In March and June 2020, two salvage excavation were conducted at Moshav Natur in the center of the Golan Heights (Permit Nos. A-8703, A-8764; map refs. 270345/751445, 270316–54/751313–467, respectively; Fig. 1), prior to the settlement’s expansion. The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Golan Regional Council, were conducted by A. Efron (field photography), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi (administration), M. Peleg (aerial photography, photogrammetry), A. Berger, R. Be’eri and O. Zingboym (guidance in the field), A. Shapiro (GPS and map), Y. Paz (pottery) and H. Tahan-Rosen (pottery drawing and plans).
The excavations were conducted in a flat terrain to the west of the moshav, c. 1 km east of the Nahal Samah gorge. The landscape is predominantly of basalt outcrops with masses of boulders. Dolmens (megalithic burial structures) are scattered across the basalt plains of the Golan Heights, and Moshav Natur lies in the center of a dolmen field. The current excavations took place in two dolmens (Permit No. A-8703), where burial cells were uncovered—No. 10 (‘large’; Area A) and No. 37 (‘small’; Area B)—and in a clearance heap (Permit No. A-8764). All the sediments from the excavation of the dolmans were sifted with a 1 cm mesh-size sieve.
The dolmen fields of the Middle East stretch from north of the Dead Sea to Asia Minor, and from there to the Caucasus and Europe (Epstein 1974: 37; Fraser 2018: Fig. 1.2). In Israel, dolmens are found in the Golan Heights, in eastern Galilee, and in western Galilee as far as Karmi’el. They are built of large slabs of mostly local stone—basalt in the Golan and limestone in Galilee. In the Golan Heights, thousands of dolmens have been surveyed and hundreds excavated. Most of the burial cells were looted in antiquity, particularly in or shortly before the Byzantine period.
In 1984, a dolmen that had been robbed was uncovered in the eastern part of the moshav (Hartel 1986; Fig. 1: A-1333). Remains of settlements from the Chalcolithic period and the Middle Bronze Age, as well as small sites from the Roman period, are also known in the vicinity of the excavation area. In 2012, the fringes of a Middle Bronze Age settlement were excavated to the south of the moshav (Zingboym 2013b; Fig. 1: A-6550). Two development surveys were conducted in the countryside surrounding the moshav: to its east (Zingboym 2014 [Fig. 1: S-405/2013]) and to its west (Zingboym 2013a [Fig. 1: S-428/2013]); the numbering of the dolmans and the clearance heap are those designated in the latter.
Area A (Fig. 2). The dolmen had been robbed and the burial cell was found open. The dolmen contained a burial cell covered and surrounded by a fieldstone cairn. The burial cell (L16; 1.0–1.3 × 5.0 m, max. height 1.3 m; Fig. 3) was enclosed by four walls built of large flat basalt stones standing on their narrow side. The cell’s northern wall (W16) was built of three large stones; the longer western and eastern walls were built of several smaller stones; and the southern wall (W13; Fig. 4) was built of three courses of flat fieldstones placed on top of a large basalt outcrop. Only one of the cell’s covering slabs was preserved, at the northern end of the cell. Another large slab (0.25 × 1.00 × 2.00 m) had previously been moved from its original position. The other covering slabs were missing. The stone cairn was rounded (diam. 12.5–14.5 m) and almost a meter higher than the cell’s covering slabs, rising 2–3 m above surface level; it had a crater-like depression at the top. When the cairn was mechanically excavated down to the basalt rock (L15), no internal walls were found. The cairn was abutted by field walls on the southwest and northwest.
The cell contained several accumulated layers of brown-black soil (L10) matted with vegetation and roots, as well as fieldstones that probably came from the cairn. Beneath the soil accumulation, a layer of soft brown clayey soil (L11) covered the floor of the cell (L12). In the cell’s northern part, the floor consists of natural basalt rock and in the south, the rock outcrop was overlain with a fill of soil and small basalt stones.
The pottery found in the burial cell includes four fragments of a Metallic Ware jar belonging to the same vessel, painted brown inside and out, with a black core and with a few pinch marks on the rim (Fig. 8:1–4). Around the shoulder of the jar is a seal-impressed geometric decoration (Fig. 8:3, 4). Parts of the same vessel were also found between the upper stones of the cairn. Similarly decorated ware was recovered from sites at Levi’a (Paz 2018: Fig. 9–15:3.16) and Bet Yerah (Greenberg et al. 2006: 93, Fig. 3.42). The burial cell also yielded a rim of a small jar (Fig. 8:7) and a flat base (Fig. 8:8). The lowest layer of soil in the burial cell contained fragments of a tortoise shell (Fig. 8:10). The cairn yielded a fragment of a vessel decorated with painted black intersecting lines (Fig. 8:5); the size of the vessel is unclear, but an identical decoration on the upper part of jars and jugs is known from Bet Yerah (Getzov 2006:74). Above the stones of W13 were modern donkey shoes made of iron and a fragment of a jar shoulder decorated with two wavy combed bands (Fig. 8:6). Near the cell, on the cairn stones, was a shoulder fragment of a handmade jar decorated with two straight combed bands (Fig. 8:9).
The meager pottery finds date the construction of the dolmen’s cell to Early Bronze II–III.
Area B (Fig. 5). The small dolmen, c. 100 m south of the large dolmen, contained a burial cell that had not been robbed and was covered with haphazardly arranged stone slabs. The cell (L42; 0.7 × 2.1 m; Fig. 6) was built of large stones placed on their narrow side, and it was set along a northeast–southwest axis. The tops of the burial cell walls were 0.15–0.40 m higher than the level of the cairn around the tomb. A perimeter wall, c. 1 m away from the burial cell, was built of round fieldstones (W44; diam. c. 5 m). A leveled, almost flat, fill of small fieldstones was discovered between the burial cell and the perimeter wall. The northern part of the cell contained a layer of small stones and a single larger stone (L37; Fig. 7). A similar layer was not detected in the southern part of the cell. The cell contained an accumulation of clayey soil and small fieldstones overlying the basalt bedrock. Although the burial cell was closed with covering slabs, no pottery was found inside it.
A Stone heap (6.10 × 7.85 m, height 0.6–1.5 m; Figs. 9, 10) containing basalt stones of various sizes was excavated. Among the stones were several potsherds (not drawn) that date from the Byzantine period.
There is much scientific debate regarding the date and context of the dolmens in the Golan. In the 1970s and 1980s, following Epstein’s work, it was generally assumed that the dolmens were built by nomadic tribes that moved into the Golan between the third millennium and the beginning of the second millennium BCE (Epstein 1974:39). A different approach adopted in recent years regards the simple, table-like dolmens (trilithons)—the simplest type of dolmen consisting of two upright stones and a single capstone—as dating from Early Bronze I or even earlier, and probably originating in the Jordan Valley. In contrast, the built tombs of the Golan, such as those examined in the current excavation, were constructed in Early Bronze II–III and belong to a different tradition, originating in Syria (Fraser 2018:335–337).
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Fraser J.A. 2018. Dolmens in the Levant (PEFA XIV). London.
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Greenberg R., Eisenberg E., Paz S. and Paz Y. 2006. Bet Yerah; The Early Bronze Age Mound I: Excavation Reports, 1933–1986 (IAA Reports 30). Jerusalem.
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