In January–February 2019, excavations were initiated at the ancient settlement of ‘En Gedi, north of the synagogue (License No. B-470/2019; map ref. 237470–525/596600–700), to prepare remains of the settlement uncovered in the past by Y. Hirschfeld for inclusion in the national park. The excavation, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, and funded by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, was directed by G. Hadas and O. Peleg-Barkat, with the assistance of A. Spanier (administration), D. Porotsky (plans), A. de Vincenz (pottery processing) and M. Lavi (laboratory). Volunteers from Israel and abroad also participated in the excavation, as did veterans of the ‘En Gedi expedition, field instructors from the ‘En Gedi Field School, students at the Melaḥ Ha-Areẓ Premilitary Program at Kibbutz ‘En Gedi and laborers from Kuseifa. The Southern and ‘En Gedi District conservation team of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority accompanied the excavation.
The excavation complemented the exploration of the site begun in previous seasons (Hirschfeld 2007; Hadas and Peleg-Barkat 2017; Hadas and Peleg-Barkat 2019) by focusing on a north–south strip that separated the two parts of the ancient settlement excavated by Hirschfeld and had not been excavated before due to a large water pipe.
The excavation yielded remains of two main settlement strata, dated to the Byzantine and Mamluk periods (Fig. 1; the walls from Hirschfeld’s excavation are marked in light gray and with the letters YW). The excavation continued in three partially unearthed Byzantine-period buildings (southern, central and northern; Fig. 2:3, 7, 8), west of a north–south alleyway (Fig. 2:4); Hirschfeld had uncovered the alleyway and parts of the buildings in the past (Hirschfeld 2007: Figs. 113, 136). In the last stage of the excavation, balks that Hirschfeld had left standing were removed, exposing remains of additional structures from the Byzantine period. Remains of walls and floors from the Mamluk period were found above the Byzantine-period structures.
The Byzantine Period
The Southern Building. The excavation continued in a courtyard (L8010; 3.5–4.0 × 6.5 m) and two rooms to its south and west. A possible opening in the wall bordering the alleyway may have led into the courtyard, but it was not preserved. An opening in the southern wall (YW327) of the courtyard led to the southern room of the building (4.5 × 4.7–5.4 m). There seems to have been another opening—in the western wall (W801) of the courtyard—which led to the western room. This room was not excavated, due to a floor (L8014; see below) laid over it in the Mamluk period, but its western wall (W802) was uncovered. A threshold of a wide doorway (L9014; width 1 m) set in W802 led westward into a building that had been previously uncovered (the Palm Tree House; Fig. 2:6; Hirschfeld 2007:52, Fig. 47). The current excavation revealed that a wall (YW716) previously uncovered in the Palm Tree House was built in a later phase of the Byzantine period and blocked the southern third of the doorway.
The Central Building. The excavation of a courtyard (L9010; 2.8 × 6.0 m) and three rooms continued. The courtyard was entered from the alleyway via a narrow opening (width 0.65 m) in its eastern wall. A stepped installation in the southwestern corner of the courtyard apparently served as the base of a ladder that led to an upper floor. An opening (width 0.8 m) in the southern wall (YW317) of the courtyard led to the southern room of the building (L9005; 3.9 × 4.2 m). Two openings (Fig. 3) in the western wall of the courtyard led westward to a pair of rooms; they were not excavated, because floors were built over them in the Mamluk period (see below). The excavation the western wall (YW823) of the building also proceeded, but only a few of its stones were preserved.
The Northern Building was uncovered in its entirety. It consists of a large rectangular courtyard (L9018; 3.5 × 8.2 m) and two square rooms to its south (3.8–3.9 × 3.9–4.0 m each of them). The building was entered via a doorway (width 1.3 m) set in the northern wall of the courtyard, which bordered an alleyway (L9020; Fig. 4). This east–west alleyway connected to the north–south alleyway (Fig. 2:4). Two openings (width 1.25–1.30 m) in the southern wall of the courtyard led to the two rooms. A probe (depth 0.6 m) sunk into the north-eastern corner of the western room did not reveal the floor. Fallen sun-dried mud-bricks and segments of white lime plaster were discerned in the probe’s section. Two niches (southern—0.4 × 0.4 m; northern—0.2 × 0.4 m) were reexposed in the western wall (YW820) of the western room, facing Shop 2 )Fig. 2:2(. These niches, which were unearthed in the past (Hirschfeld 2007:40, Fig. 31), can be described as ‘wall cupboards’. They were covered with white lime plaster, and only their floors and a small part of their walls survived.
