Two locations slated for construction were excavated (E, Y; Fig. 1) as well as the area extending between the two. Approximately fifty pits, installations and subterranean complexes dating to the Late Chalcolithic, and belonging to the Be’er-Sheva‘ culture of the Ghassulian horizon, were discovered and excavated. In addition, cist tombs from the Byzantine period were exposed and mapped, but were not excavated. All of the sediments found in clean assemblages or on floors were carefully sifted. As seeds were discovered in several of the pits, the sediment removed from them underwent floatation, and numerous soil samples were taken. Some of the tunnels and subterranean complexes were only partially excavated due to safety constraints.
The area was situated just north of Area A, which was excavated in 2009 (Permit A-5631). More than fifty elements were discovered dug into the natural ground that was composed of loess and white chalk aggregates: cupmarks (diam. 0.2–0.3 m), shallow pits, pits that have a wide opening (diam. c. 1 m), bell-shaped pits and subterranean complexes that were discovered at the southeastern and northwestern ends of the excavation area. Evidence of an aboveground building that had been destroyed in antiquity was found at the southeastern edge of the area. When analyzing the elements, it should be emphasized that although we were able to identify phases and sub-phases in the history of the site, their dating cannot be based on the stone, flint and ceramic artifacts, since assemblages were similar and did not change during the site’s existence. On the other hand, botanical assemblages that were discovered in the area are likely to provide absolute dating, which will be of significant importance in understanding the history of the settlement.
An analysis of the elements that were dug into the loess revealed two key phases (early and late) in the history of the settlement. In the early phase there was an intricate subterranean complex at the southeastern end of the area; remains of a building might have belong to the same phase. The building was completely destroyed and evidence of it is manifested in several scattered stones, some of which were slightly below the surface level; these were probably the remains of a foundation of one of the walls (Figs. 2, 3). The other walls of the building were not discovered because they were situated beyond the limits of the excavation.
The Early Phase. Three sub-phases could be discerned is the subterranean complex (118; Figs. 1–3) until it went out of use. The following is a description of the phases from earliest to latest.
Sub-phase A. An irregularly shaped complex comprising several elements (max. length c. 8 m, max. width c. 3 m, depth 1.6 m) was dug into the loess soil. Most of its area was split between two parts in the east and west, which appear to be large, open-air pits connected by a kind of corridor. The complex was used for a variety of purposes as evidenced by the pits and installations. At the southeastern end of the complex was an opening leading to a closed space that was reached by way of a narrow tunnel. The tunnel was located outside the excavation area and was not excavated due to safety constraints; it might have been used for dwelling. Niches (e.g. No. 174), cupmarks and shallow pits (max. depth 0.3 m; Nos. 179, 181) were dug into the floor of the complex. The pits contained pottery sherds, flint and stone flakes, and are indicative of the industry carried out at the site. It was not possible to determine if the pits existed concurrently.
Sub-phase B. The entire complex underwent changes and adaptations, especially in its western part. A pit (No. 147; diam. c. 2 m) that constituted another activity area was exposed southwest of the complex. Slightly later, another pit (No. 135) was dug that severed the wall of the complex and Pit 147. This may reflect a desire to enlarge the complex to the northwest.
Sub-phase C. There is no doubt that the nature of the entire complex was altered when several deep bell-shaped pits were dug inside it, negating some of the earlier, shallow pits. In the eastern part of the complex, two pits (Nos. 185, 191) were dug that cut and cancelled earlier niches. The new pits were larger (at least 1 m in diam.) and deeper (at least 0.5 m), and different kinds of fill were discovered in them: mud brick material in Pit 185 and ash in Pit 191. Pit 191 contained, among other things, numerous charred seeds of wheat, barley and lentils. Another pit (159; max. diam. 1.5 m, depth over 1 m), which became wider toward the bottom, cut the floor of Pit 147 and the wall of Pit 135 in the western part of the complex. It contained large quantities of pottery vessels, flint tools, stone vessels and animal bones.
Complex 118 went out of use during the Chalcolithic period. A layer of light brown alluvium (thickness over 0.5 m) that covered the complex indicates the end of its use. Evidence of another complex that might have existed at the same time was revealed c. 10 m west of Complex 118. A pit (No. 171; diam. over 3 m), which might have been part of a larger complex. Only half of the pit was excavated (to a depth of 0.83 m); it contained layers of ash and mud-brick material.
