A survey and excavations were previously conducted in the current excavation area: the survey documented architectural remains and field walls (Sonntag 2012). To the north of the current excavation, building remains and a field tower from the late sixth–early seventh century CE were uncovered, as well as a field wall, an accumulation of stones, and Chalcolithic flint items (Pasternak 2018; Fig. 1: A-7996). To the north of the excavation, farm buildings from the Late Byzantine–Early Islamic periods were uncovered (Permit No. A-7622).
Probe trenches dug prior to the excavation in the southeast of the settlement, west of Nahal Tale, revealed the remains of small circular buildings containing flint items. During the excavation, these remains revealed remains of a three-phase settlement (3–1; Fig. 2) dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age. The excavation yielded meager mixed pottery dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age and the Byzantine period (not published), abundant Intermediate Bronze Age flint finds (below), an assemblage of 79 limestone-production finds, mainly consisting of primary flakes and simple flakes, and animal bones (below, Turgeman-Yaffe).
Phase 3. Remains of the early phase (Fig. 3) were uncovered on sterile soil north of the excavation area; they were discovered on a lower level than Phases 2 and 1. The remains comprised a thin layer of burnt soil northwest of the area (L154; thickness c. 5 cm), and sparse building remains. The building remains consisted of walls and small hearths encircled with stones, some of which were burnt. These building remains may belong to installations. The soil accumulations yielded flint items and abundant animal bones.
Phase 2. In the northern part of the area, few building remains were discovered, including a fieldstone wall (W151), an oval installation (L176), and a beaten earthen floor (L140). Remains of a wall built of medium and large fieldstones and mudbricks were revealed to the west of W151 and L140. The remains from this phase yielded abundant flint tools and many animal bones.
Phase 1. Remains of six small irregularly shaped buildings (1–6) were attributed to the latest phase; most were built of variously sized fieldstones and paved with fieldstones. They were preserved to the height of a single course. Buildings 1, 2 and 4 were poorly preserved. Most of the buildings were round, except for Building 6, which was square, and Building 2, whose outline was unclear due to its poor preservation. In the east of the excavation area, a beaten earthen floor (L124) around the buildings from this phase cut into Phase 2, and several installations (below) were found on top of it. Abundant finds were collected on the surface and from the fills above Phase 1 (L100, L102, L104, L107, L113, L121, L135, L164; below).
Building 1 (L147; Fig. 4) was primarily preserved in its southern half. A small circular installation (L149) built of small stones containing soil was revealed on the building’s southeastern side.
Building 2 (L122) had remains mainly consisting of stone paving.
Building 3 (L110; diam. 5.3 m; Fig. 5) was well-preserved. The building’s circular wall was built of medium-sized dressed stones, and only its southwestern and northeastern sides were preserved. The building’s paving was almost entirely preserved. A wall (W111) uncovered to the east of the building did not connect to it but was probably associated with it. A circular installation (L160) south of W111 was built of medium–large-sized fieldstones. A wall (W128) ran northward from the building and curved to join the installation (L155) built of large dressed stone slabs; the wall probably also continued to Building 4. A round installation (L170) to the east of W128 was built of small fieldstones. A circular installation (L169) of small fieldstones was built to the east of Building 3.
Building 4 (L167; diam. 5.2 m). Based on traces of the flooring, this building was probably round. Only a short segment of the building’s wall was preserved. The area (L165) between Buildings 3 and 4 yielded abundant flint tools and remains of an oval building or installation (L127; Figs. 6, 7).
In Building 5 (L144; diam. 5.4 m; Fig. 8), the only preserved remains were apparently those of its floor. Traces of a wall (W179; length 2 m) built of medium-sized fieldstones and preserved to the height of a single course were revealed to the northwest of the building. Large flat stone slabs found to the northeast of the building (L118, L178; Fig. 9) included one flat stone that may have served as a work surface and another flat stone with a small depression that may be a door socket.
Building 6 (L137; Fig. 10) lay immediately above the remains from Phase 2. Its outline was square, and its walls (W106, W129) were built of large stones, some of them dressed. The building contained a large amount of soil. A living space west of the building had a circular installation (L119; Fig. 11) built of large, dressed stones.
