In November 2019, a rescue excavation was conducted in the area of Horbat Nekhes in Modi‘in (Permit No. A-8618; map ref. 196395–420/644018–34) prior to development work. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Breitholz-Hammer & Co., was directed by E. Oren, with the assistance of E. Bachar and Y. Amrani (administration), I. Jonish (preliminary inspections, field photography and photogrammetry), A. Dagot (GPS), P. Gendelman (pottery), Y. Tepper (scientific guidance) and A. ‘Azab.
The excavation took place on the eastern fringes of Horbat Nekhes; the principal finds were rock-hewn graves, a cupmark, and remains of field walls and an agricultural terrace (Fig. 2). A survey and excavations conducted in the past in the immediate vicinity revealed rock-hewn installations, water cisterns, rock-cuttings, burial caves, stone-clearance heaps, terraces, dams, a road, and agricultural remains from various periods (Haiman, Shmueli and Barda 2006; Golani 2008 [Fig. 1: A-5290]; Segal 2008 [Fig. 1: A-4816]; Toueg 2009 [Fig. 1: A-5250]; Sion 2010 [Fig. 1: A-5479]; Re’em 2013 [Fig. 1: A-6537]; Danziger 2016 [Fig. 1: A-7370]).
Two cist graves (L26, L31; Fig. 3) were uncovered in the southwestern part of the excavation area. They were hewn on an east–west alignment into a rock outcrop which had been leveled and smoothed. Of the two graves, only L26 was excavated (0.35 × 1.50 m, depth 0.7 m; Fig. 4); inside it, a narrow, hewn channel was revealed along its southern wall. The grave yielded a few potsherds dated to the Roman period (not drawn). A rock cutting identified near the graves may be another grave. Similar graves were found at Beit Safafa in Jerusalem (Zissu and Moyal 1998), where they are dated mainly to between the end of the First Temple period and the Bar Kokhba Revolt, although some were also used in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods; in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood (Kloner and Gat 1982) and at Horbat Qumran, where they were dated to the end of the first century CE (Bar-Adon 1971); and near Nahal Hadera (Gorzalczany and ‘Ouda 2007), where no diagnostic finds were recovered. To the west of the graves, in the same rock outcrop was a large, shallow hewn cupmark (L10; diam. 0.35 m, depth 0.23 m; Fig. 5).
A massive wall (W15; length 13.5 m; Figs. 6, 7) uncovered in the center of the excavation area was founded partly on bedrock and partly on a thick layer of clayey soil; it was built of fieldstones of various sizes and preserved to the height of a single course. Scant remains of three walls (W17, W32, W33; length c. 1.5 m) were uncovered to the southeast of W15. Several medium-sized stones were preserved to the height of a single course in W17 (Fig. 8). Walls 32 and 33 were built of small stones.
A long wall (W13; excavated length 10.5 m) that was probably the retaining wall of a terrace and had been partially damaged by development work was revealed in the northeastern part of the excavation. The wall was built on a northeast–southwest alignment and was preserved to the height of a single course. A few large stones preserved on the northeastern side of the wall were dressed on one face. The western side of the wall was abutted by a thick layer of small–medium-sized fieldstones (L14; exposed segment 3 × 15 m; Fig. 9), possibly alluvial debris.
Hellenistic pottery found near Walls 15 and 17 (L18, L21) includes a mortarium (Fig. 10:2), jars (Fig. 10:3, 4, 6–8) and a juglet (Fig. 10:9). The layer of stones (L14), which was part of an agricultural terrace, yielded Persian pottery, including a mortarium (Fig. 10:1), and Hellenistic pottery, including fragments of a jar (Fig. 10:5) and of an oil lamp (Fig. 10:10).
The walls that were uncovered are evidently associated with agricultural activity and are dated to no earlier than the Persian or Hellenistic periods. The cist graves are dated to the Roman period based on the pottery found in Grave 26 and on similar graves with a narrow channel hewn along one wall. The excavation area was probably part of the agricultural hinterland of the nearby settlements at Horbat Nekhes and Horbat Bizqa.
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