The excavation in Section 10 at Rahat (South) is part of a large-scale excavation, which includes an additional section (Section 13; Fig. 1). Section 10 yielded remains from the Late Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and late Ottoman periods; Section 13 yielded remains of the same periods as well as from the Mamluk period. Although the preliminary report on Section 13 will be published separately, the two sections will be discussed together in the final report, and hence have been designated a combined stratigraphic scheme (Table 1).
Previous development surveys (by V. Lifshitz [Fig. 1: boundary marked in blue] and by M. Pasternak [Fig. 1: boundary marked in green]) and excavations to the south and west of Rahat (Paran 2009 [Fig. 1:1]; Peretz 2015 [Fig. 1:2]; Kobrin 2016 [Fig. 1:3]; Haddad 2019 [Fig. 1:4]; Seligman and Zur 2021 [Fig. 1:5]; Kogan-Zehavi 2021 [Fig. 1:6]) yielded remains dating from the Iron Age, as well as the Hellenistic, Roman periods, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman/British Mandate periods. The remains included, among others, farmhouses, churches, monasteries, a mosque, burials, cisterns and installations. The excavation in Section 10 is in par the expansion of one of these excavations (Permit No. A-8519; Areas G and H, below; for Area H, see Seligman and Zur 2021).
Section 10 comprised some 250 squares excavated in four areas (G, H1, H2, J), uncovering five strata (VI–III, I; Table 1). Settlement remains were discovered in Strata V–III, dating from the Byzantine, Umayyad and Abbasid periods, whereas Strata VI (Late Roman period) and I (Later Ottoman period) yielded only meager material finds.
Table 1. Rahat (South) Stratigraphy
Period and Date (CE)
Section 10
Section 13
Later Ottoman/British Mandate (19th–20th c.)
Abbasid (8th–9th c.)
Umayyad (7th–8th c.)
Byzantine (5th–7th c.)
Late Roman (4th c.)
Strata VI and V, the earliest strata, lay either on sterile soil or on bedrock, which were reached in all the excavation areas; in some locations—mainly in Area J—at c. 1.5 m below the surface, but mostly near the surface, at a maximum depth of 0.5 m. Stratum V, dated to the Byzantine period, exhibited at least two construction phases: a fifth–sixth centuries CE phase and a more prominent phase, dated to the sixth–seventh centuries CE (late Byzantine period). The finds in this stratum comprise agricultural terrace-walls in Area G, near a previously excavated farmhouse, and a farmhouse with a tower and hewn features in Area J, as well as several installations. Architectural remains ascribed to Stratum IV, dated to the Umayyad period, were found in all the excavation areas. Most prominent of these belong to a large agricultural estate in Area H and to changes that took place in the farmhouse in Area J. The remains of Stratum III, dated to the Abbasid period, were identified in Areas H and J and include additions of walls and installation in buildings first erected in Stratum IV; no new buildings were constructed in this period. These remains are rather sparse, amounting to wall stumps and associated ceramic finds.
Area G (Fig. 2) was opened on a steep slope at the southeastern part of Section 10, 50 m to the south of a trial excavation conducted at the top of a small hill, which uncovered a Byzantine-period farmhouse (Permit No. 5819). A rock-hewn cistern, installed in the Byzantine period, was located in the area between the farmhouse and Area G.
Pottery sherds from the Late Roman period, ascribed to Stratum VI, were found only in this area, deposited on the sloping bedrock and mixed with late Byzantine pottery. These finds may have been washed downhill from the nearby farmhouse, whose early phase should possibly be dated to the Late Roman period. This, however, will not be verified until the publication of the final report.
Two long (c. 25 m), east–west walls, probably agricultural-terrace walls, were discovered on the slope. A perpendicular wall abuts the eastern end of the more southern wall. These most probably belonged to the Byzantine-period farmhouse, where orchards or vegetable gardens were cultivated on the slope behind the farmhouse; no indication was found for the type of plants that grew on these terraces.
Although sparse ceramic finds from the late Ottoman–British Mandate periods (nineteenth–twentieth centuries CE) were found scattered on topsoil over most of the excavation areas, a larger amount of such pottery was found by the cistern near Area G; these included mainly Black Gaza ware. It is therefore most likely that the cistern was reused during the late Ottoman period and modern times by the local Bedouin population.
Area H (Fig. 3) was opened on a small hill in the northern part of Section 10, near an tributary of Nahal Pehar, where the trial excavation uncovered a rural mosque and part of a farmhouse (Seligman and Zur 2021). This was the largest excavation area and hence divided into two sub areas, a western one and an eastern one (H1 and H2 respectively).
The earliest stratum in this area is dated to the Umayyad period (Stratum IV), when a large agricultural estate was established. It consisted of public buildings along with a residential area. These included the previously excavated farmhouse and mosque. Most of these remains were poorly preserved, with one or two rows of the walls surviving.
