Khirbat el-Qut is located at the top of a spur just east of Horbat Bet Natif, overlooking the Ela Valley to the south (Fig. 1). The site first appeared on the Palestine British Mandate maps (Survey of Palestine 1945: Deir esh Sheikh Sheet 15/12). Two recent surveys have been conducted at Khirbat el-Qut. The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project survey recorded the remains of a farmstead, various hewn installations and burial caves over an area of ten dunams (Dagan 2010: Site 383, see also Site 382), and a survey along the southern periphery of the site and to the south at Khirbat ʿEn el-Kizbe documented several burial caves, winepresses and a miqveh (Zissu and Gass 2012). Most recently, a study of the geomorphology of the area surrounding Khirbat el-Qut provided interesting aspects of the agriculture potential of the region in antiquity (Paz et al. 2018).
During and subsequent to the current expedition, a few additional salvage excavations were conducted at the eastern edge of Khirbat el-Qut (Permits Nos. A-7261, A-7263, A-7576, A-7616). These excavations uncovered the remains of a large settlement dated to the late Hellenistic–Hasmonean period. The settlement continued but diminished in size during the Early Roman period and was abandoned during the First Jewish Revolt (c. 70 CE). Densely clustered structures revealed in this part of the site indicate that it was the core region of the settlement (S. Mizrahi and E. Kogan-Zehavi, pers. Comm.).
The current excavation was carried out in eight areas (A–H; Figs. 2, 3), along the western fringe of the late Hellenistic–Hasmonean village, uncovering remains dating from the Persian through the Early Roman periods.
Area A (Figs. 4, 5), the largest area opened, yielded the remains of two Hasmonean-period structures separated by a narrow alley, a miqveh (ritual bath) and a hewn columbarium. The architectural remains were poorly preserved, as they were damaged by modern agricultural activity, indicated by tilling marks on the upper surfaces of the stone walls. Most walls were reduced to their foundation course, built of fieldstones and large boulders laid into trenches cut into an alluvial layer devoid of finds. The settlement plan, based on the delineation of the wall foundations, indicated that each structure incorporated several adjoining rooms. While the structures lacked clear floors, their construction was dated by a limited ceramic assemblage from the wall-foundation trenches. In addition, soil fills within the structure yielded predominantly a mixed ceramic assemblage containing Hasmonean and Late Roman–Byzantine period pottery.
A cave featuring a hewn tunnel was identified (not excavated) to the west of Area A; it may have served as a hiding system during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. This cave, along with and a hoard of Bar Kokhba-period coins discovered nearby (E. Kogan-Zehavi, pers. comm.), suggest that even though the site was mostly abandoned after the First Jewish Revolt, parts of the settlement remained active, and some of the inhabitants probably participated in the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 CE).
Area B (Fig. 6). The excavation in Area B, the northwestern area, uncovered stratified soil fills from the Persian–early Hellenistic periods and remains of a building dated to the Hasmonean period. The substantial Persian ceramic assemblage revealed in this area seems to indicate that the ancient settlement at Khirbat el-Qut began prior to the Hasmonean period, which is the earliest period evident in the rest of the areas.
Only a small part of the Hasmonean-period structure was excavated (Fig. 7). To the east of the structure, a hewn staircase, comprising nine steps and bearing gray plaster patches on both the walls and the steps, led down to a miqveh. At the base of the steps, an arched doorway featuring two rectangular niches, perhaps for a wooden beam, led to a large rectangular immersion chamber (not excavated). A feeder channel hewn in the rock above the immersion chamber led to the northern wall of the staircase. The channel seems to have been fed by rainwater collected in a natural fissure in the bedrock, which then flowed down the staircase into the immersion chamber.
