Two excavation squares were opened (Fig. 2), revealing a rock-cut cave from the Middle Roman period (Stratum IV; second–third centuries CE); a quarry for ashlars post-dating the Middle Roman period (Stratum III); a rock-cut and plastered cistern from the Mamluk period (Stratum II); and remains of a structure from the Mamluk–Ottoman periods (Stratum I).
The few past excavations that took place in ‘Araba revealed burial caves from the first–fourth centuries CE (Hasson and Ben-Yosef 1967; Stern 1998; Syon 1999) and remains of a colorful mosaic floor decorated with geometric patterns, dated to the fifth–sixth centuries CE (Tzaferis 1970).
Stratum IV. After removing a thick layer of fallen stones by mechanical means, an ovoid cave with a south-facing opening was found hewn in the limestone rock (L24). The cave, whose ceiling sloped northward, was found full of alluvium, at the top of which was a beaten-earth floor (L16, L21); neither the floor nor the alluvium were excavated. On the southern side of the cave was a rectangular, rock-hewn opening (0.75 × 1.00 m) with a staircase descending southward; only one step was unearthed. A rock-cut forecourt (L23; Fig. 3) extended to the south of the cave’s opening. Although the forecourt was reused in Stratum II (below), the earliest sherds found above its floor dated from the Late Roman period, as in the case of the jar in Fig. 5:1 (below). Based these finds and the cave’s plan, which resembles that of nearby burial caves, it is fair to assume that this cave was used for burial during the Middle Roman period (second–third centuries CE).
Stratum III. Remains of an ashlars quarry (L12, L13, L26), with clearly discerned detachment channels (width 0.1 m) and marks of quarried stones (0.25 × 0.25 × 0.40 m), was uncovered. Quarrying marks above the cave’s roof of the cave and the opening indicate that the quarry was in operation after the cave went out of use and is therefore later than the Middle Roman period.
Stratum II. A rock-hewn cistern with a round opening (L25; diam. 0.8 m; Fig. 4) was found in the northeastern corner of the cave’s courtyard from Stratum IV. The cistern was found full of alluvium and its excavation was not completed (excavated depth 0.6 m). During the installation of the cistern, the opening of the cave was blocked with a wall (W27) built of fieldstones and coated with hydraulic plaster. The forecourt’s floor and the walls of the cistern were coated with hydraulic plaster. It is unclear why the cistern went out of use. The forecourt’s floor was covered with a layer of light gray soil (L23), which contained small fieldstones and pottery fragments, including a jar from the Late Roman period (Fig. 5:2), a bowl from the Crusader period (Fig. 5:6) and a jar from the Mamluk period (Fig. 5:13). It is probably to the activity in Stratum II to which at least part of the ceramic finds from the accumulation inside the cave can be attributed. These included two Early Islamic-period bowls (Fig. 5:4, 5), one of which is glazed (Fig. 5:5), a casserole from the Crusader period (Fig. 5:8), as well as a painted bowl, handmade from buff clay (Fig. 5:9), glazed bowl (Fig. 5:10) and a jug (Fig. 5:14) from the Mamluk period.
Stratum I. Above the soil fills (thickness c. 2 m) that covered the bedrock, the cave, the quarry and the cistern from the previous strata were the remains of two fieldstone-built walls (W11, W19; Fig. 6), which formed a corner of a room. This corner was abutted by a compacted earthen floor (L14). Another wall (W22), built of one row of stones, was uncovered; it ran parallel to W11 and seems to have created a corner with W19 as well. The width of the wall and its construction method suggest that it was a partition wall. A beaten-earth floor (L18), which was similarly laid above the fills, abutted W11 on the east.
Pottery sherds found under the floors include a fragment of a jug from the Hellenistic period (Fig. 5:1), a jar from the Late Roman period (Fig. 5:3), a glazed bowl from the Crusader period (Fig. 5:7), as well as a glazed bowl (Fig. 5:11) and a casserole (Fig. 5:12) from the Mamluk period. Fauna remains included bones of goats, sheep and cattle, including one cattle vertebra on which signs of butchering were observed. Above Floor 14 were fragments of Rashaya el-Fukhar jugs (not drawn) from the Ottoman-period. Based on the pottery finds, it seems that the room was built in the Mamluk period and continued in use until the Ottoman period. The pottery from the Hellenistic period may indicate some presence at the site during this period.