In July–December 2018, a salvage excavation was conducted north of Be’er Sheba‘, in and adjacent to an old military base (Permit No. A-8306; map ref. 176000–81000/575600–7879; Fig. 1), prior to construction of a new residential neighborhood. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was funded by the Be’er Sheba‘ Municipality Umbrella Development Agreement, and directed by D. Eisenberg-Degen (field photography) and A. Levi-Hevroni, with the assistance of T. Sapir, M. Pasternak, M. Hemed, H. Silberklang and D. Biton (area supervision), S. Gur and N. Freifeld (area supervision assistance), Y. Al-‘Amor (administration), E. Aladjem (preliminary survey S-490/2014, and drone photography), A. Azoulay (drafting), Y. Haimi and S. Ganor (metal detection), Y. Abadi-Reiss and Y. Milevski (archaeological guidance), M. Oron (flint processing), A. Karasik (digital scanning), Y. Asscher (analytical laboratory), S. Talis, T. Tsuk, D. Zwiekel, G. Avni and V. Lipschitz. Youth participated in the excavation, under the direction of S. Drachman, A. Lehavi, D. Pukshenski and A. Azoulay of the Israel Antiquities Authority Education and Community Department. A. Peretz excavated trial trenches in the area, after the preliminary survey and before the excavation.
Remains from the Middle Paleolithic, Chalcolithic, Byzantine, Early Islamic and late Ottoman to British Mandate period, were discovered in the trial trenches. Previous excavations in the vicinity, exposed building remains of two farmhouses from the Byzantine period, and one farmhouse from the Early Islamic period, as well as structures from the Ottoman period (Eisenberg-Degen and Kobrin 2016
, Eisenberg-Degen 2018
Following the trial trenches, twelve excavation areas were opened over a large area (Areas A–L; Fig. 1). The principal remains exposed were flint items from the Middle Paleolithic and Chalcolithic periods (Areas G, H), a reservoir from the Roman period (Area E), building remains from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods (Areas I, J, K, L), and building remains from the late Ottoman period (Areas A, D, F, L).
A rectangular building (7 × 10 m; Fig. 2), delimited by four chalk and fieldstone walls, preserved for between one to six courses, was unearthed. The western half of the structure was excavated down to bedrock, on which a packed earth floor was exposed. Piles of collapsed stones were found next to the walls; judging by their quantity, it seems that either the walls were not very high, and the roofing was a light construction, or that the stones had been taken away for secondary use. In the middle of the eastern wall (W1), only a single course was preserved, the lowest preservation in the structure. Based on a similar building found near Nah
al Kovshim, c. 1.5 km to the southwest (Eisenberg-Degen 2018
; Building A1), the doorway of the building was probably located in the center of this wall. Meager twentieth-century finds, including a few Gaza Ware pottery sherds, a metal button, and some scraps of metal sheeting and rods, possibly constructional elements, were retrieved.
Areas B and C
Dozens of field walls were cleaned, some of them were used to demarcate agricultural tracts and some to support agricultural terraces (Fig. 3). The tract walls were built parallel to the wadi bed of two rows of medium-sized fieldstones, delimiting cultivation plots, or serving as retaining walls along the wadi. The walls of the agricultural terraces traversed the stream, and were built of two rows of medium-sized fieldstones (Fig. 4), or of small fieldstones (Fig. 5). The medium-sized fieldstone walls were preserved for about ten courses, and were almost completely covered over by alluvial soil, indicating their antiquity. By contrast, the walls that were built of small stones, were mostly visible on the surface, with only small amounts of soil accumulated between the stones. Late Ottoman to British Mandate pottery sherds and glass fragments retrieved near the small-stone walls, date them to the late Ottoman period. The stones used to build these walls, may have been collected from the nearby slopes when preparing the plots for cultivation. In addition, some retaining walls of agricultural terraces, built with regular courses of medium-sized fieldstones and mud plaster mortar, were exposed. Based on a reconstruction of the activity in this area, these walls may be attributed to the Byzantine period. One wall, located near the reservoir in Area E, may have been built in the Roman period.
