The excavation was conducted at a site extending northwest of Tel Sheva‘, on a hard loess gradient that slopes gradually down toward Nahal Hevron. Previous excavations at Tel Sheva‘ uncovered remains from the Late Chalcolithic Be’er Sheva‘ (Ghassulian) culture, which is characterized by subterranean cavities dug into the hard loess soil (Abadi-Reiss 2008 [Fig. 2: A-3819]; Paz et al. 2014 [Fig. 2: A-6779], and see further references therein; Permit Nos. A-2062, A-5631). Further remains attributed to the Be’er Sheva‘ culture have been discovered at sites in the vicinity of Be’er Sheva‘, at Horbat Matar (Bir Abu Matar; Perrot 1955; Gilead, Rosen and Fabian 1991), Be’er Zafad (Bir es-Safadi; Perrot 1984) and Horbat Beter (Dothan 1959).
Three excavation areas were opened (A–C; Fig. 3), yielding three types of structures typical of the Be’er Sheva‘ culture: surface, semi-subterranean and subterranean.
Area A (Fig. 4). Two architectural phases were identified. A semi-subterranean complex dug into the ground was attributed to the early phase, and surface structures cutting into the subterranean structures were attributed to the late phase. Some of the remains were damaged by Byzantine-period cist graves, which were not excavated.
The early remains in the south of the excavation area consisted of a stepped entrance (L117) leading into a rounded semi-subterranean chamber (L144; Fig. 5) that was partially lined with small fieldstones and mud-bricks (W116). Small pits dug inside the chamber yielded potsherds, flints and charred bones. A narrow passage (L142) leading eastward from the chamber and lined with mud-bricks (W148) led to another subterranean cavity (L154), which was only partially excavated.
A surface habitation level (L126) from the later phase in the south of the area cut into the subterranean chamber from the earlier phase. Level 126 contained pits that were dug into the ground (L121). An entrance to another subterranean cavity (L124) and a bell-shaped pit (L106) dug into the loess soil in the south of the area were also attributed to the later phase.
Two pits were dug into the loess soil in the north of the excavation area (L132, L133). Pit 132 was rounded and had perpendicular walls, whereas Pit 133 was bell-shaped and contained a few potsherds, flints and animal bones.
Area B (Fig. 6). All the three types of structures—surface, semi-subterranean, and subterranean—were found in this area. On the surface were the remains of two buildings (1, 2). Building 1 was small and rounded, and it was built of medium-sized fieldstones and mud-bricks; only its western part was excavated. The building contained a living space (L207; Fig. 7) with six pits were dug into the loess soil. The pits yielded rich finds, consisting of potsherds, flints and bones. Two construction phases were identified in Building 2. A wall (W267) adjoining the entrance to a subterranean cavity (L314) was attributed to the earlier phase. Remains of a wall with a rounded corner (W216) adjoining the northern side of Building 1 were attributed to the later phase. Building 2 contained a tamped earthen floor and several potsherds, flints and animal bones. Two living spaces were also found on the surface: two pits inside a circular pit dug into the loess soil (L234) in the east of the area, which contained burnt sediment, potsherds, flints and a few animal bones; pits in the southwest of the area, which contained ash-rich soil, potsherds and flints (L210).
The semi-subterranean remains were discovered in the south of the excavation. They include a compound (diam. c. 4 m, depth c. 1 m) dug into the loess soil and lined with stones in several places. Its tamped-earthen floor (L242) bearing in situ potsherds and two circular pits (L246, L251; Fig. 8). Burn marks were discerned on the walls of Pit 246; the pit, which was fully excavated, yielded pottery, flints and charred bones. Approximately 1 m to its south, a cavity dug in the ground (L257; depth 0.85 m) with a preserved roof contained three pits that were full of ash, potsherds and flints. The burn marks and the bones found in the pits in the south of the area suggest that they were used for cooking.
The subterranean remains were discovered mainly in the center and north parts of the area; most of them belonged to a complex consisting of a courtyard with subterranean cavities belonging to two phases. In the early phase, an open entrance area led to the complex from the west; it was cut by W250 of Building 2. The entrance led eastward and northeastward into two parts of the complex. The eastern part of the complex included a large courtyard (L272) and a subterranean cavity (L260, L268). The courtyard contained a tamped-earthen floor, some of which was covered with a thin sedimentary layer resulting from standing water. The courtyard’s contour was clearly visible, and in the north it was lined with brick material and a few fieldstones (W252). The northeast of the complex contained a subterranean cavity (L293; max. depth c. 2.5 m). In the later phase, Cavity 293 was enlarged to the north and east, divided by a wall (W295), and a new entrance passage led to it. The passage ran between two mud-brick walls (W312, W313) and ended in steps (Fig. 9) built of fieldstones and flints that descended into Cavity 293. A subterranean living space (L316) beside W295 yielded in situ vessels. The complex continued northward, up to the entrance to another, deeper complex (L291).
