The excavation was begun by removing the cave’s ceiling in order to facilitate an orderly and safe excavation, and two squares were then opened in the east and west (each c. 2 × 4 m), about 1 m apart. The eastern part of the cave, next to the opening, was severely disturbed by modern infrastructure works; therefore, the excavation focused on the center and western parts of the cave. A corridor set in a natural recess in the bedrock (length c. 4.5 m, width c. 2 m; Fig. 1) led to the cave opening, at whose western end was a narrow rock-cut staircase. The opening of the cave faced east and was hewn in nari; at dawn, the sun’s first rays enter the cave. The outline of the cave is irregular and its height is uneven. Strata 4–1were only exposed in a deep narrow section that was excavated in the eastern square.
Western Square (Fig. 2)
In the northern part of the square, dark brown soil was exposed, containing numerous collapsed stones and EB pottery sherds, ribbed body sherds of vessels from the Roman period, bowl fragments from the Byzantine period and several animal bones. Due to the collapse, the excavation in the square was curtailed. It seems that the collapsed stones were from one or more walls dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods that damaged the earlier layers in the cave.
Light brown soil discovered in the southern part of the square contained only a few small stones and sherds from the Early Bronze Age.
Stratum 4. In the earliest phase, a layer of white material was exposed, which may be the result of the weathering of the cave’s chalk floor, which became soft as a result of the moisture. Above this layer was brown-gray soil that yielded large fragments of EB III pottery vessels, including bowls, platters, holemouths and jars.
Stratum 3. A layer of stones was placed on top of Stratum 4 during EB III (Fig. 3). Light brown soil (L118) that accumulated above this stone layer yielded large pottery sherds from EB III, most notably fragments of platters and deep red-slipped bowls that date to the late phase of this period, such as those found at Tel Yarmut and Tel ‘Azeka (License No. G-13/2015). Almost no cooking or storage vessels were discovered. Several animal bones, flint flakes and a number of human bones, including phalanges and the teeth of a boy 14 years of age (Y. Nagar, pers. comm.) were also found in the soil accumulation. The human bones indicate that the cave may have been used in this phase for burial; however, it was impossible to determine with certainty that a proper interment took place here due to intervention by ultra-religious elements and their demand that the excavation be halted.
Stratum 2. In a later phase of EB III, a wall was constructed (Fig. 4) that negated the stone layer of Stratum 3; the wall was poorly preserved. It was apparently a partition wall. An accumulation of light brown soil that abutted this wall yielded EB III potsherds, particularly of holemouths and jars related to cooking and storage. An unusual find is a fragment of a storage jar that was not locally produced; it was made of red, well levigated clay reminiscent of Egyptian storage vessels. A petrographic analysis of the sherd will be performed. The discovery of Egyptian vessels in EB III strata in Israel is extremely rare.
Stratum 1. Remains of a wall were discovered that was built above the wall of Stratum 3 (see Fig. 4). Brown soil that abutted this wall contained small sherds from EB IB, EB III and the Roman–Byzantine periods. This wall probably reflects domestic activity that was also discerned in the western square. This domestic activity was also manifested in the large fragments of cooking pots from this period that were gathered in the area of the cave prior to the excavation.
Based on the ceramic finds, it seems that the cave was first used in EB IB1 (‘Erani C phase), which is contemporary with settlement sites such as Tel Yarmut, Site 286 in Ramat Bet Shemesh (Eisenberg and Sklar 2000
; Shalev 2015), Eshta’ol and Hartuv (Golani et al. 2016). These
ceramic artifacts were discovered in the cave together with sherds from the Roman–Byzantine periods in a level that was disturbed, and thus, it was impossible to determine the nature of the activity that took place in the cave at that time. Most of the activity in the cave transpired in EB III, and some of it may have included a burial. Three burial caves from this period were discovered at Ramat Bet Shemesh; two of them were excavated (Permit Nos. A-2305, A-2344). It seems that activity in the cave during the late phase of EB III was related to storage and cooking, and possibly even some form of commerce. Activity in the cave during this phase should probably be attributed to the increased agricultural production in the Tel Yarmut region, the time when the monumental palace was constructed. The latest phase of the cave’s use dates to the Roman–Byzantine periods, at which time the cave may have been used as a dwelling.