In December 2018, a one-day excavation took place at the northern cliff of Nahal Hazazon (Judea and Samaria License No. 22-03-2018; map ref. 236670/607897; Fig. 1), as part of a survey and excavation project of the Judean Desert cliffs. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Judea and Samaria Staff Officer for Archaeology, was funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, and directed by C. Cohen and E. Klein (photography), with the assistance of A. Ganor, O. Amichay, H. Hamer, I. Hadad, T. Kantor, E. Valdman, E. Nagal, M. Tzagay, T. Liani and R. Ram (the survey team of the Judean Desert Caves). Assistance was also provided by O. Sion (scientific consultant), A. Fadida (drafting) and A. Harel (maps).
The excavation sought to determine the plan and date of the structure, and to understand its function. The structure was square (3 × 3 m, internal measurements 1.8 × 2.0 m; Fig. 3), whose walls were built directly on the stepped bedrock, except in a few places where rock cuttings served as foundation trenched for stabilizing the walls. The walls (W1–W5; width 0.8–1.0 m) were built of large and medium-size dressed stones without bonding material; three of the walls had two rows of stones with a core of smaller stones, and the forth wall was built of three rows of stones. A large stone (c. 0.5 × 0.8 × 1.3 m) placed in the eastern wall, the one closest to the edge of the cliff, helped stabilize the walls and prevent their collapse. The walls were preserved four to eight courses high (height 0.5–1.2 m); numerous building stones from the walls were found scattered around the structure, evidence that the walls were higher. The structure was apparently roofed with wooden beams covered with palm branches or desert vegetation, but these did not survive.
The structure’s opening (width 0.4–0.5 m), set in the western wall, was accessed by a narrow passage (width c. 0.5 m) right by the cliff. From the opening, three rock-hewn steps descended into the structure (L20). The levelled bedrock served as the floor in the western part of the structure, whereas a fill of well-tamped, light brown soil was laid as a floor in its eastern part. Abutting the southeastern corner of the structure was a stone-built square bench-like installation (L18; 0.5 × 0.5 m, height 0.4 m; Fig. 4). A square stone slab of similar dimensions found partially leaning against the installation was most probably its cover, allowing it to serve as a surface for placing objects or for sitting. Outside the structure, near Walls 4 and 5, was an occupation layer of well-tamped soil (L13).
No datable material was found in the structure, and therefore its identification and chronology are based, among other things, on the nearby remains. The structure is linked via a rather convenient walking path to the complex of rock nooks c. 500 m to its west, which was dated to the Byzantine period. This suggests that they were part of one complex and of a similar date. The isolated location of the structure and its connection to the monastic cells seem to indicate that it was associated with the monastic activity in the area, probably as a seclusion cell. The plan and construction method of the building, its direction—facing east, toward the primeval scenery of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea and Transjordan—and the square installation abutting the southeastern corner, all suggest that the structure also served as a small chapel for the monk who had secluded himself within it.