Cave A was almost rectangular (L100; 1.0 × 1.5 m). The entrance shaft (0.5 × 0.7 m; Figs. 3, 4), which led down into the cave from the west, had been deliberately blocked with stones piled on top of each other in an orderly manner; the upper part of the shaft was destroyed. The cave floor was level, and c. 0.2 m lower than the shaft’s opening. The cave walls were not straight, and they retained quarrying marks in different directions left from tools of various sizes. An intact jar was found on the cave floor, near the entrance shaft. A metal fastening pin (c. 8 cm long; Fig. 5) was also retrieved; it is square in section at one end and rounded at the other. On the southeast side of the burial chamber were the remains of an individual over 10 years old (Nagar, below).
Cave B was elliptical (L101; 2.2 × 3.0 m; Fig. 6). Its floor sloped southward c. 0.2 m, from the entrance shaft (0.6 m wide) in the north toward the center of the cave. The continuation of the entrance shaft was damaged, but it was clear that it had been deliberately blocked with stones. The cave yielded fragments of a jar, refuse from the surface and signs of rainwater damage.
Cave C was almost square (L102; 1.5 × 1.6 m; Fig. 7). Most of it was destroyed, and no entrance shaft was identified; only its lower part survived. A broken jar was recovered adjacent the cave’s east wall; most of its fragments were clustered together, with its upper part facing downward. A few fragments of an additional jar were also retrieved. The deceased was placed roughly in an east–west alignment, with the head in the east. Based on the dental erosion, the interred was estimated to have been 25–35 years old (Nagar, below).
Cave D (Figs. 8, 9) contained a rounded burial chamber (L103; 1.4 × 1.9 × 2.2 m) and a shaft (0.40 × 0.60 × 0.65 m) that opened in its north wall. The shaft had been deliberately blocked with three stones placed one on top of the other. Seven circular depressions (diam. c. 5 cm), whose function is unknown, were discovered in the burial chamber’s west wall. An intact empty jar was found beside this wall, placed directly on the floor. Fragments of the base and the wall of another jar were discovered in the soil accumulation above the bedrock floor. Bones belonging to at least one female sheep, in its second year were, found on the floor near the shaft opening. The cave contained meager remains of an adult individual (Nagar, below).
Cave E (Figs. 8, 9) was adjacent to Cave D but was not clearly associated with it, as their floors are at different elevations. The burial chamber was rounded (L104; 1.5 × 2.0 × 2.1 m); no entrance shaft was identified in the three walls—north, west and south—which were preserved; the entrance may have been via the east wall, which was destroyed prior to the excavation. An intact jar was discovered on the bedrock floor next to the deceased, in the center of the burial chamber. Based on the tooth development of the deceased, he was 3–7 years old (Nagar, below). Bone fragments
Of at least one female sheep, in its second year, were also recovered.
The pottery assemblage consisted of seven jars. All are handmade and not fully symmetrically rounded, with join marks on the inside and no marks on the outside. The jars have a flat base, an elongated barrel-shaped body, whose upper part is curved inward, a narrow neck and an everted rim. Three of the jars were discovered intact and empty, placed on the bedrock floor of the burial cells (Fig. 10); another three were complete (found broken); and only a body fragment of the seventh jar was recovered. The jars are similar, but their dimensions are not identical. Four of the jars have a similar rim diameter (two have a 13 cm diameter, and the two others have a 12.5 cm diameter). All the decorations are incised horizontally around the vessel and located in the neck area; they are similar, but not identical. The intact jar from Cave A has two sets of horizontal combing in the neck area; the jar fragments from Cave B have horizontal combing and a set of impressed holes; one jar from Cave C has two sets of horizontal combing, and the other jar from that cave has rounded impressions set in a circle along the join between the neck and the body; the intact jar from Cave D has three sets of horizontal combing; and the intact jar from Cave E has one set of horizontal combing. Jars of this type, with their incised decorative features, are known from Intermediate Bronze Age tombs (Yannai 2015: Figs. 7:9; 8; Getzov 2016: Fig. 8).