Only the northern part of the farmhouse was uncovered. Nevertheless, it was no doubt very large, comprising at least 22 rooms and having a northern enclosing wall c. 60 m long. The farmhouse is located about 30 m north of the mosque, a single-room rectangular structure (5 × 6 m) with a miḥrab (a prayer niche) in its southern wall (Seligman and Zur 2021:27*). A square building to the north of the farmhouse (c. 6.4 × 6.5 m) exhibited a second construction phase (Stratum III). During this phase, an apsis was added in the northeast wall, and internal walls divided the structure into several rooms. A a pit grave dates to the Abbasid period was dug into the floor of this structure. It included skeletal remains of two individuals: a primary burial of a female (Fig. 4), 30 to 50 years old, and a secondary burial of a child, most likely 10 to 15 years old. To the northeast of the large farmhouse was a structure consisting of five rooms, located in its southeastern part, and a large room or courtyard in its northwestern part. Although the southern wall of the large room or courtyard is missing, it probably measured 18 × 24 m. Several of the floors in this structure had stone pavements.
Agricultural estates of this type were established in the Umayyad period by the new rulers close to important crossroads, based on an administrative reorganization of the land (Hamarneh 2013:65). Indeed, the estate is located not far from the road which led from Be’er Sheva‘ to the north and from where it crossed the westbound road that led to the Mediterranean coast cities of Gaza and Ashqelon.
Area J (Figs. 5, 6) yielded a large, rectangular farmhouse (24 × 28 m), comprising several rooms, a tower to the west of the rooms and several hewn elements to the north of the tower. The farmhouse dates from the Byzantine and Early Islamic period—i.e., the Umayyad and Abbasid periods.
The rooms, built on the gentle slope, were founded in part on natural soil and in part on the cleared bedrock; several of the rooms had clay ovens and other installations. In a western room of the farmhouse, part of a Late Roman Amphora 1—its rim, neck, shoulders and a small part of the body—was found bearing a four-line Greek dipinto mainly along the neck and shoulders. Amphorae of this type are usually dated to the fifth century CE, but in the northern Negev such amphorae usually date from the late Byzantine period. Late Roman 1 amphorae are often found bearing dipinti in Greek, many of which have a Christian theme (Piéri 2005:78–79; Reynolds 2014).
To the west of the farmhouse rooms rose a small hillock (c. 2 m high), which was utilized for constructing the tower: three walls founded on the cleared bedrock, surrounding the hillock on the north, east and south. While indicating that the tower was square in plan, the remains of its walls do not allow more than an estimation of its length (8.5 m). A glacis built of large, well-dressed stones buttressed the lower courses of the northern wall (Fig. 7), which was better preserved than the other walls. According to the pottery, the tower was built in the fifth or sixth century CE. Toward the end of the Byzantine period, the tower collapsed, as indicated by several wall foundations dated to the Umayyad and Abbasid periods that cut into it (below).
The bedrock to the north and east of the tower was flattened, probably prior to its construction. A cistern, with a built channel leading into it, was hewn into the flattened bedrock c. 5 m north of the tower (Fig. 7). Built stairs descended to the cistern’s opening from the 1.5 m higher ground level to its west. To the northeast of the tower, a large, hewn invertedly stepped shaft was uncovered (Fig. 8), but due to security concerns the excavation was halted at a depth of 3.5 m, without reaching its floor. The pottery in the earth that filled this shaft dates from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The purpose of this shaft is unknown.
While the tower was in use only during the Byzantine period, the use of the cistern may have continued in the following periods. During the Umayyad period, after the collapsed building material of the tower was leveled, and again in the Abbasid period, rooms were added to the farmhouse.
Farmhouses with towers have been discovered in various locations in Judea and Samaria, as well as in the southern Hebron hills and in the eastern Be’er Sheva‘–‘Arad valley, such the one excavated in Khirbat el-Qasr (Magen 2008:229–230). Such structures have been dated to the Roman–Byzantine periods, and some researchers interpretate them as part of the limes fortifications (Hirschfeld and Kloner 1988–1989:16–17). Others date them to as early as the Second Temple period (Riklin 1997:78–84; Hirschfeld 1997:33–71; 2000:712–720), based mainly on the architecture of the towers, not on material finds. More recent excavations have dated similar structures to the fifth and sixth centuries CE and later (Magen 2008:229–236). The Byzantine-period date is corroborated by the finds in Area J, where the earliest pottery dates from the fifth–sixth centuries CE. While it is unclear whether the cistern was in use only during the Byzantine period or also in the following periods, its location right below the tower may suggest that the tower did not serve as a limes fortification nor to protect the nearby road, but rather served as a lookout over the fields and the cistern.
The results of the excavation fit well and further corroborate the conclusions from previous excavations and surveys indicating that during Late Antiquity the Northern Negev was densely settled, dotted with agricultural settlements, such as farmhouses of various sizes, small hamlets and villages, along with the city of Be’er Sheva‘. Furthermore, they provide new insights into the arrival of Muslims in the northern Negev and the administrative changes that took place with their arrival. A key find that sheds light on these administrative changes is the large agricultural estate uncovered in area H. An estate of this type, with its mosque and dwelling quarters, which was established in the Umayyad period and continued into later periods, has not been previously known in the northern Negev.