Area C (Fig. 4). The excavation in Area C, immediately to the south of Area A, revealed the remains of a rural road and a columbarium to its northeast (Fig. 8). The road, aligned northwest–southeast, had low curb walls and a light brown beaten-earth paving. The columbarium comprises a circular wall built of a single row of boulders on the bedrock encircling a hewn entrance shaft. The entrance leads down into a hewn chamber with many randomly scattered oval-shaped niches carved into its walls, from the top down to the floor. Inside the chamber were an earthen fill and collapsed stones, which perhaps collapsed from the circular wall above. A similar columbarium, with an upper tower built above a hewn chamber, was found in the vicinity, near Tel Yarmut (‘Adawi 2017: Area A).
Areas D and E (Figs. 9, 10). The excavation in these areas, to the east of Area B, unearthed two clusters of stone quarries. Most of the quarries were shallow, reflecting the removal of a single layer of stone blocks. The depth of the quarries was limited, as the nari rock—the desirable rock for building blocks—was shallow, and the quarries were abandoned upon the exposure of the less suitable, soft chalk layer, below it. Due to the heterogenous nature of the bedrock, the quarries were executed in localized patches, where the bedrock was of suitable quality. All of the quarries featured angular carvings and severance channels formed during the extraction process. The quarries were overlain by a deep layer of homogenous soil without quarry waste, suggesting that they were intentionally filled in, to level the ground surface.
Area F, located about 250 m southwest of Area A, yielded a small hewn winepress, consisting of a square treading surface and a square collecting vat with a large circular sump in its floor. A small hewn niche in the northern wall of the treading surface served to support a wooden beam. A wide channel connected the treading surface with the collection vat. The winepress could not be dated due to the absence of dateable artifacts.
Area G (Figs. 11, 12), located at the southwestern fringe of the Hasmonean-period settlement, yielded remains of a rectangular structure. The structure consisted of multiple rectangular rooms, built in two distinct construction phases. The ceramic assemblage in the building consisted of a wide range of vessel types dated to the Hasmonean period (second to first centuries BCE). The dating was further confirmed by the numismatic profile dominated by coins from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus.
Area H (Figs. 9, 13). The excavation in Area H, north of Area A, exposed the remains of a miqveh, a stone quarry and a built staircase. The miqveh comprised an entrance corridor with eight hewn steps descending 2.5 m to an immersion chamber, found full of earth mixed with stones (not excavated). Gray plaster patches found on the upper steps indicate that the staircase was once completely plastered. The excavation in the corridor revealed a rich ceramic assemblage containing Early Roman cooking pots and broken chalk vessels (Fig. 14). A similar staircase corridor, comprising eight built steps, was uncovered southeast of the miqveh. In a later phase, the miqveh was converted into a columbarium, with the addition of several niches carved into its walls (Fig. 15). The two distinct functional phases of this installation cannot be dated because it was not excavated.
The excavated areas make up the western fringe of the late Hellenistic–Hasmonean village at Khirbat el-Qut. This area contained multiple agglomerated buildings, loosely organized in a grid, along with hewn installations—dated predominantly to the Hasmonean period. Unlike other areas of the site, which were continuously inhabited into the Ealy Roman period, this area of the site includes only meager remains from this period. It thus seems that during the Early Roman period, the village contracted and was restricted mainly to the core area of the village to the east of the excavated areas. The stone vessels and the abundance of miqva’ot (ritual baths) found at the site attest to the Jewish identity of its inhabitants. Although the miqva’ot were associated with private structures, they were more densely concentration in the excavated area than in other parts of the site. The excavations in other areas of the site have shown that parts of the site continued to be inhabited following the First Jewish Revolt and up to the Bar Kokhba Revolt, when the village was finally abandoned. Throughout these periods, the site was part of a settlement network radiating around the region’s largest settlement—Bet Natif—one of ten regional administrative centers of Judaea (toparchies; Tsafrir, Di Segni and Green 1994:84; Zissu and Klein 2011:211, and see further references and discussion of ancient sources therein). Bet Naitf seems to have flourished during the Late Roman period, at a time when most of the surrounding satellite villages were abandoned. During the Byzantine period and onward, Khirbat el-Qut was exploited mainly for agricultural cultivation.