During February 2002 an excavation was conducted in a saqiye well at Horbat Mador (Permit No. A-3568*; map ref. NIG 14899–999/59000–100; OIG 09899–999/09000–100). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, was directed by N.S. Paran, with the assistance of H. Lavi (administration) and A. Hajian (surveying).
Water cisterns, buildings, tombs and two saqiye wells are known At Horbat Mador. An Arab village at the site existed until 1948, when it was abandoned and destroyed. The excavated saqiye well is situated on the northern bank of Nahal Gerar. It was built at the end of the Ottoman period (eighteenth–nineteenth centuries CE) and was renovated at the time of the British Mandate.
A well that consisted of a partially blocked vertical shaft (diam. 2.7 m, min. depth 26 m; Fig. 1) surmounted by a vaulted building (3.8 × 4.5 m, height 1.8 m) was excavated. The building was delineated by Walls 2, 9 and 10. An arch was incorporated in the building’s northern wall (W8) and two openings in its roof (0.60 × 0.65 m; Fig. 2) were situated above the center of the shaft and separated by a stone beam (width 0.5 m). On the roof of the building were four short pillars (0.55 × 0.55 m; height 0.2 m) around the openings that were probably meant to support the horizontal axle of the saqiye. Between the northern and southern pairs of pillars were two plastered stone basins that received the well water via the saqiye and a system of plastered channels that branched out from the basins and conveyed the water to storage pools and troughs.
A pool (L109; 1.0 × 2.9 m, depth 1 m) covered with a vault and coated with hydraulic plaster was discovered west of the vault and next to W10. The pool was open in its northern part and delimited by Wall 5 (0.45 × 1.60 m, height 0.95 m) on the north and Wall 7 (0.65 × 3.45 m, height 0.65 m) on the west. A three-section ceramic pipe of black Gaza-type ware conveyed water from the basins on the building’s roof to the pool. It seems that the pool was meant to store water for local use and based on three pegs that were found above the vault, its opening was apparently covered with a grill.
South of the vaulted building and the covered pool and beyond Wall 2 was an open square pool coated with hydraulic plaster (L104; 4.5 × 4.5 m, depth 1.7 m). It was delineated by Walls 1, 2, 3, 4 (thickness 1.35 m), on whose inside was a step (width 0.3 m, height 0.3 m). The corners of the pool, below the step, were built at an angle and two steps were affixed in the northeastern corner to facilitate the descent into the pool. A plastered channel from the roof of the vaulted building filled the pool with water through an outlet of four iron pipes (diam. 3–5 cm): the first in the middle of the pool’s southern wall (W1; 0.35 m above the bottom of the pool); the second in the western third of W1, below the step, probably to release excess water and to prevent flooding; the third, at the level of the floor, in the middle of the pool’s western wall (W4), conveyed water to troughs (L110b); the fourth (W3) was in the center and at the bottom of the pool’s eastern wall.
Adjacent to the western side of W4 and W7 was a series of troughs (Loci 110a–d; 0.75 × 10.60 m, depth 0.4 m) enclosed by W6.
North of the vaulted building and the covered pool was a stone and plaster-built surface (L111; 7.0 × 7.7 m), delimited on all sides by low walls (W20 in the north, W19 in the east, W23 in the south, and W21 in the west), which served as a foothold for the animal turning the saqiye installation.
Two rectangular pillars (W11, W12, 1.3 × 1.6 m, height 0.7 m) were discovered west and east of the surface that were used to secure the vertical axle of the saqiye.
Several changes were made to the well complex. The opening in the northern wall of the vaulted building was sealed with a concrete wall (W8; length 2.7, width 0.25 m, height 1.4 m). A concrete floor covered with tar (L112; 4.45 × 4.85) was installed near to the eastern face of the northern surface (L111). This floor was delimited on all sides by walls (W15 in the north, W16 in the east, W17 in the south, and W18 in the west; height c. 1 m) that served as railings. A poured concrete cube (0.8 × 1.8 m, height 0.85 m) in the middle of the floor had six screws set at its top; this was probably a mount for the motor that replaced the animal, which until then had operated the saqiye. Two channels (Loci 113, 114), whose function is unclear, were built adjacent to the western side of the motor mount; however, it can reasonably be assumed that they were connected to the motor and the mechanical pumping mechanism, which replaced the saqiye. Walls 13 and 14 were built in this phase next to the western pillar (W11); their function and complete plan are unclear. The northern basin on the vaulted roof was refurbished and tiles were laid down in it (25.4 × 25.4 cm); next to it was a poured concrete cube (0.5 × 1.2 m, height 0.5 m) that probably served as a seat where the pump was mounted.
In and around the complex were fragments of black Gaza ware (eighteenth–twentieth centuries CE). Some of the potsherds were found covered with hydraulic plaster and in places where the plaster was damaged, potsherds of this type were incorporated in the wall’s construction.
The well and its installations were part of a water system established during the Ottoman period in the western Negev and was further developed by the authorities during the time of the British Mandate. Other wells of this kind were identified at Be’er Rabuba, Be’er Sheva‘ (a large number of wells), at Horbat Mador, c. 300 m northeast of the present saqiye and many others elsewhere.
Three phases can be discerned in the saqiye mechanism for drawing water:
(1) An animal turned the mechanism and jugs were attached by rope.
(2) The motor powered phase, whereby the jugs was replaced by wooden or metal boxes connected by metal links. This is evidenced by the notches remaining in the sides of the openings in the vault’s roof.
(3) The pump phase.