In November–December 2017, a salvage excavation was undertaken northwest of Mazliah Intersection, near the southern entrance to Beʼer Sheva‘ (Permit No. A-8125; map ref. 181035/571163; Fig. 1), prior to infrastructure and development work. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the City of Beʼer Sheva‘, was directed by N.D. Michael (field photography) with the assistance of M. Kahan (surveying and drawing), Y. Tepper (consultation), Y. Alamor (administration), E. Aladjem (GIS, aerial photography) and I. Peretz (test trenches). Additional help was provided by S. Talis.
The excavation (c. 400 sq m), following a survey and multiple trial trenches, took place c. 50 m south of Nahal Be’er Sheva‘ and about 0.5 km southeast of the old city of Be’er Sheva‘. Trial trenches opened prior to the excavation over an area of c. 300 × 300 m revealed clustered remains of multiple walls and as many as 50 cist tombs, the majority of which occurred in three clusters to the west of the current excavation (Fig. 2). A previous excavation, conducted c. 100 m southwest of the present excavation, revealed a winepress, part of a wall and a pool from the late Byzantine and the beginning of the Early Islamic periods (Haimi 2008; Fig. 2: A-4230). The wall exposed in that excavation may have delimited the border of a farmstead or an estate or was used to collect runoff water for irrigation.
Two excavation areas (A, B) were opened to the northeast of the cluster of walls (Fig. 2). In Area A, the eastern area, remains of two round dovecotes were exposed, while a long wall was uncovered in Area B, about 50 m to its west. The remains date from the late Byzantine period.
The two round dovecotes (1, 2; ext. diam. c. 8.4 m; Fig. 3) were located atop a small, elevated flat part of the land. They were identified as dovecotes based on their similarity to dovecotes found elsewhere in the Negev (Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006).
Dovecote 1, the western of the two structures, was found with a nearly complete ground plan. Its foundations were built on leveled loess soil, and the interior is bisected by two walls oriented east–west and north–south into four compartments of equal size. The exterior and interior walls (width 0.9 m) were built of small- to medium-sized fieldstones arranged in six rows. The exterior wall was preserved to a height of six–seven courses (0.5–0.7 m) in the northern part of the structure, and only one course (up to 0.15 m) in its southern part. The better-preserved wall on the northern part of the dovecote was plaster-coated on its exterior face.
A few large fieldstones were incorporated in the exterior face of the circumference wall in the northern part of the structure. No floor was found within the structure, and only the floor bedding, consisting of leveled loess soil, was preserved. The collapsed debris within the dovecote included large, dressed limestones and several plaster fragments that probably belonged to the exterior upper part of the walls.
Dovecote 2, located c. 3.5 m east of Dovecote 1, was only partly preserved, comprising parts of the exterior and interior walls (width 0.9 m) of the northwestern of the four compartments of the original structure. The remaining walls were preserved to a maximum height of only two courses (0.1–0.2 m). A few potsherds dating to the late Byzantine period and some animal bones were discovered within the dovecote, and some glass finds from the late nineteenth–beginning of the twentieth century were found in its southern part. Additional such finds were encountered outside this dovecote.
The preserved remains of Dovecote 2 are sufficient to suggest that it had the same layout, wall orientation, construction technique and dimensions as Dovecote 1. This close resemblance between the two structures suggests that they were built around the same time.
This excavation area contained the remains of a large, curved field wall (exposed length c. 30 m, width 0.7 m, max. height 0.4 m; Fig. 4). The wall was built of local fieldstones, preserved up to three courses. The wall was constructed of three rows of medium–large fieldstones.
The remains at the site and their location, together with those previously exposed nearby (Haimi 2008)—comprising walls, a winepress, a water pool for irrigation, dovecotes and tombs—seem to indicate that they all belonged to one farmstead (see Fig. 2). The long wall segment exposed in this excavation and a similar long wall segment uncovered by Haimi (2008: W101) seem to have been part of the estate boundary wall, surrounding the rather dense cluster of walls identified in the trial trenches. The estate, possibly dating from the late Byzantine period, was erected on the outskirts of the Byzantine-period settlement of Be’er Sheva‘.
Dovecotes similar to those uncovered in the present excavation were found in various Byzantine-period sites across the Negev: Khirbat ‘Amra (West; Tahal 1996), Shivta (Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006), Nahal Gerar (Peretz 2015), Ne’ot Hovav (Talis 2017) and the Zoological Park at Be’er Sheva‘ (Kobrin and Tepper 2017). The present two examples are among the largest dovecotes found so far in this region, similar in size to the two dovecotes at Shivta (Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006). The dovecotes likely produced large amounts of pigeon droppings used as fertilizer in vineyards and orchards surrounding the estate.
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Hirschfeld Y. and Tepper Y. 2006. Columbarium Towers and Other Structures in the Environs of Shivta. Tel Aviv 33:83–116.
Kobrin F. and Tepper Y. 2017. Be’er Shevaʽ, the Zoological Park. HA-ESI 129.
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