An unfinished building was exposed on the eastern slope of a low hill (Fig. 6). The building was constructed on a surface that was levelled down by digging and quarrying, prior to construction. The walls (W10, W11, W13), preserved for up to eight courses, lined the cut earth sides. Two, poorly preserved, interior walls (W12, W14), probably delimited a room. Wall 12 was preserved for four courses next to the southeastern corner of the building, and its foundation trench was exposed. East of the building, and adjacent to its southeastern corner, an earth ramp and a room delimited on the west by W11, were found. Meager finds, including Black Gaza Ware pottery sherds, glass fragments, and metal fragments and nails, were retrieved on the living surface, most of the metal and nails coming from the inner room. About eight meters southwest of the building, a rock-hewn depression (6.7 × 9.0 m, depth 2 m), was probably exploited as a source of building material. The construction techniques and the finds date this building to the end of the Ottoman period (beginning of the twentieth century).
Two rock-hewn cisterns (L205, L122) and a reservoir (L125) were uncovered in Area E, Cistern 122 and Reservoir 125 lying c. 250 m southeast of Cistern 205. Cistern 205 (depth 5.6 m; Fig. 7) was hewn at the top of the slope; its upper part was lined with five courses of chalk stones, and its mouth was of concrete, incorporating a metal sheet in its southern part. An adjacent feeder channel (W42), led surface runoff from the north and west over the metal sheet into the mouth of the cistern. Cistern 122 (depth 8.5 m) had a round shaft lined with limestone blocks (depth 1.75 m) that led down into a square cistern (3.5 × 4.0 m; Fig. 8). About 1.5 m down the mouth of the cistern, a rock-hewn channel (L124; length 2.4 m; Fig. 9), which connected to the shaft, drained the water into a drainage basin. Black Gaza Ware jug sherds were found near the channel opening. Reservoir 125 (6.3 × 6.4 m; Fig. 10) lay at the bottom of the southern slope, c. 12 m west of Cistern 122. A corridor, hewn on a north–south axis (length 12.0 m, width 1.25 m), led to the reservoir. At the end of the corridor, a staircase descended to a rectangular platform, from which another staircase descended at a c. 60o angle to the reservoir floor. The intermediate platform was probably used for drawing water when the reservoir was full, and the lower staircase was used when the water level was lower, as well as to clean and maintain the reservoir. A square settling basin (1.4 × 1.6 m, depth 0.8 m) was found in the southeastern corner of the reservoir floor. An alluvium layer (depth 1.5–2.0 m) had accumulated in the reservoir to the height of the lower staircase. The walls and steps of the reservoir were plastered, and thinly incised images of ships were discerned on the plaster (Fig. 11). On the western wall, a few layers of incisions were detected, with two layers of animals incised over the ships. Based on the plan, and the plaster texture and application technique, the construction of the reservoir was dated to the Early Roman period (first–second centuries CE). The incised ship images were attributed to this construction and plastering phase. The reservoir may have been associated with a tower and a Roman settlement uncovered c. 800 m to the north (Permit No. A-8444).
In Area F, a building composed of four units was uncovered (Units A–D), altogether comprising twelve rooms (Figs. 12, 13). Field walls were found to the north of the building, and a cistern was discovered north of Room 12 (Fig. 14). Southeast of the cistern, a cave was found (not excavated), as well as a quarry (Fig. 15), from which some stones had been extracted for the construction of the rooms. Layers of ash and modern waste were found near the bottom of the quarry.Unit A, comprising Rooms 1 and 2, and the courtyards to their south and east, was previously excavated and published (Eisenberg-Degen 2018
: Area A).
comprised five rooms (Rooms 3–7), built on a north–south axis, with a courtyard to their east. Room 5 was uncovered in the previous excavation (Eisenberg-Degen 2018
). The walls were preserved for up to three courses, and two entrances were found between the rooms. Room 6 (Fig. 16) was divided into three parts (L218, L224, L225), an entrance (width 1.6 m) in W20014 leading from L218 into L224. An unworked wood branch lay next to the entrance. The walls and floor of L224 were plastered with mud-plaster, and in its northwestern corner, a semicircular installation containing a compacted earth layer was exposed (L220; Fig 17), in which metal objects, including a buckle and a plow head, were discovered. Next to the western wall of Room 7, an installation (L231; length 3 m), built of a row of limestones standing on their narrow side, was uncovered. Two iron rods, 3 m apart, were found stuck in the compacted soil floor near the installation. its floor and walls were coated with mud-plaster
Unit C comprised three rooms (Rooms 8–10; Fig. 18), built on an east–west axis, and a courtyard (Room 11) to their north. The floor was made of compacted earth on the leveled bedrock, into which hearths had been cut (L236–L241; diam. 0.2–0.6 m, depth 3–10 cm). Hearth 239 was unusually rectangular, its southern side abutting W20006, and its western side lined with roughly worked stones; it contained an ash layer (thickness c. 0.4 m).
