The cave is elongated (length c. 60 m; Fig. 5). Its west entrance leads to a low passage (Cavity A; length c. 8 m) and from there to a square cavity (Cavity E; 4 × 4 m, average height 2 m), c. 1 m lower than the passage level. Cavity E opens westward, onto the cave’s central chamber (Cavities B–D; length c. 20 m, width c. 4 m, max. height 4 m), northward to a narrow tunnel (Cavity F; length c. 7 m, width c. 1 m) and eastward to a passage (Cavity G) that leads to the cave’s eastern entrance. Eight excavation areas were opened: in the main chamber (Areas I–IV; Figs. 6–8); to the north of Cavity E, near the cave wall (Area V); in Cavity F (Area VI); in Cavity A (Area VII); and in a small niche to the north of the east entrance (Area VIII).
All the excavated areas contained dry, loose soil that had been disturbed during illicit excavations. The soil was sieved through a 5 mm mesh near the east entrance (Fig. 9), yielding potsherds, assorted organic finds, animal bones, dung and the remains of food plants. The pottery assemblage comprised vessels from EB IB1 (ʽErani C phase), including a bowl (Fig. 10:1), thickened rims of holemouth jars (Fig. 10:2–5), a flaring rim of a jar (Fig. 10:6), flat bases of jars (Fig. 10:7, 8) and body fragments covered with white wash and painted with reddish orange stripes (Fig. 10:9). Also recovered were Middle Roman potsherds, consisting of cooking pots (Fig. 11:1–3); jars (Fig. 11:4–8); a cooking jug (Fig. 11:9); juglets (Fig. 11:10, 11); a fragment of a round lamp bearing a double ax motif on its shoulder (Fig. 11:12)—a type which was in use from the late first century to the early third century CE; and a fragment of a glass vessel (not drawn). Based on the pottery assemblage, the cave’s occupation can be dated to the period between the two Jewish revolts against the Romans. The cave may have sheltered fugitives at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, as did many of the natural caves throughout the Judean Desert (Eshel 1998
), particularly in Nah
ever (Aharoni 1962
; Yadin 1971
The main chamber (Area II; L104) yielded a leather fragment with a braided handle (Figs. 12, 13:1), similar to a handle found in the cave by Aharoni’s expedition (Item No. 35-1266; Fig. 13:2), which was probably attached to a water bag or some other receptacle (Fig. 13:3). Textiles, cords, scraps of worked leather and a braided net, made of linen threads, which may have been used to trap birds, was also retrieved. The organic artifacts, which were preserved due to the dry climate prevailing on the eastern fringes of the Judean Desert, probably date from the same time as the pottery. However, since a few items may date from periods which are not represented in the ceramic finds, this tentative dating remains to be ascertained by radiocarbon dating.
A limited area (c. 0.25 sq m), where an undisturbed layer was preserved (L117), was unearthed in Area II, beneath a layer of loose soil that had been overturned by antiquities robbers. This small area yielded charred remains mixed with sediment from the eroded walls and ceiling of the cave, along with a meager amount of uncharred organic matter. These are probably the remains of a hearth (diam. 0.4 m; Fig. 14).
The cave’s location near the water holes, which are one of the only reliable water sources in the region between ‘En Gedi and Masada, along with its relatively easy access and comfortable interior, attracted people to establish living quarters. Despite these conveniences, the cave was occupied during two periods only: the EB I and the Middle Roman period. It used to be generally assumed that most of the proto-historic finds in the Judean Desert caves date from the Late Chalcolithic period (Ghassulian culture). However, it has recently been argued that the caves were used during the EB IB as well (Davidovich 2012
). This claim was based on pottery from the period discovered in approximately 15 caves in the Judean Desert cliffs, between Nah
al Darga in the north and Nah
e’elim in the south; three of the caves are in Nah
ever: the Cave of Horror (Aharoni 1955
), the Cave of Letters (Aharoni 1961
:156, Fig. 7:1, 5) and Cave A, c. 30 m to the east of Cave B (Aharoni 1954
:126; Davidovich 2012
:11; see Fig.
2). Since most of the caves are very difficult to reach, it was assumed that in the early phase of the EB IB—the Tel ‘Erani C phase—the caves were used for refuge (Davidovich 2012
). To date, Cave B is the only cave in the Judean Desert cliffs to yield EB IB finds that are not mixed with remains from proto-historic periods. The finds may therefore provide evidence of the material culture (textiles, ropes, food remains) of this period.
In the Middle Roman period, probably during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the cave once again served as a refuge. It should thus be added to the list of caves in the lower gorge of Nah
ever, to the east of the great waterfall (the Cave of Horror and the Cave of Letters), and those in the cliffs above the streambed, which yielded material remains and written documents belonging to groups of fugitives who lived there at the time (Aharoni and Rotenberg 1960
; Yadin 1962
). It can be assumed that the refugees who reached Nah
ever toward the end of the revolt settled first in the easily accessible caves, near the water holes, and only later, as the Roman forces approached, left these caves for more inaccessible ones further east. Until the establishment of the Roman camps above the Cave of Horror (c. 300 m south of the water holes) and the Cave of Letters (c. 1.3 km east of the water holes), the fugitives may have continued to rely on the water holes at the head of the waterfall, perhaps along with the those inhabiting the nearby caves. It seems plausible that the cave dwellers near the water holes were associated with those in the more inaccessible caves, as the Cave of Horror, whose entrance is at the same elevation as the caves adjacent to the water holes, is visible from a rocky crag at the east end of the track leading to the water holes, c. 30 m east of Cave A. Furthermore, a staircase (Fig. 15) built in a fissure along this rocky crag may have been used during this period.