Flint Items
The flint assemblage from the excavation comprises 3600 items (see Appendix 1: Table 1). Approximately one-third of the assemblage was collected from the surface (N=1069), and about one-third was collected from Floor 140 (N=1097), from the settlement’s middle phase. The excavation identified three settlement phases; however, since the flint industry is uniform in all three, it is presented here as a single assemblage. The flint industry is mainly flake-based, with a few flakes reaching a maximum length of 10 cm. Together with four bladelets, about 4% of the total assemblage is made up of blades (Fig. 12:1), including primary blades covered with over 50% cortex (in Appendix 1: Table 1, primary blades are included in the group of primary items); however, not all the blades and bladelets are uniform in shape and size. Some 10% of the assemblage is made up of core trimming elements, attesting to the shape of the striking platform and the forming of the core in various stages of the reduction sequence. In addition to the flint industry, a small limestone-industry assemblage was collected (N=79) composed chiefly of primary and simple flakes.
Most of the items in the assemblage are coated with patina in white or grayish brown hues. In items where the original raw material is visible, as a result of breakage in the past or over the course of the excavation, the raw materials can be divided into three main groups: semi-transparent brecciated flint in shades of grayish-brown, opaque beige-brown brecciated flint, and good-quality opaque flint in shades of brownish gray; some of these items are coated with a pitted grayish brown patina. Some items show signs of desilication (decomposition of silica), and about 13.5% of them are charred.
Cores comprise some 2% of the assemblage (see Appendix 1: Table 2). Four types were identified based on the scar patterns on the core’s removal surfaces. (1) Flake-production cores with a single striking platform (N=50; 70% of the core assemblage), usually formed on flint nodules (Fig. 12:2) and at times on thick primary flakes; one core was formed on a Kombewa flake. (2) Mixed cores, from which both flakes and blades/bladelets were produced (N=15; Fig. 12:3). (3) Blade-production cores (N=3). (4) Cores with an indeterminate scar pattern (N=3).
Core debitage. Consistent with the types of core, most of the core debitage consists of flakes that removed the striking platform by flaking at an angle perpendicular to the platform (Fig. 12:4). Very little core debitage can be attributed to the production of blades or bladelets, such as a tablet core or a ridged blade (see Appendix 1: Table 1). Blades retaining a cortex that were identified in the assemblage are probably the result of breaking open flint nodules and are unrelated to the formation of cores for blade production. Another group of items are naturally backed items designed to clean the cortex from the core during preparation. The relatively high incidence of core debitage compared with the number of cores in the assemblage may indicate intensive treatment of the cores’ striking platforms or surfaces. The low percentage of chips and chunks in the assemblage, which attests to local knapping (see Appendix 1: Table 1), is probably due to technical constraints that prevented the dry sieving of the excavated sediments.
Tools (see Appendix 1: Table 3). The most common tool types are retouched tools, borers, scrapers, side scrapers, double tools and notches. Retouched blades and a bladelet appear in limited numbers; only a few items are denticulates and burins.
Retouched items, which make up about a quarter of the assemblage, include mostly retouched flakes (Fig. 12:5), although retouched core debitage, broken cores and primary items were also recovered; some were retouched after they were broken.
The borers make up another quarter of the assemblage, including four subtypes that are differentiated by the tools’ working edges (Rosen 1997:68–71): (1) awls, which are the most prevalent (Fig. 12:6, 7); (2) double awls—flakes with two awls, one beside the other or at different ends of the blank; (3) drills; and (4) various borers, characterized by exploiting a point formed naturally or as a result of breakage, with a triangular or irregularly shaped cross-section, and by retouching or by small discontinuous flaking on one or both sides of the point. In the group of borers, various blanks were also used to form the tool. Flakes are the main type of blank, but core debitage and broken cores were also used.
The group of scrapers is also represented by four subtypes, differentiated by the type of blank and the retouching: (1) tablet scrapers, including three fan scrapers (Fig. 12:8), three elongated end scrapers (Fig. 13:1), a single large oval end scraper (c. 9.5 × 14.5 cm; Fig. 13:2) and one broken end scraper; (2) simple end scrapers on flakes, with retouch on their distal edge; (3) two small end scrapers (see Rosen 1997:87) modeled on flakes with a maximum length of c. 3 cm and retouched around their entire circumference; and (4) two rounded end scrapers modeled on primary flakes and bearing a cortex on their entire dorsal face and retouched around their entire circumference (Fig. 13:3).
The group of scrapers includes 15 flakes with retouching on one of their lateral edges (Fig. 13:4) and five steep scrapers.
