In July–November 2017, a trial excavation was conducted south of Tel Bene Beraq (Permit No. A-8044; map ref. 183588–795/659910–60227; Fig. 1) prior to earthwork aimed at diverting Nahal Ayyalon. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ariel Sharon Park Authority, was directed by R. Be’eri (field photography) D. Golan (preliminary inspections) and A. Dayan, with the assistance of Y. Amrani and E. Bachar (administration), I. Jonish, V. Shustin, E. Oren, D. Abu Salah (preparations for excavation), M. Karkovsky, G. Haklay and T. Rudin (area supervisors), T. Harpak (area supervisor; pottery), G. Tal, Y. Levinger, A. Weimann and A. Eshhar (drafting and area-supervision assistance), A. Peretz (photography), Y. Marmelstein (drone photography), L. Ben-Dror (drone photography for Griffin Aerial Photography), M. Cohen, Y. Shmidov, V. Essman and M. Kunin (surveying and drafting), A. Dangot-Ziv (digitalization), Y. Raskin (geoarchaeology), J. Vardi (flint), E.C.M. Van den Brink (pottery from the Chalcolithic period), R. Shahak-Gross (microarchaeology), J. Regev (radiocarbon dating), L. Perry-Gal (fauna), Y. Nagar, V. Eshed and G. Samaura-Cohen (physical anthropology) and G. Stern (director of education, central district), as well as D. Ben-Ami, M. Ajami, D. Barkan and P. Gendelman (Israel Antiquities Authority central district). We thank the many scholars who came to visit the excavations and contributed much information. We also thank the staff of the Ariel Sharon Park and the Dan Region Association of Towns for their assistance during the excavation.
The excavation extended along the northern bank of Nahal Ayyalon, c. 300 m south of Tel Bene Beraq and just northeast of Ariel Sharon Park. Four excavation squares were opened (A–D; Fig. 2), in which nine strata were unearthed (IX–I), ranging in date from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to the present. A preliminary report on the main finds discovered in the excavation was published in 2019 (Be’eri et al. 2019). The report below complements the one from 2019, and is intended as a preliminary publication of burials from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (Area D; Stratum IX) and a cemetery with more than 80 burials, mostly from the Late Bronze Age, with a few from the Middle Bronze Age (Area B; Strata VI and V).
The settlement at Tel Bene Beraq was founded at the beginning of the second millennium near the present-day Mesubbim Junction. The rectangular shape of the tell (see Fig. 1) was apparently determined in the Middle Bronze Age II, with the construction of an earthen embankment to support the mound. Bene Beraq is mentioned three times in historical sources. In the Bible it is mentioned in the inheritance of the tribe of Dan between Yehud and Gat-Rimmon (Joshua 19:45). The Sennacherib Annals note it as one of the cities conquered by the king of Assyria during his campaign in the region in 701 BCE, together with Yafo, Bet Dagon and Azor (Chicago Prism, Column II, Rows 68b–72; Luckenbill 1924:27–31). The city is also mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, and in the Second Temple period it seems to have been the place of residence of Rabbi Akiva.
Probes conducted in 1968 by M. Brosh (Busheri) yielded pottery from the Middle Bronze Age II. A 1976 excavation by R. Gofna, Y. Porat and E. Ayalon (Permit No. 654) in the cemetery south of the tell uncovered remains of a settlement from the Chalcolithic period and two graves—from the Late Bronze Age and from the Persian period. An excavation on the tell in 1977 yielded remains from the Middle and Late Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Persian, Islamic and Crusader periods (Finkelstein 1990). Another excavation, on the eastern edge of the tell, revealed only meager remains, most of them not in situ, from the Iron Age and the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Late Islamic periods (Shadman 2010).
Burials from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic III period (Stratum IX; 7000–6400 BCE)
The main characteristics of Stratum IX are heaps of irregularly fired elliptical bricks, one side of which was flat and the other convex, as well as irregularly shaped bricks and a few burned stones (Be’eri et al. 2019). Most of the remains of this stratum were discovered in Area D. In the northern part of the area was a pit grave containing an adult male buried in a flexed/fetal position (Fig. 3); no grave goods were found. Also discovered in various places in Area D were fragments of three skullcaps, not in situ. The close proximity of the burial and the skullcaps to remains from the PPN III, and the lack of finds from other periods in the area of the grave, seem to indicate that the burial and the skullcaps date from this period.
