In June 2020, a trial excavation was conducted at Tel es-Safa (Giv‘at Rehelim), east of Kibbutz Ayyelet Ha-Shahar (License No. G-31/2020; map ref. 2552–7/7694–9). The excavation, funded by the Hazor Excavation Expedition and Zefat Academic College, was directed by S. Bechar from the University of Haifa’s Recanati Institute and Y. Shivtiel of the Zefat Academic College, with the assistance of S. Greenberg (area supervision), L. Gonen and R. Halevi (drafting), N. Goldberg (drawing), N. Zilberberg (field photography) and S. Graciani.
Previous surveys on the site record over 50 caves that were used as burial caves and as dwellings and hiding places in various periods (Shivtiel and Boslov 2009). The current excavation took place in one of the caves where rock cuttings were identified (Cave 10). Four excavation areas opened inside the cave yielded remains from the Intermediate Bronze Age and the Early Islamic and Mamluk periods, as well as modern remains. An Arab village built above the dozens of caves on the hill was abandoned in the 1950s (according to veterans of Kibbutz Ayyelet Ha-Shahar, who remember the village and its residents).
Intermediate Bronze Age. Intermediate Bronze Age remains were found in two of the excavation areas. Pottery from this period was discovered in the southernmost and innermost part of the cave on the excavation’s final day. The excavation area from the current season is limited (1 × 1 m) and will hopefully be enlarged in the coming season. The northern area, near the cave entrance, revealed remains of an Intermediate Bronze Age grave (Figs. 1, 2) containing pottery and beads from this period.
Early Islamic and Mamluk Periods. Finds from these periods were discovered in all but the northern excavation areas. They include pottery and numerous metal artifacts. A wall was built across the center of the cave, between its northern and southern parts (Fig. 3). Two excavation areas opened on either side of the wall yielded Early Islamic and Mamluk finds. A mound of soil in the area to the south of the wall contained abundant metal scraps and metal artifacts (Figs. 4, 5). This part of the cave may have been a refuse area, or a workshop used by those dwelling in the village above the caves.
Modern Era. Modern finds were discovered throughout the cave and were not confined to the excavation areas. Evidence of antiquities robbers throughout the cave included shoe soles, rubber buckets, hoe heads, etc. Metal pegs inserted in the ground were also discovered everywhere; they are impossible to date and their use is unclear. In the southernmost excavation area, where finds from the Intermediate Bronze Age were discovered, a thick layer of ash contained modern artifacts, including pieces of cloth, plastic combs, etc.
Based on the excavation finds, the cave appears to have been hewn in the Intermediate Bronze Age and used as a burial site for multiple individuals. In time, the graves were covered with collapsed stones and layers of soil. In the Early Islamic period, a village was evidently built over the cave and its inhabitants used the cave for various purposes. Due to the limited excavation, it is impossible to date the construction of the village above the caves, which can only be determined by more extensive excavations in the future, including the remains of the village itself. The wall may have been built across the center of the cave to divide it into living quarters, or to allocate separate areas for different uses. The finds from recent years attest to the presence of antiquities robbers in the cave. Fortunately, the Intermediate Bronze Age remains were not damaged by robbers as they were buried beneath later remains.
Shivtiel Y. and Boslov V. 2009. Documentation Survey of Tel es-Safa Caves (Ayyelet Caves). Cave Research Center, Hebrew University. Jerusalem (Hebrew).