Of the retouched blades, 11 are retouched on one or two lateral faces (Fig. 13:5, 6); three blades are truncated or backed, or both (Fig. 13:7), one of which is similar in shape to a transverse arrowhead although the style of the retouch is different; and a retouched bladelet bears signs of pressure retouching on its distal end.
Notched tools are another common tool at the site, including seven items with two to three non-consecutive notches. A total of 32 double tools were also identified in the assemblage, the most common being retouched flakes with notches (N=12) and various tools from different subtypes of borer (N=11). The assemblage also contains combinations of notches, side scrapers, and truncates with retouched items, a single dihedral burin, and four denticulates (Fig. 13:8).
The industry’s components indicate that at least part of the assemblage was locally knapped. The characteristics of the assemblage—the lack of Canaanite technology, the low incidence of non-standardized blades, the presence of perforations of various types, and the paucity of tablet scrapers alongside an ad hoc flake industry—are similar to those of other assemblages dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age in the Negev Highlands (Vardi 2005).
Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe
The faunal assemblage includes 42 identified bones (see Appendix 2: Tabel 1), 29 of which were identified to the level of species and the rest to the level of the animal’s size (large/medium/small mammal). The most common animals are caprids (goat and sheep; Capra hircus/Ovis aries), and the second most common group is cattle (Bos taurus). One gazelle bone (Gazella gazella) was also identified, suggesting that game was hunted near the site besides practicing animal husbandry.
The breakdown of the skeletal parts (see Appendix 2: Table 2) into meat-rich and meat-poor cuts reveals an equal ratio between the two groups (meat-rich parts—N=22, 52%; meat-poor parts—N=20, 48%). This figure may indicate that the animals were slaughtered and consumed at the site and that no parts were brought from other sites or taken elsewhere.
Of the 42 bones identified, 25 enabled the age of the animals at the time of death to be estimated. The degree of epiphyseal fusion and dental erosion indicates that all the species were mature at the time of death. This suggests that the site’s economy was based on secondary animal products, such as sheep’s wool, goat’s milk, and the use of cattle as draft animals.
Similar finds from a desert site dated to the same period were discovered at Rogem Beʼerotayim in the western Negev (Saidel et al. 2006). At Rogem Beʼerotayim, the most common group was that of sheep/goat, and there too, the vast majority of animals were slaughtered as mature adults.
The current site is dated to the Intermediate Bronze Age (2200–2000 BCE). This period is characterized by a collapse of the urban-settlement systems that emerged during the Early Bronze Age and reached their peak in the Middle Bronze Age (Finkelstein 1989). Most Intermediate Bronze Age settlement systems became nomadic and semi-nomadic (Dever 1992; Cohen 2009), characterized by settlement, abandonment, and resettlement periods. The difference between one settlement period and the next could be a few months or several years.
Walls and hearths found in the site’s earliest phase may be the remains of installations or a building. Meager building remains are attributed to the middle phase. The latest phase is mostly characterized by round buildings and installations whose function is unclear. The technological and typological aspects and raw materials of the flint assemblage from the excavation are similar to those of other Intermediate Bronze Age assemblages in the southern Negev, such as Be’er Resisim and ‘En Ziq (Vardi 2005; Rosen and Vardi 2014), but the ‘Ar‘ara assemblage differs from these two in the complete lack of sickle blades or micro-drills and the paucity of retouched blades (for comparison, see Vardi 2005:73, Table 5.7). Most of the assemblage was collected from fills between the installations and the buildings. There is no clear pattern in the distribution of the flints, and although about a third of the assemblage comes from one locus (L140), it is impossible to determine whether flints were knapped or tools produced in a specific part of the site.
The site has the characteristics of a semi-nomadic settlement, possibly seasonal subsisting on grazing. The settlement was built beside Nahal Tale, which provided for the daily needs of its occupants. The construction style and the type of settlement at the site have been found at other sites throughout the Negev, for example, at Be’er Resisim (Cohen et al. 1981), Horbat Nahal Nizzana (Cohen 1987), Har Yeroham (Aharoni 1978) and Rekhes Yeroham (Permit Nos. A-6861, A-7104, A-7351). A site in Rekhes Yeroham in the central Negev contained semi-nomadic settlement remains with round structures, including two strata from the Early and Intermediate Bronze Ages.