Two excavation areas were opened (A, B; c. 250 sq m; Fig. 2), located c. 80 m apart. Area A (Fig. 3) contained remains of a massive building of the ‘four-room house’ type, dated to Iron Age IIA (tenth century BCE; Stratum II), and remains of a fortress from Iron Age IIB–C (eighth–sixth centuries BCE; Stratum I). Collapsed stones found in Area B and accompanied by Iron Age IIB–C pottery may be the remains of an installation.
The excavation areas lay on a loess hill commanding views of the surrounding region near Nahal Dudayim in the southern Judean Shephelah, on the watershed between Nahal Gerar to the north and Nahal Pattish to the south. Many sites have been excavated and surveyed in the surrounding geographical area and in the drainage basins of Nahal Dudayim, Nahal Karkor, Nahal Pehar and Nahal Shemarya. Excavations at Horbat Karkor ‘Illit, c. 1 km south of the current site, revealed settlement remains, a church from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, cisterns and water installations, rock-hewn caves, a cemetery and architectural features dating from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (fourth–ninth centuries CE; Figueras 1992, 1995; Aladjem 2013). On the bank of Nahal Pehar, c. 2 km north of the current site, excavations uncovered the remains of a Byzantine monastery, whose chapel was paved with a decorated mosaic floor, and a Byzantine farmhouse (Paran 2009). Development surveys conducted to the north and northeast of the current site, in the vicinity of Nahal Pehar, Horbat Baqar and Khirbat el-‘Umri, discovered rock cuttings and wall remains attributed to agricultural systems dating from the Roman period to the modern era (first–twentieth centuries CE; License Nos. S-43/2008, S-702/2016, S-785/2017).
Stratum II. Five walls belonging to a substantial building were uncovered (W58, W60, W61, W64, W69). Walls 61, 64 and 69 were wide walls built of mud-bricks laid as headers and stretchers, whereas Walls 58 and 60 were built of limestones held together with mud-brick material and were only partially preserved. Wall 61 (width c. 2.6 m) abutted W64 and formed a corner with it; W64 thickened the northern side of W69 (total width 5.4 m). These walls were abutted by two sections of a mud-brick floor (L159, L160), on which four square stone pillars were set on wide stone plinths sunk into the floor (Figs. 4, 5). The pillars were arranged in two rows, in the east and the west. Along the west side of the floor was a courtyard paved with large stone slabs (L153; Fig. 4).
Four other floor sections (L149, L162, L172, L175; Figs. 6, 7) built of small, densely packed stones were uncovered to the north and east of the wide walls and the courtyard. The stone floors were at the same elevation as the floors of the building and the western courtyard. A monolithic stone pillar on Floor 175 that resembles those found on Floor 159/160 was probably a continuation of the eastern row of pillars. Floor 172 abutted the remains of W60 on the east, and Floor 149 abutted the remains of W58 on the east. The elevation of the floors and the series of pillars in the eastern row enable the attribution of these four sections of flooring to the same building.
Two installations are also attributed to this phase. One is an oven built of fired bricks in the northeast of the building, with two round baking chambers (Fig. 8), one large (L167)—disturbed by later construction—and one smaller (L171). The second installation is a round basin built of mud-brick material in the northwest of the building (L170; Fig. 9); It contained fire-damaged materials.
The building yielded potsherds that date its initial occupation to Iron Age IIA (tenth century BCE).
The building’s stratigraphy attests to a gradual, prolonged disintegration following its abandonment. At some stage after its collapse, the roof beams were burnt for a reason that is not clear.
Stratum I. Remains of a fortress were uncovered (30 × 33 m) that included external and internal walls, a floor and a stone-built surface. Some of the walls of the earlier building were evidently used to construct the fortress, mostly in its interior walls.
Three of the fortress’s outer walls were unearthed (W50, W55, W57; width 1.7–2.1 m); they were built of two rows of dressed limestone blocks with a core of fieldstones and mud-brick material, preserved to a height of three to five courses. Wall 50 was partly founded on the remains of a mud-brick wall (W64). The fortress’s northern outer wall and its corners were not preserved.
Six of the fortress’s interior walls were preserved (W51, W52, W56, W63, W65, W68); they were built of limestones bonded with brick material; some of them abutted the outer walls (W50, W57). Wall 65 was wide (preserved width 2.5 m), and parts of an earlier wall (W61) were evidently incorporated in its northern part. Two stone benches were installed, one along the southern face of W52 (L59), and the other along the western face of W68 (no locus number). No joins were found between W68 and the building’s other walls. Wall 63, which was poorly preserved, adjoined W52 on the north near its eastern end, possibly to widen and support it. There was evidently a narrow passage (width 1.45 m) between Walls 51 and 52.
A tamped earthen floor and a section of stone paving were found inside the building. The earthen floor (L152) was discovered inside the narrow passage, abutting both the passage’s walls (W51, W52). The stone paving (L62; Fig. 8) abutted W52 on the north along the wall’s eastern part. As it was at a higher elevation than Floor 152, it may have been built in a later phase, although both floors may belong to the same phase.
Pottery from the fortress walls and the accumulation on and beneath the floors dates the fortress’s occupation to Iron Age IIB–C (eighth–sixth centuries BCE).
The area contained collapsed fieldstones that may be the remains of a poorly preserved installation (L250; Fig. 10). A habitation level containing ash was uncovered to the northwest of the collapsed stones. Among the collapsed stones and in the habitation level were pottery sherds dating from Iron Age IIB–C (eighth–sixth centuries BCE), similar to the finds from Stratum I in the fortress.
The excavation revealed two solidly built structures dating from two different phases of the Iron Age. A substantial structure that was probably an administrative building (Stratum II) dates from Iron Age IIA (tenth century BCE). The building’s style, with its stone-paved courtyards and rows of square stone pillars, conforms to that of the ‘four-room house’ that was common in the region during this period (Faust 2003; Fabian and Gilad 2010). After the building was abandoned in the late tenth–early ninth century BCE, the roof beams supported by the stone pillars collapsed and the building was burnt. A devastating layer of destruction sealed the building’s remains. In Iron Age IIB–C (eighth–fifth centuries BCE), a large stone fortress (Stratum I) was built on top of the destruction layer that sealed the earlier building. This fortress is typical of the period, having been built on a prominent hill commanding views of the surrounding landscape—a distinctive characteristic of contemporary fortified sites in the region (Gophna 1964; Mazar 1985; Zissu, Ganor and Kehati 2012: Sites 3, 18, 69, 308, 373, 414; Talis 2015; Ganor, Weiss and Aladjem 2019).
The absence of Philistine monochrome ware in the site’s two strata and the wealth of common Judean pottery types, as well as the solid construction of the two buildings and the site’s topographical characteristics, indicate that it was a strategic site on the southwestern outskirts of the Kingdom of Judah throughout Iron Age II (Na’aman 1987; Garfinkel 2012; Koch 2012).