In December 2012, a salvage excavation was conducted at Zur Yitzhak (Lot 3003; Permit No. A-6666; map ref. 200073–97/683178–202), prior to construction and development work. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Y. Zilbermintz and Sons Company, Ltd., was directed by A. ‛Azab, with the assistance of E. Bacher (administration), A. Hajian (surveying) and A. Dagot (GPS).
The excavation area was located in the western part of Horbat Migdal (Zur Natan site; Kh. Sheikh Musharaf) upon which the eastern neighborhoods of Zur Yitzhak were built (Fig. 1). Horbat Migdal is situated at the top of a moderate spur, whose slopes descend from north to west, toward the Nahal Berekh catchment basin (c. 500 m northwest of the Zur Natan). This is a multi-strata site with remains that range in date from the Chalcolithic period until the Late Islamic period. The tomb of Sheikh Musharaf was built on top of the spur in the Ottoman period, and other graves were placed around it.
Archaeological surveys and excavations were conducted in the past in and around the site. The excavations mainly exposed layers from the Second Temple period and the Byzantine period (Ayalon, Neidinger and Matthews 1992; 1993). Agricultural installations, rock-hewn tombs and prehistoric remains were discovered on the spur’s northern and western slopes (Ayalon and Yannai 1992; Ayalon, Kidaron and Sharvit 1988–1989). Agricultural installations, quarries and burial caves dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods (first–seventh centuries CE) were uncovered and documented in archaeological excavations conducted in the vicinity in 2001–2003 (Sion 2008). A Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site (7000–6000 BCE) was exposed and documented in another excavation (Marder et al. 2007). In 2008–2011, archaeological excavations were conducted in the general vicinity (Dagan 2010), mostly east of the current excavation (Zur Yitzhak Phase 2), where finds similar to those revealed in the previous excavations were found: agricultural installations, winepresses, cisterns, terrace walls, lime kilns, a columbarium, quarries and burial caves.
In the current excavation a burial cave was excavated that was hewn in chalk bedrock and entered from the north via a rock-cut forecourt (L100; 1.95 × 2.80 m; Figs. 2, 3). The courtyard was reached by way of a staircase hewn along its southern side. A pit (L101; diam. 0.8 m, depth 1 m; Fig. 4) that probably served as a bone repository was hewn in the courtyard. An arched entrance (L102) led from the courtyard into a quadrangular rock-cut burial chamber (L103; 6 × 6 m) located to the east. Part of the chamber’s ceiling had collapsed and therefore the scope of the excavation was limited due to safety considerations. The force of the collapse must have been extremely powerful given that none of the loculi in the chamber survived. The lack of finds indicated that the cave was plundered in the past.
The exposed burial cave is part of a complex consisting of numerous caves that were discovered in previous excavations in the region along with other rock-hewn finds. The multitude of burial caves is probably due to the quality of the soft bedrock in this region. No pottery or other datable artifacts were found in the excavation. Nevertheless, on the basis of the finds from past excavations where the identical type of burial cave was excavated, this cave can be dated to the Late Roman–Early Byzantine period (third–fourth century CE).
Ayalon E. and Yannai E. 1992. Et-Taiyiba Map, Survey. ESI 10:18–19.
Ayalon E., Kidron A. and Sharvit Y. 1988–1989. Groups of Installations in the Fields of Zur Natan in the Roman-Byzantine Period. Israel—People and Land V–VI (23–24):93–120 (Hebrew).
Ayalon E., Neidinger W. and Matthews E. 1992. Horvat Migdal (Zur Natan)—1990. ESI 10:114–115.
Ayalon E., Neidinger W. and Matthews E. 1993. Zur Natan (Horvat Migdal). ESI 13:45–46.
Marder O., Goring-Morris A.N., Khalaily H., Milevski, I., Rabinovich R. and Zbenovich V. 2007. Tzur Natan, a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site in Central Israel and Observations on Regional Settlement Patterns. Paléorient 33/2:79–100.