Unit D comprised one room (Room 12), whose floor was cut into the bedrock and leveled with compacted earth.
Black Gaza Ware pottery sherds and glass fragments were found in Area F, as well as bullet casings from World War I and later (Peretz 2018
) and modern waste. There were four coins: two nineteenth century coins, one bronze and the other a perforated silver coin, a 1935 five-mil
coin and a 1942 twenty-mil
coin. Based on these finds, the buildings in Area F probably date to the late Ottoman period.
Area G (20 × 70 m), at the top of the spur, revealed flint items from the Middle Paleolithic and the Chalcolithic periods. The Middle Paleolithic flint items included Levallois cores and flakes, all worn and coated with thick patina; they had probably been damaged by covering and alluvial processes. The Chalcolithic flint items were better preserved, and included fragments of bifacial tools and blade and bladelet cores. Area G seems to have been a flint-knapping site that was exploited in both periods.
In Area H (20 × 50 m), worked flint objects were retrieved from the Middle Paleolithic, including Levallois cores and flakes. The objects were found in the loess layer that covered the slope, and had probably been swept in from an adjacent site that was not preserved, or that has not been identified.
On the upper part of the slope, a square building with a built entrance was discovered (Fig. 19), and an installation, built of a single row of fieldstones, was discovered in its southeastern corner. The installation floor was made of broken stones and a layer of mud-brick debris, on which Byzantine Baggy Jar sherds were retrieved.
On the upper part of the slope, a square building with walls built of medium-sized fieldstones and a compacted earth floor (Fig. 20), yielded meager finds from the late Byzantine period. Some field walls were found here.
On the southern bank of Nahal Kovshim, a building, divided into two rooms by a north–south wall (Fig. 21), yielded meager pottery finds from the late Byzantine period.
In Area L, four phases of building remains were found (Phases 4–1; Fig. 22), the earlier three dating from the late Byzantine to Early Islamic period, and the latest phase dating from the late Ottoman to the British Mandate period. Some Mamluk-period sherds were also unearthed.
Phase 4. A rectangular farmhouse or field tower (3.8 × 9.0 m), built on a north–south axis along the hill slope, was dated to the Byzantine period. The ground was leveled prior to construction. Near the northwestern corner of the building, a built staircase led down to a basement (Fig. 23). Later, the floor of this basement was raised, and the staircase was slightly diverted, probably due to flooding and collapse. A surrounding (courtyard) wall was added, as well as a drainage or irrigation system. The building was also subsequently expanded to become a square building. At some point in time, the building was abandoned and collapsed, and it was covered over with alluvium.
Phase 3. A rectangular structure (4.5 × 9.8 m), built on an east–west axis across the width of the upper part of the slope, was exposed. The extant building remains, and the finds were meager. From the small quantity of collapsed stones, only two or three courses may be reconstructed, but the construction style indicates that this was not an open or temporary structure. Accordingly, the building may not have been completed, or the building stones may have been removed for secondary use elsewhere.
Phase 2. The southwestern corner of a structure and two walls of a surrounding courtyard, were found overlying part of the collapsed Phase 4 building (Fig. 24).
Phase 1. A stone circle (an encampment?) was found, reusing two Phase 4 parallel low walls that were still visible on the surface. This phase is dated from the end of the Ottoman period to the time of the British Mandate.
The spread of the excavation over a large area provides a broad overview, enabling the reconstruction of the activities and exploitation of the entire area. The Roman-period reservoir exposed in Area E, can be associated with the tower and the contemporary settlement that was unearthed c. 800 m to the north (Permit No. A-8444: Area A). The Byzantine-period buildings in Areas I, J and K, are possibly field towers associated with the contemporary farmhouse excavated in Area L. The basement uncovered in the Area L farmhouse is known from other Byzantine sites in the Be’er Sheba‘ basin; it may have been used for grain storage, or for production space or other activities. In Area F, a settlement of an extended family, or of a few families, was uncovered; the finds from Area F, reflect activity during World War I, thus dating the Area F settlement to the Ottoman to British Mandate periods. The same construction technique, combining rock-cut and stone faced sides, was also found in the Area A and Area D buildings, which may possibly have been part of the Area F settlement. The building in Area D was not completed, and may have been constructed at the end of Ottoman period.