The Late Phase. This phase was characterized by entirely different spatial planning than that of the early phase. Instead of a single, small but deep complex with numerous small, densely concentrated pits, this phase comprised numerous features dug in the ground—pits, installations and cupmarks—that were scattered across a considerably larger area. Most of these features (c. 30) were located in the eastern part of the excavated area, and only a few (10) were in its western part.
One of the most important conclusions we arrived at in studying the spatial planning of this phase is that the dynamic settlement history that characterized the early complex (No. 118) repeated itself in the pits of the later phase; at least three phases are indicated in the existence of this complex. A layer of crushed dark brown soil, which covered the entire area of the early complex (No. 118) and a layer of natural sediment that had accumulated in the complex after it was abandoned, indicates that the hewers of the pits in the late phase poured the soil they removed from the pits into the large pit that constituted Complex 118. The sub-phases of the later phase could be identified in several assemblages. Some 7 m north of Complex 118, a series of pits was discovered in a trial trench excavated by a backhoe. It seems that the earliest pit (No. 133; presumed diam. c. 1.5 m, depth 0.34 m) was severed by a much larger bell-shaped pit (No. 110; diam. over 2 m) that went out of use shortly afterwards, and another pit (No. 109; presumed diam. 2 m, max. depth 1.26 m; Fig. 4) filled with ash, pottery sherds, flint flakes and stone vessels was dug inside Pit 110. A stone-slab floor that probably belongs to this late phase was discovered at elevation 297.8 m asl. The fill was found directly on top of the floor, yet it probably represents a phase when the pit was no longer being used and refuse was buried in it. It seems that the shallow pits (max. depth 0.3 m) represent the early horizon inside the late settlement phase described herein. Large quantities of flint flakes were discovered inside the pits, which suggest that tools were knapped in at least some of them. The later horizon is characterized by numerous bell-shaped pits or pits that have wide openings (diam. and depth of most of the pits are over 1 m). Some of the pits were deliberately filled with mud brick material; others were found full of natural soil erosion; while in others, large amounts of ash were discovered.
Several of the pits are especially noteworthy. About 4 m west of Complex 118, a pit (No. 126; Fig. 5) contained the skull and long bones of an adolescent, c. 15 years old. The body of the deceased had either been discarded in the pit or placed there in a position inconsistent with a proper burial and without funerary offerings. This probably was not a proper interment, but rather a burial in a pit that was no longer in use. Two pits (Nos. 150, 162) contained large quantities of ash, in which thousands of charred seeds of wheat, barley, lentils and olives were discovered. Pit 150 and another pit contained large numbers of flint tools; most noteworthy are blade cores from Pit 150. Two additional pits (No. 138, 145; Fig. 6) were linked by a narrow tunnel. Many pottery sherds characteristic of the Late Chalcolithic period were discovered in Pit 145 (diam. over 2 m, depth c. 1 m). Two parts of a large, well-fashioned limestone vessel, possibly a mortar, were found in two pits, c. 7 m apart (Nos. 149, 162). There is no doubt that this find reflects the chronological proximity of the two pits. Furthermore, it might have resulted from the deliberate breaking of a stone vessel, and its burial in two pits that were no longer in use—an “intentional killing” as part of a ritual abandonment ceremony.
Apart from the instances described above, it was generally impossible to distinguish between the sub-phases within the later phase. We are inclined to believe that like the chronological sequence in the early complex (No. 118), the shallow pits of the later settlement phase preceded the deeper and wider, bell-shaped pits. In addition, since some of the pits were discovered with a variety of accumulations and fills—alluvium, mud bricks or mud brick material, and ash—we can assume that they went out of use at different time periods and for a variety of reasons. Thus, some were turned into refuse pits and other were completely sealed.
Area Y comprised two clusters of squares, a northern and southern one, in the northern part of the excavation area. The northern cluster (ten squares) was opened in the wake of the preliminary inspections conducted using a backhoe. The remains include 14 Byzantine-period cist tombs oriented along a northwest–southeast axis and built of smooth limestone slabs. The tombs, which were not excavated, were either dug into virgin soil or penetrated into remains from the Chalcolithic period. Five relatively shallow pits ascribed to the Chalcolithic period were excavated. They were filled with light brown alluvium and yielded very few artifacts. In contrast to the high density of pits in Area E, only several pits were found in the northern squares, possibly evidence that the northern end of the excavation area was also the edge of the settlement.
The southern cluster (11 squares) yielded only Chalcolithic-period remains. These were disturbed by modern infrastructures. As in Area E, two main settlement phases from the Chalcolithic period were discovered: a subterranean complex (No. 250; Fig. 1) belonging to the earlier phase, and rather shallow pits scattered about the area that belonged to the later phase.
