Part of a dolmen field was excavated in an area extending across a basalt plain (c. 600 m asl) near the steep western slopes of the Golan Heights, between the streambeds of Naẖal ‘Orvim to the north and Wadi er-Reiẖ to the south. Some of the dolmens were documented previously as part of the Golan Survey (Hartal 2017: Sites 68, 69, 71, 75, 77). The extent of the dolmen field is still unclear, as is its association with nearby dolmen fields such as those at Shamir and Lahavot Ha-Bashan (Berger and Sharon 2018). Development surveys conducted to the west and north of Qela‘ Alon in 2008 and 2019 documented c. 40 dolmens (Zingboym 2010; License No. S-982/2019) as well as remnants of field walls, pens, and stone-clearance heaps attesting to ancient agricultural activity at the site. These remnants postdate the dolmens’ construction and may be of the Roman and Byzantine periods.
In light of the site’s most recent survey, nine of the field’s dolmens were excavated (53, 54, 56, 60, 60a, 67, 69, 71, 73; Figs. 2, 3; see appendix). All the sediments were sifted using a 0.2 cm mesh, and soil samples from the burial cells were collected for OSL dating (results still pending). Potsherds and flint tools of the Early and Intermediate Bronze Age are attriuted to the Dolmens’ phase of construction and use, while later artifacts, including the Late Roman, Byzantine, Medieval, Ottoman and modern periods, are attributed to episodes of robbery and secondary use.
Dolmen 53 (Figs. 4–6) was built at the eastern end of an elongated, slightly elevated basalt flow strewn with large boulders, which were probably used to build it. It includes a burial cell paved with large stone slabs and capped with two boulders. Although the capstones are located above the cell, they are tilted on their side, probably due to subsequent lifting. The cell, like the others excavated at the site, was filled to the top with soil and stone rubble (L5302). The accumulation on its stone floor (L5303) contained large fragments of a Golan Ware jar with a four-ridged handle, dated to the Late Roman or Byzantine period and characteristic of the Iturean culture (Fig. 7:1; Hartal 2005:182). The sediment beneath the cell’s paving slabs (L5304) yielded no finds.
Dolmen 54 (Figs. 8–10) was built at the western end of the same basalt flow as Dolmen 53. It comprises a burial cell enveloped by a stone cairn with two stone perimeter walls. The burial cell had a carefully-paved stone-slab floor (L5408) set on a layer of sterile fill (L5409) that covered the bedrock. Two capstones were found on the dolmen cell. The accumulation in the cell (L5403) yielded a few flint tool fragments and large sherds of an Iturean-Golanite pithos with a ridged rim (Fig. 7:2; Hartal 2005:175–178), dated to the second half of the third century CE.
Dolmen 56 (Fig. 11) is poorly preserved and, therefore, went unnoticed in the surveys. It was built on a low natural soil terrace with no readily available building stones. It includes a burial cell consisting of a stone slab-paved floor and walls of upright stones. Only the eastern and southeastern walls were preserved, while its southern wall collapsed inward. No capstones were found. The dolmen yielded several potsherds, mostly small, non-diagnostic body fragments.
(Figs. 12–14). This dolmen was located at the northeastern end of an eight-dolmen cluster (60, 60a, 61–65, 67). It is the largest of those in the current excavation and one of the largest in the entire field, consisting of a burial cell enveloped and covered by a stone cairn. The cell had a flight of steps, a paved stone floor and three large stone-slab capstones found in situ
. A small round crater-like depression was hollowed out beneath the southern part of the cairn. Its function is unclear, but it appears to have been integral to the dolmen structure. Similar depressions beneath large dolmen cairns have also been discovered elsewhere in the country: for example, the Amnun dolmen field in the southern Korazim plateau (Alexandre 2017
: Dolmens 43, 48, 51, 53, 59), Shamir (Berger and Sharon 2017
: Dolmen 3), and Qaz
rin (Assis and Berger 2020
: Dolmen 1).
The upper part of the fill inside the cell (L6001) and on the steps (L6007) yielded fragments of Rashaya el-Fukhar ware dating from the late Ottoman period to the late 1960s (Ben Dror 1993; Roth 1984; Stern 2016:84–87). The lower part of the fill above the floor (L6002, L6003) produced a few body sherds of a Golan Ware pithos and cooking pot (Fig. 7:3), both assigned to the Byzantine period. A probe beneath the cell’s western part down to the bedrock found sterile soil.
Dolmen 60a (Figs. 15, 16) comprises a burial cell built of large basalt slabs surrounded a circumfrential wall. The slabs were found leaning outwards, and the stone paving was damaged, primarily on the western side, possibly by a large tree that grew inside it. No capstones were discovered. Perhaps they were used to build Dolmen 60 or the long field wall nearby. No finds were recovered from the dolmen.
Dolmen 67 (Fig. 17) consists of a burial cell encircled by a stone wall. The cell was built of large basalt stones and paved with stone slabs. The capstones were not found, nor were any finds.
