In September 2017, a trial excavation was conducted in the area slated for the construction of the northern campus of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Shevaʽ (Permit No. A-8090; map ref. 181399–530/575031–251). The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was directed by D. Eisenberg-Degen, with the assistance of Y. Al-‘Amor (administration), A. Levy-Hevroni (area supervision and guidance), A. Tamir (youth educational program), S. Drachman (assistant area supervisor), Y. Shmidov (surveying and drafting) and A. Aldjam (drone photography and GPS), as well as F. Sonntag, S. Talis, P. Fabian, A. Inbal, I. Finkelstein and Y. Abadi-Reiss. Youths from the Ramot neighborhood, students from Ben-Gurion University and laborers from Kuseife also participated in the excavation.
Area A. A water cistern (inner diam. 3.2 m, wall thickness 0.6 m) was cleaned. Its inner face was constructed of concrete which included fieldstones and a few potsherds, and its outer coating was made of mudbrick material (thickness 3 cm). Plaster repairs were detected on the inner wall. A small part of the domed roof was preserved. One of the potsherds incorporated into the concrete was of Gaza Ware, dating the cistern to the late Ottoman period. The cistern was filled with soil mixed with construction debris (metal debris, bricks, bottles and newspapers). It was cleared down to a depth of 3.5 m below the surface (303.97 m asl) without reaching the floor of the cistern or soil devoid of debris. Two engraved marks identified as Bedouin tribal markings (wasum) were found in the upper part of the cistern; one of the marks is recognizable as belonging to the ‘Azazme tribe (Fig. 2). The cistern was apparently open and visible until recently, but the mark incised on the inner wall, in a place that became visible and accessible only after the dome disintegrated, hints at its gradual collapse.
Area B. A complex comprising six subterranean or semi-subterranean chambers (1–6; Fig. 3) was excavated. The complex was accessed via a built staircase that led from an ancient occupation level and a farm (not preserved) to a built opening with limestone jambs and a threshold made of hard limestone. The remains of three additional openings with thresholds made of hard limestone were found: one at the entrance to Chamber 5, which is arched (Fig. 4), and two in which only fragments of the jambs and the threshold were preserved. The chambers were hewn into the natural loess. The chamber walls were lined with layers of mud-plaster and potsherds, mostly of bag-shaped jars. Some of the potsherds were slightly distorted, and they may be debris from a pottery workshop. All the chamber floors are made of a layer of tamped, dark loess (thickness c. 1 cm).
Chambers 4 and 5 contained installations. A tabun, an oven and a mudbrick surface used as a stand for jars were found in Chamber 4 (Fig. 5). The inner walls of the oven are made of clay, and its outer walls were built of mudbricks forming around it a double step (outer diam. 2.4 m, inner diam. 0.9 m). The tabun (1.6 m inner diam.) was found broken; fragments were found in secondary use inside the oven and as pottery tiles, as well as scattered around the chamber. Three inverted Gaza Ware jars were found beside the tabun; two were sealed with stoppers made of mud, and several olive pits were found at the bottom of one of the jars. Both the area of the tabun and the inside of the chamber were covered with a thick layer of ash.
A circular installation (inner diam. 0.8 m) was exposed in the center of Chamber 5. It was built of two rows of fieldstones and wadi pebbles and preserved to a height of two courses. Numerous fragments of bag-shaped jars, cooking vessels and a few serving vessels were recovered from its floor. Several fragments of glass vessels were also found. The potsherds date the use of chamber to the late Byzantine period, i.e. the sixth and early seventh centuries CE.
Excavations at the Be’er Sheva‘ central bus station (Varga and Nikolsky 2013) and prior to construction of the northern railway station in the city (Permit No. A-6289; A. Aldjam, pers. comm.) unearthed installations that resemble the circular installation unearthed in Chamber 5. Subterranean cavities dating from the Byzantine period are known in and around Be’er Sheva‘, and they were probably used as farmhouse storerooms.
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