Human skeletal remains were found in four of the burial caves. The bones were examined at the excavation area and were left where they were found, except for a sample that was taken for future research. The bones were found in a bad state of preservation, but it could nevertheless be established that a single individual was found in each burial chamber. Except for the interred in Cave C, the burial position of the individuals could not be determined.
Cave A. The finds included a few tiny bone fragments found scattered on the southeast side of the burial chamber, some of which were identified as fragments of tooth roots. It was impossible to identify the teeth, except for the root of a permanent anterior tooth that presented root-end closure characteristic of an individual aged over 10 years (Hillson 1986:176–201).
Cave C. The finds included fragments of a skull vault, a mandible and postcranial bones. The skull-vault fragments were found on the east side of the tomb, while foot bones were discovered on the west side. This prompts the assumption that the burial was arranged in a general east–west direction, with the head in the east. The first and third metacarpal bones exhibited epiphyseal fusion, and a thoracic vertebra showed a fused epiphyseal ring (without osteophytes)—characteristic features of an individual aged over 20 (Johnston and Zimmer 1989). Also recovered were a fragment of a mandible that retained a canine tooth and an anterior molar with dentine exposure, and a first molar with abrasion that formed a dentine cup on three cusps. Based on the level of dental erosion, the individual is estimated to have been 25–35 years old (Hillson 1986:176–201).
Cave D. A few skull-vault fragments, a mandible fragment without teeth and postcranial bones were found scattered around the cave. The precise age and sex of the deceased are unclear, although based on the proportions of the diaphysis of a long bone (tibia), it was evidently neither a baby nor a small child. Also found was a finger bone with a distal epiphyseal fusion characteristic of an adult individual (15 or older; Johnston and Zimmer 1989).
Cave E. The finds included a few long-bone fragments and teeth. The bones of adjacent fingers showed no epiphyseal fusion, an observation consistent with an individual aged less than 15 years. Four milk teeth were retrieved; they exhibited root-end closure, and included an upper incisor with slight dentine exposure and a canine tooth with only enamel erosion. Based on the stage of tooth development, the individual was estimated to be 3–7 years old (Hillson 1986:176–201).
The five burial caves should be associated with the Intermediate Bronze Age cave that was previously excavated at the site (Tahal 2000); all six form part of a cemetery that may have included additional burial caves, which might be encountered as the area undergoes further development. The lack of uniformity in shape and dimensions of the burial caves is compatible with previous observations of Intermediate Bronze Age shaft tombs, according to which no attempt was made to achieve a uniform shape (Yannai 2011). The extreme proximity of Caves D and E and the thin wall that they share seems to contradict the general assumption, based on a comprehensive review of the subject, namely that ‘tombs of the Intermediate Bronze Age did not damage each other’ (Yannai 2011:237). However, the extent of the damage suffered by the east side of these caves makes it impossible to draw a definitive conclusion regarding any association that may or may not have had.
The excavated caves exhibit a primary burial of one individual in each burial-cave chamber, accompanied by few artifacts. Each of the burial chambers yielded only one or two jars; in two of the tombs, young ewes had been placed as offerings; and one tomb contained a fastening pin, which may have come from a garment worn by the deceased. Single adult individuals buried with only a few associated objects are a common feature of the funerary customs of the Intermediate Bronze Age (Cohen 2009), making the child burial in Cave E a rare find.
During the Intermediate Bronze Age, cemeteries were generally distant from settlement sites and do not exhibit a close link to any settlement (Cohen 2009). An examination of the site records of approximately 280 declared antiquity sites within a 10 km radius around the excavated site, indicated that potsherds from the Early Bronze I to the Intermediate Bronze Age have been identified at eight of them. All eight sites are located at a distance of at least 6 km away from the excavated cemetery. The location of this cemetery is therefore consistent with the characteristic spatial pattern of cemeteries during the Intermediate Bronze Age.