In September 2018 and November and April 2019, an excavation was undertaken at the sites of ‘Idan I, VII and VIII, northeast of Moshav ‘Idan in the northern ‘Arava (License Nos. G-78/2018, G-39/2019; map ref. 22976/52465). The excavation, on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and funded by the CARE and the Stekelis research foundations, was directed by I. Abadi, N. Goring-Morris and A. Ovadia (field photography), with the assistance of R. Galili (drone photography), R. Rabinovich (zooarchaeology), H. Schechter (shells) and students and volunteers from the region. The sites were discovered by G. Ragolsky and R. Galili, who greatly assisted in fieldwork and logistics.
The excavation was carried out in three flint clusters (I, VII, VIII) located at the top of ravines that cut through marls of the Lisan Formation; some of the flint itmes were eroded and had undergone local transportation by water. The state of preservation differed among the sites, but two of them (I and VIII) contained in situ archaeological strata. The excavation was conducted in 1 × 1 m squares, but where in situ preservation of flint artifacts was observed, a 0.5 × 0.5 m grid was applied. The sediments were sieved through a 1 mm mesh.
‘Idan I. Flint items are scattered over an area of c. 40 sq m, and most have underwent local transportation by water (Fig. 1: the excavation area [solid line]; the surface containing sparse clusters of knapped finds [broken line]; and the post-excavation line of erosion [dotted line]). In a raised area, east of the erosion line, items were found in situ, including knapped flint items, animal bones and charcoal. Stratigraphically, these items were found at the plain of contact between a dark sediment below and an orange clay layer above. Preliminary analysis of the flint artifacts shows that they encompass all aspects of a bladelet industry: cores, debitage and tools. These included bladelet cores (Fig. 2:1), scrapers (Fig. 2:2) and obliquely-truncated baldelets (Figs. 2:3, 4)—the most common microliths in the assemblage and typical of the late Kebaran culture of the Early Epipaleological period. A few grinding tools were found near the site and can be associated with its time of operation. The faunal remains were poorly preserved. Nevertheless, large and medium-sized animals were identified, as well as some microfauna.
‘Idan VII. Flint items that have undegone local transportation by water and are sparsely scattered were identified and collected in an area covering c. 115 sq m. An in situ archaeological stratum was identified south of this area, in an area of 5 sq m adjacent to the talus of the Lisan step. It included hearths, flint tools, well-preserved animal bones, numerous ostrich egg fragments (Fig. 3) and Mediterranean seashells. Several geological layers were identified (Fig. 4). From top to bottom, these include a topsoil layer (1); a deposit of orange clay with dark beds (2); a layer of fine-grained laminated sand (3); a dark clay deposit (4); a layer of white silt and clay (5); and a deposit of dark clay (6). The flint items were found between Layers 5 and 6. The assemblage resembles the one uncovered in ‘Idan I and includes obliquely-truncated baldelets. A few grinding tools that could be associated with the activity at the site were found near the site.
‘Idan VIII. Flint items are scattered over c. 50 sq m on both sides of a low spur (Fig. 5). An area of over 9 sq m was excavated, and no in situ strata were found. A preliminary analysis of the surface finds shows that small items, including bladelets and chips, are underrepresented due to water transportation. Due to the paucity of diagnostic tools (microliths), it is difficult to ascribe the site to any specific culture. Nevertheless, cores and core debitage typical of the Upper Paleolithic and the Early Epipaleolithic periods were found. The spatial distribution of finds in two distinct areas separated by a raised spur, coupled with the scarcity of small items, indicates that the site was originally situated at the level of the raised barrier, and that the finds were subsequently sweptdown to the low areas flanking the spur.
The excavation of the three sites demonstrates that the area served as a hunter-gatherer encampment during the Early Epipaleolithic period. The lithic industry found at the excavated sites is attributed to the late Kebaran culture—an industry that is insufficiently known in the arid areas of the Negev and of southern Jordan.