Two more entrances to subterranean cavities were found in the excavation: at its southwestern and northeastern ends. A stepped entrance (L281) at the southwestern end led to a subterranean chamber (depth c. 2.5 m), from which a passage continued to a subterranean cavity (L303). The cavity widened toward the northeast, but there was no evidence that it was connected to the complex to its northeast. An opening (L289) at the northeastern end of the excavation area continued eastward to a subterranean cavity (L309; depth c. 2 m).
Area C (Fig. 10). This excavation area also contained the three structural types: surface structures, semi-subterranean, and subterranean. Part of a habitation level on the surface (L517) in the south of the area contained two shallow pits (L555, L560; Fig. 11). The pits contained a soil fill mixed with pottery body fragments, flints, and bones, suggesting that this was a living surface and that the pits served as refuse pits. Approximately 5 m away was another living surface (diam. 0.6 m) that contained small, undressed stones.
Two semi-subterranean cavities were dug into the ground in the center of the area, a western cavity (L543) and an eastern cavity (L530), in which two phases were discerned (Fig. 12). They were accessed via a bell-shaped pit (L527; depth c. 0.5 m). The two cavities were connected via an entrance, but at some stage it was blocked with mud-bricks and fieldstones. Both cavities had tamped-earthen floors; one of these supported a rounded installation made of medium-sized fieldstones and mud-bricks that contained fragments of a holemouth jar (L554). To the east of the entrance to Pit 527, a small pit (L511) dug in the ground and lined with mud-brick blocks yielded a rich assemblage of stone, pottery and flint finds.
A subterranean complex dug in the ground in the north of the excavation area exhibited two phases (Fig. 13). An entrance passage on the surface (L570), attributed to the earlier phase, sloped into a subterranean chamber (L599; diam. 5.2 m), whose floor was made of a thin layer of gray soil. To the east of the chamber were two openings; the southern opening led to a cavity (L563) located to the southeast of the chamber, while the northern opening (L572) led to a cavity located to the north of the chamber (L586). The floor of the chamber of the early phase was covered with soil, which was either deliberately laid or resulted from the collapsed ceiling. The later phase of the complex was built on top of this soil cover. In this phase, the chamber was reduced in size by a smaller pit (diam. 2.5 m) dug into the unstable soil fill; the pit was lined with three walls (W551, W564, W573) in an attempt to stabilize the chamber. The three walls were built of mud-bricks laid on foundations made of large and medium-sized fieldstones. Entrance passage 570 from the early phase continued to be used in the later phase, but it was flanked with stones of various sizes in this phase; two large flint stones were placed as jambs at the end of the passage, at the entrance to the chamber (L567). A subterranean passage (L578) dug on the north side of the chamber led northward to a subterranean cavity (L586).
The Pottery. The finds from the three excavation areas consist mostly of pottery vessels, along with a rich assemblage of flint tools and groundstone basalt tools that are typical of the period. All the structures and pits yielded abundant serving and storage ware, such as V-shaped bowls—most of them painted with bands of red paint on the rim—kraters, churns, jars, and a few cornets. All the vessels have typological and technological affinities with the Ghassulian culture.
The renewed excavations at Tel Sheva‘ and the results of trial trenches dug in the vicinity show that the site extended over an area of c. 6 dunams between Nahal Hevron and Nahal Be’er Sheva‘. The subterranean complexes of this large site exhibit a variety of uses related to both storage and dwelling. The site’s settlement belongs to the Chalcolithic Be’er Sheva‘ culture—a culture that was prevalent throughout the northern and western Negev. The relative proximity of sites belonging to the Be’er Sheva‘ culture in the region (see Fig. 1) facilitated contacts between them. Sites of this culture are characterized by shared architectural and ceramic traditions that distinguish them from other sites belonging to the Ghassulian culture. Their inhabitants understood how to exploit the stability of the land and build subterranean complexes while lining and strengthening them with rather few stones. These complexes were incorporated in surface structures consisting of simple, small to medium-sized dwellings. Despite the simple architecture, the culture’s creativity is evident, as shown by its use of the land and by the rich material finds, which include pottery, ivory, basalt and other raw materials.
The Be’er Sheva‘ culture was characterized by agriculture and grazing and. It did not engage in the monumental, ritual or industrial construction that typifies other Ghassulian sites in the southern Levant, such as Agammim in Ashqelon, in the southern coastal plain (Abadi-Reiss and Varga 2019; Varga et al. 2021); Gilat in the western Negev (Alon and Levi 1990; Alon 1977); and ‘En Gedi near the Dead Sea (Usishkin 1971). However, as the excavation at the site uncovered only a few surface structures and rather shallow subterranean remains, it is possible that modern disturbances destroyed such remains.