The Cemetery from the Middle and Late Bronze Age (Strata VI and V)
More than 80 pit graves were found densely concentrated in an area of sand dunes—one grave every 4 sq m on average. The presumed size of the area is c. 6,600 sq m, suggesting that there are likely over 1,000 graves that have not been excavated. Sand dunes are easy to dig into, and as they usually protrude above their surroundings, they can be seen from afar. It seems that these geographical and topographical conditions were among the considerations that led to choosing this site for burial over a period of approximately 600 year, during most of the Middle and Late Bronze Age and up the beginning of the Iron Age. Most of the graves were discovered in Area B (28 squares; 700 sq m), which is topographically elevated, and only a few were found in Area A, near the flood plain of Nahal Ayyalon. The cemetery resembles a cemetery from the Middle and Late Bronze Age found near Tel Yehud, c. 6 km east of the excavation, pointing to possible connections between the populations at the two sites (Jakoel and Van den Brink 2014; Govrin 2015; Jakoel and Be’eri 2016; Agmon et al. 2019).
Graves from the Middle Bronze Age (Stratum VI; eighteenth–sixteenth centuries BCE). These comprise pit graves of one or two adult individuals, and near them six–seven infants (one of which was a fetus) buried in elliptical jars and pithoi in pits (Fig. 4); all burials were primary. Small tombstones were found above the pits of some of the jar burials, usually one tombstoneabove each grave. Most of the infants buried in jars were apparently between the ages of a few months to three years. Although the infant skeletons in the jars were not well preserved, it seems that most of infants were buried in a flexed position, recalling an infant in the womb, with the head toward the neck of the jar, symbolizing the cervix, with a juglet—usually cylindrical—laid near them (for a discussion of this custom, see Be’eri 2008:373–374, 382–383). Near the pits were funerary offerings, including a small storage jar, jugs, dipper juglets, serving bowls and a pair of grinding stones. Similar infant burials are known from the second half of the second millennium BCE in Mesopotamia, Syria, the southern Levant and the Nile delta. These infant burials provide the clearest evidence of the widespread practice of group affiliation by age and social status over vast geographical regions (Ilan 1991:202; Be’eri 2008:382). The remains of a dog burial were found near the infant burials; the dog’s head was covered with a jar fragment. The burials are dated to the later part of the Middle Bronze Age (MB II and III), although a few sherds that seem to date from MB IIA were found above pit graves that have not yet been excavated.
Graves from the Late Bronze Age (Stratum V; fourteenth–thirteenth centuries BCE). Dozens of pit and cist graves were dug into the sand dune in the Late Bronze Age II–III (Figs. 4–9). All the burials were primary, and articulated, with the interred usually in a supine position. Most of the cist graves were intended for the burial of one individual, and it seems that the community took care to keep burials and skeletons intact, including those of the previous period (e.g., the LB burial in Fig. 5 illustrates the attempt to avoid any harm to the MB burial below it); only two graves had more than one interred individual. The custom of infant jar burials had almost ceased in this phase, and instead, infant and child burials were found in pit graves. The population in the Late Bronze Age graves is more heterogeneous than that of the Middle Bronze Age graves. Individuals of both sexes and of various ages were buried in the pit graves; it may reasonably be assumed that the deceased in individual graves that were found in proximity to each other were related. Funerary offerings of cattle, sheep and tableware for eating and drinking were discovered near the deceased. Particularly common were local Canaanite vessels, such as serving bowls, cups, carinated bowls (a type of drinking goblet), jars, jugs, dipper juglets, flasks and oil lamps (Figs. 4–7, 9, 10). Also found were local imitations of imported vessels, probably the more valuable ones, such as Cypriot Base-Ring jugs and a Mycenaean pyxis. Imported vessels were also common. These included Mycenaean stirrup jars and pyxes, and Cypriot jugs, juglets, flasks and bowls—all of the Ring-Base family—as well as White-Shaved dipper juglets, Plain-White Wheel-Made Ware serving bowls and Milk-Bowl drinking cups. One child burial was accompanied with a flint sickle blade near the head, a custom that recalls the grinding stones found near the infant burials of Stratum VI and indicates that the population provided the deceased with