During September–October 2004 a salvage excavation was conducted along the route of the separation fence west of the Beit ‘Awwa village, c. 10 km southeast of Bet Guvrin (Permit No. A-4265*; map ref. NIG 19470/60180; OIG 14470/10180). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Defense, was directed by N.S. Paran and E. Alajem, with the assistance of H. Lavi (administration), I. Peretz (inspection) and A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting).
A preliminary survey along the route of the separation fence, conducted by Y. Lender and E. Alajem, revealed twenty three installations and rock-cuttings in an area on a hilltop (c. 30 × 140 m), c. 100 m west of the Khirbat Beit ‘Awwa village (Fig. 1). Ten points were excavated and ten others were inspected; those where antiquities were found are described below.
Point F3. A cave (2.5 × 2.5 m; height 1.8 m; Fig. 2) was entirely excavated. A wall (W31; length 2.2 m, width c. 0.2 m, height 1.5 m) built next to the northern side of the cave, probably to straighten it, was discovered. It seems that the floor of the cave and its other sides were crudely straightened, rendering it the shape of a square. A few worn potsherds, including fragments of a Middle Bronze I vessel and a Late Roman C bowl, were found.
Point F4. A bedrock terrace and a smoothed, broad bedrock surface (2.5 × 10.0 m; Fig. 3) with five cupmarks randomly hewn on top of it. No artifacts were discovered.
Point F4a. A winepress hewn in the middle of a bedrock surface consisted of a shallow treading floor (0.7 × 1.0 m; depth 0.1 m; Fig. 4) and a rock-hewn channel (0.1–0.3 × 0.8 m; 0.10 × 0.25 m deep) that extended from it to the southeast and terminated in a circular collecting vat (1.0 × 1.4 m; depth 0.45 m). A small hewn cupmark (diam. 0.15 m; depth 0.1 m), probably a sump, was hewn at the southern side bottom of the collecting vat.
Point F5. A rock-cut industrial winepress, exposed prior to the excavation. It consisted of a square treading floor (L501; 2.8 × 3.1 m; Fig. 5) whose eastern side was bedrock hewn. A third of its western part was paved with small and medium fieldstones, which were probably coated with hydraulic plaster that did not survive. The southwestern side of the pavement ended in a straight line where a delimiting wall apparently stood once but did not survive. Two perforations led from the northwestern wall of the treading floor to two settling pits. The eastern rectangular settling pit (L502; 0.4–0.5 × 1.0 m; depth 0.35 m) had a small cupmark (diam. 0.15 m; depth 0.05 m) in its northern side. The western settling pit (L503; 0.6 × 0.8 m; depth 0.5 m), which was also rectangular, had a semicircular depression (diam. 0.15 m; depth 0.15 m) next to the center of its eastern wall, below the perforation that connected it to the collecting vat.
The collecting vat (L504; 2.0 × 2.5 m; depth 1.8 m) was located between the settling pits. It was fed by the two perforations, one from each settling pit (the eastern hole did not survive). A circular sump (diam. 0.25 m; depth 0.1 m), hewn near the southern corner of the collecting vat, was apparently used for the last remains of the must.
The winepress appears to have been altered during its period of use. A rock-hewn step in the northern part of the bedrock partition between the eastern settling pit and the collecting vat actually negated the settling pit. Another step was hewn at the top of the collecting vat’s northern wall. A wall (W51; 0.5 × 4.8 m; height 0.6 m) of large stones was built in the southwestern third of the treading floor and reduced its size, perhaps to prevent alluvium from being washed inside. Modern cement was applied to two thirds of the collecting vat’s height. A few body fragments of jars and cooking pots from the Roman–Byzantine periods were recovered from the treading floor.
Point F6. A water cistern that was visible on surface prior to the excavation (Fig. 6). A channel that consisted of a low wall (W61; 0.3–0.5 × 12.0 m; height 0.2 m) diverted the runoff toward the cistern’s opening, opposite which was a breech in W61 where another channel (W62, W63; 0.3 × 3.3 m; height 0.3 m) that used to discharge the surplus water into the valley existed. The channel was built of two parallel walls c. 0.3 m apart and was covered with chalk slabs. The bottom of the channel was c. 5 cm above the bottom of the cistern’s opening and was meant to prevent the destruction of the diverting channel. Between the overflow channels and the diverting channel was a depression that probably served as a settling pit for the cistern, whose opening was covered with a large capstone (diam. 1.4 m) that had a square hole (0.4 × 0.4 m) in its center, sealed with a modern iron lid. Two stone troughs were discovered next to the cistern’s capstone and a rectangular rock-cutting, c. 2.5 m west of the capstone, was probably also used as another trough. Body fragments of jars from the Roman–Byzantine periods were found in the vicinity of the cistern.
Hundreds and even thousands of archaeological elements had previously been documented in the region of the excavation, attesting to the rural-agricultural character of the Judean Shephelah, which was densely populated over many years. Although the dating of the elements discovered in the excavation is unclear, they correlate well with the general picture of antiquities in the region.