The Early Phase. Subterranean Complex 250, c. 25 northeast of Complex 118 of the early phase of the settlement in Area E, was intricate and deep (exposed length c. 7 m, max. depth 3 m; Fig. 7). The complex consisted of two entrance shafts connected by a long tunnel. The tunnel led to a deep opening that in turn led to a subterranean cavity, which was blocked with stones and was not excavated for safety reasons.
Like Complex 118, Complex 250 was constructed over several sub-phases. An entrance shaft (No. 238; diam. c. 2 m) was apparently hewn in the early sub-phase. Three steps led from the surface down c. 2.5 m into a tunnel (No. 248; length c. 4 m, height 1 m); one could move through the tunnel only by crawling. The tunnel ran to the northeast to an arched opening of a cavity that opened toward the north. Two large stones, one lying on its side and the other standing, were discerned on either side of the opening at the tunnel’s exit (Fig. 8). These may have helped people leaving the tunnel, or may have served as a “ritual gateway” that led into the Subterranean Cavity 250.
It seems that the tunnel was blocked with large stones at a later phase, during which the use of Shaft 238 was negated. A new shaft, located directly above the subterranean cavity (width 1 m), was hewn in the place of original tunnel and led to Cavity 250 by way of a rock-cut step (depth 1.25 m). Like Complex 118, Complex 250 was found full with light brown alluvium, indicating that it was abandoned after it went out of use.
The Late Phase. Complex 250 was replaced by relatively shallow pits (generally up to 0.5 m deep). The pits were filled with material that apparently originated from windborne dust (loess) over the course of time after the site was deserted. Most of the pits contained only a few finds, except for Pit 245 (presumed diam. c. 1 m, max. depth 0.7 m) that was also filled with an accumulation of loess. Hundreds of Chalcolithic pottery sherds were discovered in the fill, as well as fragments of stone vessels, flint tools and mud bricks, indicating that this refuse was discarded in the pit.
The Tel Sheva‘ site stretches across an extensive area between the streambeds of Nahal Be’er Sheva‘ and Nahal Hevron. It comprises several large settlement clusters between Tel Sheva‘ and the excavation area. The finds from this excavation and previous excavations reflect the intensity of the settlement array belonging to the Be’er Sheva‘ culture of the Ghassulian horizon during the Late Chalcolithic period. In each of these excavations, subterranean complexes were discovered, as well as an occasional surface structure. Like at the adjacent excavation (Permit No. A-5631), the current excavation revealed subterranean complexes were and possibly the remains of a destroyed building. In contrast with the previous excavations, however, here it is apparent that most of the complexes were used for a variety of activities and not necessarily as dwellings.
The excavation provided several important contributions to our understanding of the nature of the Chalcolithic settlement at Tel Sheva‘. First, it was possible to distinguish between the two main settlement phases—the early one consisting of intricate subterranean complexes, where changes and modifications were made (Nos. 118, 171 and 250), and the later one, in which there were pits, granaries and cupmarks scattered over a wide area. Second, a similar architectural tradition is apparently evident in both phases, whereby the deep, bell-shaped pits were dug relatively late and canceled the shallow pits. The excavation’s most important contribution, however, is the discovery of thousands of seeds of grain inside pits, indicating that these were used as granaries. These and the relatively numerous sickle blades at the site allow us to make the assumption the settlement’s economy relied heavily on the cultivation of cereals, lentils and even olives.
It is surprising that grazing, which was usually a major branch of the economy, is not clearly evident in the excavation area. The relative amount of sheep/goat bones is not large, suggesting that pastoralism was not an important economic activity in the studied area. The pottery is generally similar to that found in previous excavations at Tel Sheva‘, as well as at Be’er Sheva‘, Abu Matar and Bir Safadi. V-shaped bowls constitute over 40% of the assemblage; churns occur frequently; and in each of the pits, holemouths and cooking pots with pointed rims were also common. However, only few cornets were found. The flint tools characteristic of the site are mostly scrapers, sickle blades and ad hoc tools. Dozens of spherical pounders were also discovered in the pits.
The stone-tool industry is particularly interesting. Numerous worked and flaked limestone pebbles point to an extensive industry in this area. Mortars, grinding stones and hammers are common. Fragments of basalt chalices, fragments of beach rock grinding stones and shells from the Red Sea and the Mediterranean attest to the trade relations of the site’s inhabitants. Several pendants and a bone tool are the only artistic objects discovered at the site.