Dozens of ashlars had fallen from the building’s northern wall into the alleyway (Fig. 5); although probably incorporated into the wall in secondary use, they indicate that the building’s facade was well constructed. Among the finds in the building were numerous small bronze coins, a round carnelian bead (diam. 15 mm) decorated with a white line, and an ostracon featuring at least two lines of square Aramaic script (yet to be deciphered). The wall delineating the structure on the west was also uncovered (YW819).
Other structures. Balks that had remained from Hirschfeld’s excavation were dismantled toward the end of the excavation, revealing remains of additional structures. Two rooms (L9026, L9028) and a courtyard (L9025) were fully uncovered in the long east–west balk that crossed the Piazza House, which was partly uncovered in the past (Fig. 2:9; Fig. 6; Hirschfeld 2007:67). The opening to Room 9028 was set in the western wall (YW620), and the opening (width 1.1 m) to Room 9026 was set in the northern wall (YW636). A floor made of tamped mud and mortar was uncovered in the room. An intact jug (L9033), which contained a coin, was buried under the floor in the room’s northeastern corner.
An opening (width 1 m) connecting two rooms (L9027, L9031) was uncovered once a balk was dismantled to the east of the Piazza House. The dismantling of the balks in three rooms (L9036, L9039, L9042) north of the previously unearthed miqveh (Fig. 2:10; Hirschfeld 2007:67) uncovered an opening (width 1 m) connecting Rooms 9039 and 9042. Finally, the balk blocking the trapezoid room (L9044; Fig. 2:11; Hirschfeld 2007:93) north of the Upper Pool (L9041; Fig. 2:12) was also removed, and the cleaning of the Upper Pool was completed.
The Mamluk Period
The current excavation continued to uncover building remains from the Mamluk period; these were found right below the surface and were damaged in the 1950s by agricultural activity. All that remained from the walls were a few segments of foundation courses. The center of the area yielded three segments of floors (see Fig. 2; L8014, L9017, L9023) at different elevations. They were laid over the wall tops and fallen stones that filled the rooms of the northern and southern Byzantine-period buildings; they sloped from south to north along the slope of the spur on which the village was built. The floors, apparently of courtyards, comprised a layer of clayey soil, sometimes greenish in color, which contained slivers of white lime, superimposed with a gray layer containing bits of asphalt. The remains of an oven (L8008) were found on Floor 9023. The excavation yielded fragments of pottery and glass vessels from the Mamluk period.
The three buildings from the Byzantine-period settlement do not seem to have been dwellings, as indicated by a lack of finds pertaining to food preparation, such as mortars and ovens, typical of other dwellings in the settlement (Hadas 2016:89). It seems that the rooms that faced the alleyways served as shops. Other rooms may have been used for various industries and crafts. The architectural remains from the Mamluk period are meager. The area excavated in this season resembles that of the previous season. This season of excavation began to expose the walls connecting the two parts of the settlement that were uncovered by Hirschfeld, thus fully exposing and clarifying the settlement’s plan. The ostracon from the Northern Building, albeit awaiting to be deciphered, is of particular interest.
Hadas G. 2016. Dwelling Houses near the Synagogue of Ein Gedi Village in the Byzantine Period. In J. Patrich, O. Peleg-Barkat and A. Ben-Yosef eds. Arise, Walk through the Land: Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Land of Israel in Memory of Yizhar Hirschfeld on the Tenth Anniversary of his Demise. Jerusalem. Pp. 89–92 (Hebrew).
Hadas G. and Peleg-Barkat O. 2017. ‘En Gedi. HA-ESI 129.
Hadas G. and Peleg-Barkat O. 2019. ‘En Gedi – 2018. HA-ESI 131.
Hirschfeld Y. 2007. En-Gedi Excavations II: Final Report (1996–2002). Jerusalem.