. These include ossuary fragments and a few human bones, indicating that the cave was used for burial at that time. Finds from the EB I (3300–3050 BCE) were found in the center of the southern passage, in the southeastern passage and within a round pit in the entrance hall. These include pottery and a decorated slate palette fragment originating in Egypt, which served for crushing cosmetic ingredients. The EB I finds are characteristic of burial caves, indicating that the cave continued to serve for burial during this period. Under the stone paving in the entrance hall were Byzantine-period pottery vessels (not drawn). Above the paving were Abbasid potsherds, including a bowl (Fig. 5:1), a cooking pot (Fig. 5:2), a jar (Fig. 5:3), jugs (Fig. 5:4, 5) and lamps (Fig. 5:6, 7). The vessels appear to have been associated with the settlement at the site during those periods. On the surface within the cave were finds from the Mamluk period, including a glass bottle (see appendix: Fig. 1:8). Also found on the surface were bowls (Fig. 5:8, 9), jugs (Fig. 5:10, 11) and tobacco pipes (Fig. 5:12, 13) from the Ottoman period. Modern items found in the cave include shrapnel from World War I, indicating short-term activities, such as overnighting herds and metal collecting.
The cave is an extensive and branching underground system hewn during the Neolithic period. Human activity in natural caves in the vicinity during prehistoric periods was documented in the Nahal Qana cave (Gopher and Tsuk 1996), the Elqana cave (Zissu et al. 2015:18) and the Zrada cave (Freikman 2017:82–90), which yielded finds from the Pottery Neolithic (Yarmukian culture) and late Chalcolithic periods and from the Early Bronze Age. Unlike those natural karstic caves, Cave 19 was intentionally hewn.
Cave 54 (c. 57 sq m; Fig. 6) was hewn into the soft kirton under the hard nari. It is a narrow cave, which apparently had a wide square entrance on its western side. The cave yielded layers of secondary burials of numerous individuals dating from the EB I. Near the northern and southern walls of the cave were walls constructed of large fieldstones that bounded the burial area. Adjacent to the bones of the interred were objects and grave offerings, including small, decorated pottery vessels, a basalt bowl and a carnelian bead. Also found in the cave were glass vessel sherds and raw glass fragments from the Byzantine period (see appendix: Fig. 1:5, 6). At a higher level within the cave were a clay tabun and Ottoman pottery, indicating the use of the cave as a temporary dwelling during that time.
Cave 64 (341 sq m; Fig. 7) is a large space hewn into the soft kirton under the hard nari. It was apparently enlarged by hewing several times throughout the ages. At one of its stages of use, a staircase of five steps was hewn into its western wall (Fig. 8) and a round opening was hewn into its ceiling, converting the cave into a water reservoir. Patches of thick plaster on the southern wall of the cave display marks indicative of water levels. The reservoir seems to have served the settlement during the Roman and Early Islamic periods. Built partition walls inside the reservoir reduced its size. At a later stage, the partitions collapsed, and the cave apparently served for short-term activities such as dwelling and overnighting herds. Finds in the cave date from the Pottery Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Early Bronze and Roman–Ottoman periods. These include bowls (Fig. 9:1–6), a frying pan (Fig. 9:7) and a cooking pot (Fig. 9:8) from the Early Islamic periods; bowls (Fig. 9:9, 10), a cooking pot (Fig. 9:11), a jar (Fig. 9:12) and a lamp (Fig. 9:13) from the Mamluk period; and a bowl (Fig. 9:14), a jar (Fig. 9:15) and a jug (Fig. 9:16) from the Ottoman period.
Rock-Hewn Tombs
Four hewn tombs (79, 82, 85, 104) were uncovered. Based on the settlement periods at the site, the grave architecture and the finds in Tomb 104, the tombs appear to have been hewn during the Middle Roman–Byzantine periods.
Tomb 79 (L109; 0.4 × 0.9 m, depth 0.4 m; Fig. 10) is a rectangular north–south tomb, with a headrest on its northern side.
Tomb 82 (L108; 0.55 × 1.70 m, depth 0.9 m; Figs. 11, 12) is a rectangular northwest–southeast tomb. The southeastern side of its floor is slightly raised for a headrest; above it is an arched niche. A few human bones found on the western side of the tomb were identified as the toes of an adult (Nagar, below).
Tomb 85 (2.3 × 2.7 m, height 1.85 m; Figs. 13, 14) is a rectangular tomb, meticulously hewn into the limestone. Its entrance faces southwest; it is currently breached but was apparently sealed by a hinged door. On three sides of the tomb are burial troughs (0.7 × 2.0 m, depth 0.8 m), with headrests and arched niches above. Recesses hewn into the sides of the troughs supported cover stones. No finds were found in the tomb.