Dolmen 69 (Figs. 18–20) comprises a burial cell surrounded by a cairn with two concentric walls. The cell was built of large basalt stones, paved with stone slabs and roofed with four capstones. Small shallow depressions constituting a game-board were observed on the largest northern capstone. Similar game-boards have been recorded on and near other dolmens, and they appear to postdate the dolmens’ initial construction and use (Sharon and Berger 2020:23–24).
Ottoman and British Mandate-era pottery and a few flint tool fragments were found on the dolmen’s surface (L6901). The ceramic finds comprise sherds of Rashaya el-Fukhar ware, including a pot (Fig. 7:6), a jar (Fig. 7:7) and two tobacco pipes (Fig. 7:8, 9). One pipe (No. 8) has a disc base and dates from the second half of the nineteenth–mid-twentieth centuries CE (Saidel 2011; Rauchberger 2017: Fig. 14.6.74), whereas the other (No. 9) dates from the late-nineteenth century CE (Avissar 2005:91, No. 89, Fig. 4.4:88; Dekkel 2008:152, Fig. 4.14:80). Inside the cell, the fill (L6902) yielded a fragment of a green-glazed bowl (Fig. 7:5) dating from the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE (Avissar 2008:92–93) and a few sherds of Byzantine ribbed pottery vessels. On the northern end of the cell’s floor, farthest from the opening, were two skull fragments of at least one adult: a parietal bone fragment (3 × 5 cm, thickness 0.5 cm; Fig. 21:1) and a frontal bone fragment from near the right eye (1.5 × 3.0 cm, thickness 1.0 cm; Fig. 21:2). A few ceramic body sherds and a small piece of a jug’s neck were found between two rocks in the burial cell’s eastern wall and between the cell’s paving stones. These sherds cannot be dated precisely, but based on the fabric and quality of the firing, they are probably ancient vessels, possibly of the Early or Intermediate Bronze Age.
Dolmen 71 (Figs. 22, 23) consists of a burial cell surrounded by a stone cairn with two concentric walls. The cell was built of large basalt stones and paved with stone slabs. A single large capstone was found on top of the cell. The soil fill inside the cell yielded several fragments of flint tools and a tiny piece of an Ottoman tobacco pipe.
Dolmen 73 (Figs. 24, 25) consists of a burial cell inside a stone cairn with two concentric walls. The cell was built of large stones and paved with slabs; no capstones were discovered. A fragment of a Crusader jug (Fig. 7:4; Avissar 2008:98–100) was found in the soil accumulation inside the cell, near the opening on the southern side. In the cell’s northern part, fragments of two poorly fired vessels made of reddish clay and numerous large grits were discovered on the floor. They are poorly preserved and, therefore, cannot be identified or dated. Based on the fabric, however, they are probably early.
The Flint Finds. The excavation yielded 29 knapped flint items. Most of them are made of pale-brown flint and are well-preserved, but a few are abraded and characterized by a thick, brownish-red patina. The assemblage includes three fragments of Canaanean blades (Fig. 26), one with an abrupt retouch (Fig. 26:3), indicative of the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages. Among the remaining specimens are several retouched items and three cores.
Most of the dolmens in the current excavation were constructed on two elongated, moderately elevated basalt flow spurs. Large basalt rocks are scattered across these spurs and appear to have been used to build the dolmens. All the dolmens’ burial cells are encircled with stones, usually comprising a stone cairn envelope. The cells were all paved with flat, undressed stone slabs. The pottery and flint finds indicate four phases of activity at the site. (1) The earliest potsherds were discovered on the cell floors of Dolmens 69 and 73. They include the jug fragments dating from the Early or Intermediate Bronze Age, and they are probably contemporary with the cairns’ original construction and use. The Early and Intermediate Bronze Age Canaanite blade fragments are also attributed to this phase. The skull fragments found on Dolmen 69’s floor may also be attributed to this phase, having been preserved from the dolmen’s original mortuary function. (2) At some stage, the burial cells were opened and emptied. This phase lasted until the Late Roman or Byzantine period, when a few dolmens were converted into storage facilities for agricultural produce or drinking water. The large vessels found in Dolmens 53 and 54 indicate that the Itureans lived in the region and used the dolmens for storage. Perhaps the Itureans were those who opened and emptied the burial cells, although an earlier date is also possible. (3) Some activity at the site took place during the medieval period as well. (4) The site’s latest phase of activity was at the end of the Ottoman period and during the British Mandate era. In this phase, nearby fields may have been used for grazing and agriculture. The fact that pottery fragments of this phase were only found on the surface and the upper part of burial cells’ fills indicates that while the dolmens may have been used for some purpose, they were not dug into. Perhaps, the Ottoman pottery from the surface layer of Dolmen 69, including the tobacco pipe fragments, also dates the game board engraved on one of this dolmen’s capstones. One could imagine shepherds or farmers smoking and playing while watching over their land and herds from the dolmen.