In December 2017, a salvage excavation was conducted at the site of Neve Zohar (Permit No. A-8170; map ref. 234801–902/564700–850; Fig. 1), prior to laying a road between ‘En Boqeq and Hamei Zohar. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company Ltd., was directed by H. Mamalya (drafting, aerial and field photography), with the assistance of Y. Alamor (administration), A. Aladjem (mapping and plan) and G. Seriy and Y. Abadi-Reiss (professional guidance).
The excavation unearthed a leopard trap, three round installations, a structure and two field walls (Fig. 2).
The excavation area lies in the southern Judean Desert, on a moderate spur in the Nahal Rom drainage basin that descends toward the Dead Sea, between the sites of Mezad Boqeq, c. 3 km to the northwest, and Mezad Zohar (Qasr/Rujum ez-Zawira), c. 3 km to the southwest. Previous surveys and excavations conducted at Mezad Boqeq identified and uncovered systems for diverting, carrying and storing water, along with agricultural systems dating from the late Hasmonean to the Early Islamic periods (second century BCE – eighth century CE; Gichon 1969; 1971; Haimi 2013; Michael 2017).
The current excavation (50 × 50 m) unearthed seven buildings and installations. A leopard trap (L107, L117) was discovered in the southeast of the excavation area. The base of the trap (L117) consisted of a terrace of tamped loess soil delimited by a circular retaining wall (W56). The trap cell, constructed on the terraced surface (0.6 × 1.3 m), was closed on three sides; its north side was curved, and the opening faced south (Figs. 3, 4). The walls of the trap cell were built of large, hard limestone stones; the largest (0.35 × 0.65 × 0.90 m) was incorporated in the west wall (W57). The cell was roofed with thick stone slabs (0.3 × 0.4 m, 1.2 m long). It was constructed of local fieldstones, although some of the stones used to line and retain the sides of the chamber appear to have been slightly dressed.
Three round installations (L103, L109, L112) excavated to the north of the trap had an identical inner diameter (1.1 m). They were built of medium-sized stones (width 0.3–0.4 m) made of hard limestone. Each contained a large stone, which may have served as a supporting pillar for a roof (Fig. 5).
A square structure (L106, L115; estimated size—4.5 × 4.5 m; Fig. 6) was uncovered in the west of the excavation area; its walls were partially preserved and not continuous (Fig. 6). A round installation (L105) cut its western part. Two field walls (W52, W53) were similarly built of one course of fieldstones made of local limestone; the walls were only partially preserved. Wall 52 was preserved over a length of only two meters. Wall 53 was discontinuous, but its remains indicate that it was at least 10 m long (Fig. 7).
Sections cut in the sides of the three round installations, the square structure in the west and the field walls show that they were founded on a thin layer of loess soil accumulated over a layer of white Lisan Formation marl.
No diagnostic finds were recovered. However, sediment samples taken from leopard traps in the ‘Uvda Valley that were tested using the OSL method were dated to before the fourth millennium BCE. The earliest construction of leopard traps in the Negev and Judean Desert has therefore been attributed to the Early Bronze Age or possibly the Chalcolithic period (Porat et al. 2013).
Gichon M. 1969. ‘En Boqeq. HA 30:18–19 (Hebrew).
Gichon M. 1971. ‘En Boqeq – 1970. HA 37:25–26 (Hebrew).
Porat N., Avner U., Holzer A., Shemtov R. and Horwitz L. 2013. Fourth-millennium-BC 'leopard traps' from the Negev Desert (Israel). Antiquity 87:714–727.