Tomb 104 (Figs. 15, 16) is a double arcosolia tomb, oriented northwest–southeast. It was found open and was apparently robbed, and its central space was disturbed. A deep rectangular cutting at the center of the tomb (L110; 0.65 × 1.80 m) was flanked by two vaulted burial troughs (L160, L161). Trough 160 (0.65 × 2.00 m, depth 0.75 m) was paved with white mosaic. In the troughs and in the central space of the tomb were bones of several adults and adolescents (Nagar, below). Adjacent to the interred were pottery vessels, including a cooking pot (Fig. 17:1) and jars (Fig. 17:2, 3) from the Middle Roman period; a bowl (Fig. 17:4) from the Byzantine period; and bowls (Fig. 17:5–7) and a cooking pot (Fig. 17:8) from the Mamluk period. Also found were jewelry (Fig. 18) and glass vessels from the Late Roman–early Byzantine, Mamluk and Ottoman periods (see appendix). Based on the finds from the tomb, it seemed to have been hewn during the Middle Roman period and reused for burial during the Byzantine and Mamluk periods.
Water Cistern 51
The water cistern (max diam. 2.15 m, depth 3 m; Fig. 19) has a wide opening (diam. 1.2 m). Patches of light-colored plaster were preserved on its sides.
Winepress 62
The winepress was hewn into a high rock outcrop (Figs. 20, 21). Its treading floor is rectangular (L149; 2.8 × 3.5 m). North of it is a square collecting vat (L150; 0.9 × 0.9 m, depth 0.85 m) with a round settling depression hewn into its floor.
Farming Terrace 123
The terrace (exposed length 14 m, width 7 m; Fig. 22) is bounded on its north and west by a wall constructed of fieldstones of varying sizes, and on its south by a high rock outcrop. The rock floor of the terrace is relatively flat and covered by a layer of earth (thickness c. 0.2 m). Pottery and a glass bracelet (see appendix) found at the terrace date from the late Ottoman period.
Anthropological Remains
Yossi Nagar
Two of the rock-hewn tombs (82, 104), apparently dating from the Middle Roman–Byzantine periods, yielded human bones. The bones were poorly preserved, and after their examination in the field, they were reburied at the site. The poor preservation of the bones and the lack of a laboratory examination prevent a complete evaluation of anthropological data, but age and sex could be determined.
Tomb 82. The northwestern part of the tomb (L108) revealed a few bone fragments of a foot. The epiphyses were fused, a characteristic of an adult (Johnston and Zimmer 1989). The tomb appears to have held a primary burial of a single individual. The location of the bones indicates that the head, which was not preserved, was laid on the raised headrest on the southeastern side of the tomb. A similar posture was previously exposed in a Christian burial from the Byzantine period (Peleg 2009).
Tomb 104. The central space of the tomb (L110) revealed a few bone fragments, originating from the robbed burial troughs on either side of the tomb or from a secondary use of the tomb during the Mamluk period. Most fragments are non-indicative, but one was identified as a toe with fused epiphyses, characteristic of an adult (Johnston and Zimmer 1989).
Burial Trough 160 yielded a few scattered calvarial bone fragments, teeth and postcranial bones. The long bones disintegrated, preventing the assessment of the number of individuals. The teeth were categorized into groups and documented (a full description is available in the IAA archive); they represent at least two adults. The degree of tooth wear allows an approximate age estimation of 18–25 and 30–50 years (Hillson 1986:176–201).
Burial Trough 161 yielded scattered calvarial bones, teeth and postcranial bones. Femur fragments represent at least two adults; in one, the vertical diameter of the caput femoris is 36 mm, characteristic of a female (Bass 2005:230). The teeth were categorized into groups and documented (a full description is available in the IAA archive); they represent at least 11 adults. Tooth development and wear (Hillson 1986:176–201) allow for the identification of at least three infants, one aged 1.5–2.5 and the other two aged 2–3; three children aged 3–5, 5–7 and 12–15; and five adults aged 15–25, 20–30, >30, >30 and >40.
Similar double arcosolia tombs were found at numerous sites in the Shephelah and at a few sites in Jerusalem (Avni 1997:31), but they have yet to be systematically studied. Tombs exposed in the Shephelah—at Fardisya (Zissu, Moyal and Ganor 2009), Horbat Zikhrin (Haddad 2007), Khirbat Beit Kufa (Zelinger and Hillel 2007) and other sites—yielded human bones, but in all tombs the bones were in a poor state of preservation, and the dating of the tombs to the Middle and Late Roman period or the Byzantine period was not unequivocal.