In May 2018, a salvage excavation was conducted at the sites of Rekhes Yeroḥam (Yeroḥam Ridge) and Naḥal ‘Eẓem (Permit No. A-8272; map ref. 197350–8713/554282–5312), prior to regularizing the status of the Qasr es-Sir community and development work. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Emek Ayalon Corporation, was directed by H. Mamalya (field photography), with the assistance of A. Levi-Hevroni (area supervisor), Y. Alamor (administration), E. Aladjem (surveying and drafting). Also assisting were F. Sonntag, S. Talis, D. Eisenberg-Degen and Y. Abadi-Reiss (scientific oversight).
The excavation, which extended over four areas (A–D; Fig. 1) scattered along 1 km, yielded eleven field walls, seven wadi-bed terrace walls, an installation and a tomb. The excavation areas, in the northern part of the Yeroham Ridge, extended over a moderately sloping area scored by wadi beds of the Naḥal ‘Eẓem drainage basin. Nearby are the sites of Ḥorbat Talma, located on a spur c. 800 m to the north; of Rekhes Yeroḥam–Naḥal Yitnan, c. 1 km to the east; and Meẓad Shorer, on the banks of Naḥal ‘Eẓem, c. 600 m to the southeast.
Surveys conducted at these sites revealed finds from the Bronze Age to through the Early Islamic period. At Ḥorbat Talma are remains of structures consisting of round and square rooms surrounding an open courtyard, which were dated to the Early Bronze Age II and the Middle Bronze Age I (Cohen 1975). The sites of Rekhes Yeroḥam–Naḥal Yitnan were surveyed as part of the Negev Emergency Survey, when building remains and five cisterns from the Iron Age and Roman and Byzantine periods were identified (Edlar 1982). A second survey at the site, in 2011, identified numerous tumuli, a field tower and a structure, but no datable finds were fond (Paran and Sonntag 2012). A survey of Meẓad Shorer by O. Shmueli (S-366/2012) identified remains from the Roman and Byzantine periods.
Area A (Fig. 2) yielded a stepped field wall (W10) sloping to the southeast. The wall is built of medium-sized, slightly hewn limestones that rest on fine-grained tamped soil mixed with a few small stones. Four stepped courses were preserved; the lowest step protrudes 0.2 m from the one above it (L101). Clusters of small stones (L102) supported the northwest face of the wall. The northeastern part of the wall curves northward and was poorly preserved.
Area B revealed four field walls of various sizes and in various states of preservation (W20–W23). Wall 20, in the southern part of the area, was stepped; eight of its courses survived (L204; max. height 2.15 m; Figs. 3, 4). The upper course was supported on the south by clusters of small stones (L205). Of W21, only a row of several stones comprising one course was preserved in situ, set on fine-grained soil mixed with small stones; the rest of the wall stump seems to have been shifted from its original course (Fig. 5). Wall 22, which was 25 m north of W20, was also stepped, with six surviving courses (L209; height 2 m; Fig. 6); clusters of small stones (L210) supported its uppermost course on the west. Soil mixed with colluvial materials of various sizes from the wadi bed was found pressed against the foundations of W20 and W22. Wall 23, in the northern part of the area, was partially preserved: only one course set on tamped loess soil mixed with small stones (L212, L213; Figs. 6. 7).
Area C (Fig. 8) was opened in the upper part of the drainage basin, in an area where the soil is shallow, and the bedrock is close to the surface. Six poorly preserved field walls were uncovered in this area: two in its southern part (W66, W67; Fig. 10), two crossing the area along a north–south axis (W60, W61), another wall (W72) in the center the area and a wall (W73) on the upper slope descending into the wadi. Walls 60 and 61 were built across an area enclosed on the southeast by a small wadi and on the northwest by a wadi, on a moderate topographical plane. The walls were built of two–three courses of medium and small local limestones, and were set on compact loess soil (L302, L303; Fig. 9). Wall 60 was abutted by W72, the remains of which consisted of medium-size stones set on compact loess soil (L325). Wall 73, northeast of W60, comprised of one course of medium to small fieldstones set on fine-grained soil. Walls 66 and 67 were built of one coarse of medium-size stones, supported on the east by small stones and set on compact loess soil (L313, L316; Fig. 10).
A series of seven wadi-bed terrace walls was uncovered in a wadi that delineated Area C on the northwest (W62–W65, W69–W71; Fig. 10). These terrace walls were built of medium and large stones, and most of them survived to a height of a single course. They extend from one bank of the wadi to the other, along c. 5 m. The plan of the walls resembles a triangular, with the apex on the northwestern wadi bank and the base on the southeastern bank (Figs. 11, 12).
Area D yielded a rectangular cist tomb (L6; L404, L405; 1.9 × 2.5 m; Fig. 13) and a rectangular installation, perhaps another tomb (L5; L401, L402; 1.7 × 3.2 m; Fig. 14), which are 100 m apart from each other. Both elements were dug into the compacted loess soil and lined with medium-size local limestones, possibly slightly worked for construction purposes. Most of the stone lining was preserved to a height of one course; two courses of stones were preserved in the eastern part of Tomb 6. Human vertebrae were discerned in the center of the tomb (L405; the skeleton was not excavated). In the southwestern wall of Installation 5 was a large stone (0.4 × 0.7 m) set lengthwise. As the installation is not far from the tomb and closely resembles it, it probably was also a tomb; the time of their construction cannot be determined.
The excavation revealed an agricultural system with 18 walls. The field walls served various purposes: delimiting cultivation beds, stabilizing the soil and marking the boundaries of cultivated plots. The wadi-bed terrace walls were built to level the colluvial soil in the wadi channel and to slow and divert the water flow during flooding. No datable artifacts were found; however, the construction methods of the field and terrace walls allow them to be attributed to the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (Avni, Avni and Porat 2000; Avni, Porat and Avni 2013).
Avni G., Avni Y. and Porat N. 2000. A New Look at Ancient Agriculture in the Negev. Cathedra 133:13–44 (Hebrew).
Cohen R. 1975. Surveys in the Dimona Area. HA 56:32–33 (Hebrew).
Eldar A. 1982. Rekhes Yeroḥam – 150, Har Dimona – 150, Hamekhtesh Hagadol. ESI 1:91–92.
Paran N.S. and Sonntag F. 2012. Rekhes Yeroḥam. HA-ESI 124.