The cave (Figs. 1, 2) had been surveyed in the past by G.D. Sandel (ZDPV 30 :79–105); it was excavated by Y. Aharoni (1956) and N. Avigad (1963). In this season, three excavation areas were opened and a single square was excavated in each.
Near the entrance to the cave on the east, in its high part, remains of a wall built of large undressed fieldstones were discerned; this is, evidently, the wall described by Sandel. To the south of the entrance, a rectangular small room (2.0 × 3.5 m) was apparently hewn into a karstic fissure. The area is moderately inclined from east to west. The excavated square (3.0 × 3.5 m) revealed four strata.
Stratum 1 consisted of eolian grayish-yellow layered material, combined with different-sized stones. Many finds from modern times were found, as well as two hard limestone grinding stones on the surface, each having a cupmark in its center.
Stratum 2 was a blackish-gray living surface (average thickness 0.15 m). Accumulations of bone fragments, straw matting, rope, red-colored textiles, wood charcoal, date pits, glass fragments and many potsherds, most of them from the first century BCE and a few from the first and second centuries CE, were recovered from the living surface. Beneath it was a floor of small undressed stones laid upon a fill (thickness c. 0.3 m; see below, description of pool) and generally oriented northeast–southwest.
Strata 3 and 4 were geological strata (thickness 0.6 and 0.8 m respectively).
A complete pool in a very good state of preservation was in Stratum 1. Excavating to a depth of 1.8 m clarified that the wall of the pool was founded on a fill layer, resting directly on bedrock. Adjacent to the exterior side of the pool’s wall were the remains of a two-step staircase and a landing at its foot (0.8 × 0.8 m) that was apparently used by those entering to and exiting from immersion (Fig. 3). The pool was coated with three layers of grayish plaster, which was characteristic of miqwa’ot from the first century BCE and the first century CE. The grayish plaster color was achieved by the addition of charcoal that contributed to its durability and prevented permeability. The capacity of the pool was 12 cu m; it received its water from a funneled surface that collected rain water, which flowed into a hewn groove that conveyed the water to the pool (Fig. 4).
To the south of the pool, a floor (2 × 3 sq m) was discovered at a depth of c. 0.2 m. The floor was dated to the Second Temple period, based on the pottery and textile fragments found upon it. The floor was generally aligned east–west and abutted the wall of the pool; it was missing in the area that was the base of the staircase.
A square was excavated against the northern wall of the cave, revealing immense boulders that were apparently part of the ceiling that had collapsed. Two floor levels were identified in this square. A cavity of unclear nature was exposed between the collapse stones to the northeast of the area.
Stratum 1 was a layer of gray soil that incorporated collapse stones of varying sizes; two of the stones had cupmarks. The layer contained potsherds, essentially from the Early Roman period and mixed finds, including many bones, flint tools (Borer and awl; Fig. 5:1, 2), remains of straw matting and food from the Chalcolithic period until modern times. Many organic-material remains were present, among them date pits, olives, textiles that were dated to the first century CE and charcoal.
Stratum 2. The removal of Stratum 1’s fill layer revealed a layer of cattle dung (thickness c. 7 cm) over a surface of c. 1 sq m in the northwestern side. The exposure of cattle bones nearby may hint on the connection between the two elements. A wall in the southwestern side was preserved two courses high (c. 0.5 m); several stones next to it may have been part of a pavement. To the west and adjacent to the wall, two coins of Agrippa I, a glass bottle, an iron trilobate arrowhead from the Early Roman period and a pottery seal with a geometric decoration, apparently from the Calcolithic period, were uncovered.
The area slopes moderately westward to the edge of the cave, where a clandestine dig was evident. Two strata were discerned. On the northeastern side and parallel to a wall of the cave was a heap of various-sized collapse stones, which were apparently cleared from earlier excavations. A square was excavated close to the high step that divided between Areas B and C. Eight large collapse stones were scattered in the excavation area and a deep natural pit could be discerned between them. The partial clearance of the stones revealed a large boulder that, most likely, collapsed from the ceiling, as well as a layer of dark brown soil mixed with a large amount of organic material that included many tree branches of various sizes, mainly palm fronds and reeds, brought to the cave from the ‘En Gedi oasis.
An ashen hearth (diam. c. 0.6 m; thickness c. 0.2 m) was discovered in the northwestern side of the square; it contained burnt limestone that had turned into lime, as well as charcoal and sooty potsherds from the Early Roman period.
The early finds, which were mixed together with finds from modern times, attest to clandestine digging and burrowing by hikers. Nonetheless, numerous organic finds were recorded, including ropes, straw matting, textiles, date pits, olives and animal bones.
Stratum 1 consisted of a small and medium-sized stones and gray soil layer, which contained modern finds combined with early finds, such as pieces of wicker and wicker ropes, straw matting and fabric, olive and date pits, nut shells, remains of pomegranate peels, barley grains and bones. A flint arrowhead (Khiam point) from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period (Fig. 5:3) and a small amount of Chalcolithic pottery were also present. There could be a connection between the hearth and the numerous food remains revealed nearby. Following the surface cleanup and upon the large collapse stones was a soil layer that contained organic finds and pottery fragments from the Chalcolithic and Early Roman periods.
Stratum 2 was a light brown soil and small stone layer. Three large stones that surrounded the deep pit on the north and west were removed, enabling access into the pit for the examination of the collapse layer. Work in this area was suspended due to safety problems.
The finds from Area A indicate an occupation from the Second Temple period, which was apparently the initial use of the pool. The staircase abutting the wall of the pool, the plaster components and its many-layered coating (at least three), point to the identification of the pool as a miqwe from the Second Temple period. It was difficult to date the strata in Areas B and C, as well as to associate the collected material to any specific stratum.
The significant amount of organic finds and the datable archaeological finds retrieved from the cave show that its usage extended from the PPNA period, through to the Chalcolithic period, the Iron Age and the Early and Late Roman periods.