Two rock-cut burial caves (A, B; Fig. 1) were excavated on the southern bank of Nahal Zippori, c. 500 m south of Tel Hali West and c. 1 km southwest of Ras ‘Ali (Tel ‘Alil). The caves are associated with the ancient cemetery of Ras ‘Ali—a prominent site along the ancient road that followed the course of Nahal Zippori (Wadi el-Melek), linking the Hauran and Bashan regions with the port of ‘Akko. Tel ‘Alil is identified with the biblical city of Hali, mentioned as the border point of the tribe of Asher: “And the fifth lot came out for the tribe of the children of Asher according to their families. And their border was Helkath, and Hali, and Beten, and Achshaph” (Josh 19:24–25; Gal 1990:36). A previously excavated burial cave near the recently excavated ones was dated to the Intermediate Bronze Age and the end of the Middle Bronze Age (Horowitz and Lipkunski 2014).
The entrance shaft to Cave A (L101) was damaged by the development work. Seven spaces (L100, L102–L107; Fig. 2) hewn from the shaft were connected by narrow passages. Two phases of use were revealed in the cave: the entrance shaft and Space 100 were attributed to the earlier phase, dated to the Intermediate Bronze Age, and the rest of the spaces were attributed to the later phase, dated to Middle Bronze Age IIA–B. Cave B was destroyed except for one space, in which two layers were identified (L200, L201), dated from MB IIA to Late Bronze Age I. The earlier strata in the caves were covered by a layer of alluvium (thickness 0.3–0.4 m), which had apparently penetrated from the entrance shaft and was devoid of finds.
Cave A. Entrance Shaft 101, which was not excavated due to safety concerns, and Space 100 were attributed to the earlier phase. Space 100 was ovoid and revealed two strata. In the lower stratum, on the floor of the cave, were two amphoriskoi (Fig. 3) dating from the Intermediate Bronze Age, when the cave was hewn and first used. The upper stratum yielded a scatter of human bones belonging to several individuals, as well as numerous MB IIA pottery vessels, two spearheads, a pick, a fibula and a ring made of bone. Space 100 led north into Space 102, which was completely destroyed by mechanical equipment, rendering it impossible to establish the date it was hewn.
In the later phase, Space 107 was hewn east of Space 100. Of the former, which was square in plan, only the floor survived; upon it was a scatter of human bones and numerous MB IIA–B pottery vessels. Space 103, the largest of the spaces, was hewn west of Space 100. A mixture of human bones and MB IIA pottery vessels was found on its floor (Fig. 4). Space 104, discovered west of Space 103, contained a mixture of human bones and pottery from MB IIA and the beginning of MB IIB. Space 105 was revealed south of Space 104; its hewing was never completed, and it was devoid of finds. Space 106, the innermost space in the cave, hewn north of Space 104, revealed a meager quantity of potsherds.
The finds from the spaces and the passages linking them include human bones, numerous pottery vessels, bronze weapons, bronze fibulae and jewelry dated to MB IIA and MB IIB. The pottery includes a small quantity of storage vessels and comprises mainly bowls, jugs and juglets, among them a Cypriot White Painted jug and sherds of a Tell el-Yahudiyeh vessel. The presence of these vessels is probably due to the location of the site on the ancient road, which allowed for contact between traders and for a flow of merchandise from various distant locales.
Cave B. Only the corner of one space survived, and it appears to have belonged to the cave’s bone repository. Two strata were identified (L200, L201; Fig. 5), featuring a mixture of hundreds of pottery vessels, bronze objects and human bones belonging to numerous individuals. The finds from both strata date from MB IIA to LB I, except for one vessel fragment from the Intermediate Bronze Age. As in Cave A, Cave B revealed a small number of large storage vessels and mainly a variety of bowls, jugs and juglets, including imported Cypriot vessels—a Base Ring I jug (bilbil), two White Painted jugs and a few fragments of Bichrome Ware.
The excavation of both caves revealed that they were in use during the Intermediate Bronze Age, MB IIA and MB IIB, while the use of Cave B continued into LB I. The ceramic finds include local as well as imported vessels. The use of Cave A appears to have begun in the Intermediate Bronze Age, in one space, and additional spaces were hewn to expand the cave in MB IIB. No significant settlement sites are known from the Intermediate Bronze Age in the vicinity of the caves, and therefore it is possible, as Getzov posited (Getzov 1995:16*–17*), that this burial site belonged to a local agricultural community. The extensive use of the cave in MB II and LB I appears to be associated with the settlement at Tel ‘Alil, which is about 1 km east of the caves.