In January 2019, a salvage excavation was undertaken in the southern industrial zone of Qiryat Gat near Naḥal Shalva (Permit No. A-8460; map ref. 17031–221/609307–774; Fig. 1). The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Kav Ratzif Technology, Ltd., was directed by D. Eisenberg-Degen, with the assistance of A. Alamor (administration), E. Aladjem (surveying and drone photography) and Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), as well as V. Lifshits, S. Ganor, N.S. Paran, S. Tzur, S. Shaked, M. Hemed, D. Biton, F. Kobrin, H. Mamalya, L. Shpirer, T. Sapir, A. Levi-Hevroni and Y. Abadi-Reiss.
The excavation was carried out on the western bank of Naḥal Shalva, uncovering ten cist graves and a wall segment (Fig. 2). These graves are part of a cemetery from the Byzantine period, part of which was uncovered in past excavations; it extends over c. 5.5 dunams and contains dozens of graves (Varga 2002; Fraiberg, Oron and Nagar 2017).
In excavations in the vicinity in recent years remains were uncovered from the Chalcolithic, Roman and Byzantine periods (Varga 2002; Israel, Aladjem and Milevski 2014; Fraiberg, Oron and Nagar 2017; Permit No. A-6481). Based on architectural items found in the vicinity, it appears that a church stood near the site in the Byzantine period (Israel, Aladjem and Milevski 2014; Peretz 2019).
The ten cist graves (L101–L110) uncovered in the excavation were dug into the soil along an east–west axis and were lined with chalk rocks and covered with stone slabs. No floors were found in them. Each grave conformed to the size of the deceased interred in it. According to the dimensions of the graves, children were likely buried in at least three of them (L101, L102, L109); the skeletal finds from Graves 102 and 109 confirm this assumption. Two of the adult burials (L105, L108) contained funerary offerings: Grave 105 yielded a necklace and bracelets (Fig. 3) as well as a glass cross medallion with a gold leaf, and a small gold earring (Fig. 4) was found in Grave 108. The lower part of one of the cover stones of Grave 110 bore an engraving of a wavy line (length 0.55 m; Fig. 5) cut by a straight line, for which no parallels have been found. This stone may have been in secondary use. It is apparent that there had been earth movements at the site, and the resulting pressure on the soil moved and compressed the cist stones, reducing the size of the grave (Fig. 6). Due to the dampness of the earth and the movement of the stones, the bones in some of the graves were poorly preserved, and in others only minute bone fragments were found.
The wall segment that was unearthed (W100; length c. 12 m) included a foundation course of chalk rocks; the use of the wall is unclear. Remains of other walls were found north (Fraiberg, Oron and Nagar 2017) and east (Peretz 2019) of the excavation. It cannot be ruled out that the uncovered wall was part of the cemetery, and may even have delimited it.
The graves that were excavated appear to have been arranged in rows, indicating that the cemetery was organized. Its size (5.5 dunams or more) conforms to the size of the nearby settlement and to its lifespan. The deceased uncovered in the excavation represent a range of ages, and among the adults are both women and men. Funerary offerings, especially the cross pendant with the gold leaf, reflect a wealthy population. The architectural items discovered near the site, which originated in a church, as well as the cross on the pendant, reveal that a Christian population lived in the area. The individuals interred in the cemetery represent a heterogeneous population, rather than a homogeneous one, as would be found for example at a monastery. Presently, it is not clear where was the Byzantine settlement to which the cemetery belonged.
Fraiberg A., Oron M. and Nagar Y. 2017. Naḥal Shalva. HA-ESI 129.
Israel Y., Aladjem E. and Milevski I. 2014. Naḥal Shalva. HA-ESI 126.
Varga D. 2002. Naḥal Shalwa. HA-ESI 114:117*–118*.