tools for the production of food along with vessels for serving food and drink. The custom of placing a flint sickle blade near the deceased or under its head is known from several contemporaneous graves, such as in the Late Bronze Age cemetery at Tel Shaddud. Amulets were found on a number of skeletons, as well as a cylinder seal, rings with scarabs, scarabs and bead bracelets. Some of the scarabs bore the prenomen of Egyptian pharaohs, such as Thutmose III. A gold earring, and a nose ring inside the nasal cavity of an adolescent girl were also unearthed. A good many of the graves were marked with a tombstone, a storage jar or even a bowl, which were placed above the head or the feet of the deceased (Fig. 7). Inside some of these jars was a dipper juglet, and beside them was a goblet or a drinking bowl, which also served to cover the opening of the jar; these vessels indicate that the jars were meant to hold some type of drink, either for the deceased or for his family mamebers who drank it during ceremonies held above the grave. Animal bones were also found; these were the remains either of ceremonial meals held over the graves or of food placed as funerary offerings in flat serving bowls near the deceased.
Several cist graves were lined with mud-bricks or stones (Figs. 7–9); near one of these graves was a pit grave containing a female and two infants. These graves were sealed with hard, brown-black clay, which is clearly visible against the light-colored sand. This covering may have been intended to mark the gravesite so as to prevent its damage when digging nearby graves. While sand may have accumulated over the clay and obscured its dark color, the jars placed above the grave continued to mark its location. Several of the cist graves were sealed with sun-dried mud-bricks laid over the deceased and the grave goods (Fig. 8).
A few vessels were placed next to the deceased in these graves: a flask, a bowl or jug and at times a cylinder seal, beads and scarabs. A beaded necklace was placed on one of the deceased—including four scarabs with a smooth base, made of glass and semi-precious stones: hematite, carnelian and purple, green and red agate—as well as a cylinder seal made of black stone, an amulet depicting the Egyptian god Bes and a cylinder bead. Additional pottery vessels were placed above the covering that sealed the graves, which probably served to mark their location and were used in ceremonies conducted by the deceased’s relatives.
Near the cist graves was a small rectangular, subterranean ‘burial chamber’ (Fig. 6). It was dug into the ground and lined with large, dressed limestones, whose inner face was smoothed; these stones were evidently brought from some distance, as there are no local limestone outcrops. A vertical shaft dug in the northern part of this grave led to a rectangular opening. In front of the opening was a rectangular dressed stone set on its narrow side, possibly to symbolize a door. In this ‘burial chamber’, which was about as wide as the shoulders of an adult, were three superimposed adult individuals in a supine position and in full articulation, facing south, like the deceased in some of the cist graves surrounding the room. The remains of the uppermost individual were better preserved than those of the two others, and it seems that the burials took place at different times. Next to the head of the uppermost deceased was a set of jugs, a dipper juglet, a serving bowl, a bronze drinking bowl and a scarab, and beside its pelvis was an oil lamp. Another scarab was found near one of the lower deceased. To date, this is one of the only two burials found at the site which contain more than one individual. Additional pottery vessel and animal bones, evidently funerary offerings, were found above the eastern wall of the tomb.
During the Middle and Late Bronze Age, hundreds of Canaanite graves were dug into the sand dune south of Tel Bene Beraq, dozens of which were unearthed in the current excavation. The unearthed Middle Bronze Age graves were mainly infant jar burials. Those from the Late Bonze Age were mostly part of a dense concentration of pit and cist graves, which included the burials of infants, young children and adults of both sexes. Most of the individuals were in single burials, and found in full articulation, indicating that this population sought to keep the skeletal remains intact. It is possible that concern over the integrity of the human remains at the site indicates the diffusion into the Canaanite religion of the Egyptian belief that the soul or the spirit, which left the body at the moment of death, would return to it, and therefore the body had to be preserved in its original state.
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