Area A (Figs. 3, 4)
A large farmhouse (c. 30 × 63 m) built along a northwest–southeast axis was exposed. It consisted of three units: northern, central and southern. At least 25 rooms and courtyards were partially excavated. The farmhouse walls were founded on loess soil containing limestone concretions. The walls (width 0.50–0.65 m) all built in the same manner, with a foundation of medium (0.15 × 0.20 × 0.30 m) and large limestone blocks (0.20 × 0.33 × 0.70 m), some of which were well-hewn. The courses placed on the foundations consisted of two rows of various-sized stones (0.12–0.20 × 0.37–0.40 × 0.38–0.65 m) with small stones in between, bonded with brown soil. The walls were plastered with brown mud and were bonded to each other in the corners. Some of the doorways in the rooms were blocked with stones, apparently deliberately. The western wall of the farmhouse was long, extending the length of all three units. Most of the floors in the rooms were made of loess soil containing limestone concretions or tamped mud-brick material, and only few of the floors were of flagstones or crushed chalk. Two habitation levels were identified in only one room. Clay or stone ovens were found on some of the floors. Pottery vessels from the Late Umayyad and Abbasid periods (eighth–ninth centuries CE) were discovered in the farmhouse, including serving ware—numerous cups and bowls and several jugs and juglets; cooking vessels—only open cooking pots and a few lids; storage vessels—jars, mainly of the same type; and several lamps. In addition, a meager amount of glass finds, dated mainly to the transition from the Byzantine period to the Umayyad period, were discovered, as well as some metal objects and two flint tools.
The Northern Unit (c. 21.5 × 27.5 m). Parts of eight rooms (1–5, 7, 11, 25) that enclosed a central courtyard (6) were exposed; Rooms 7 and 11 deviated from the square outline of the unit. A layer of ash (L127, L137) overlain with collapsed stones (L109, L129) was discovered above the floors of Rooms 1 and 2. An opening discovered in Room 2 connected the room with the central courtyard. Pottery from Rooms 1 and 2 included a variety of bowls, among them flat bowls with a black-slipped ledge rim (Fig. 5:5) and plain bowls with an incurved rim (Fig. 5:8); a variety of kraters (Fig. 5:18, 19), one of which (18) had a round perforation in its wall, possibly a repair made to the vessel; open cooking pots (Fig. 6:7, 8); a juglet (Fig. 6:22); a jug made of buff-colored clay and adorned with a mold-made decoration (Fig. 6:26); and a spout belonging to a jug (Fig. 6:36). A basalt grinding stone (Fig. 7:6) was discovered in Room 1, and a loom weight (Fig. 7:5) was found north of the room (L138). Mud-brick fragments, perhaps the continuation of the southern wall of Room 2 (W10), a tabun (L139) and a layer of ash (L131) were exposed in Room 25, southwest of Room 2. The ash contained several fragments of bowls with plain incurved rims (Fig. 5:11), fragments of jars with a tall neck (Fig. 6:16), part of a marble plaque in secondary use (Fig. 7:1) and a fragment of a chalk item, possibly a grille (Fig. 7:2). Patches of ash, mud-brick material and several fragments of pottery and stone vessels (not drawn) were exposed on the floor in Room 3 (L123; 1.2 × 4.0 m). A flask rim (Fig. 6:38) and a limestone mortar (Fig. 7:8) were found in the room’s floor bedding (L128), and a copper ring (Fig. 8:1) was discovered among the collapsed stones of the room’s western wall (W3). Only a few body sherds of pottery vessels were discovered in Room 4, which was large. Room 5 (2.25 × 5.00 m) was filled with collapsed stones (L182), and a pair of installations (L169, L174) built of small stones was exposed in Room 7 (c. 4.75 × 5.00 m). A coin fragment that could not be identified was discovered in Installation 169. On the room’s floor (L201) and in the fill above it (L183) were several sherds, including a bowl (Fig. 5:14) and a jar with a tall, thickened upright neck (Fig. 6:13). Among the collapsed stones (L229) in Room 11 (c. 2.25 × 4.75 m) were several sherds, including a carinated bowl with a ledge rim made of clay characteristic of Fine Byzantine Ware and Fine Islamic Ware (Fig. 5:7) and a jar (Fig. 6:14).
The Central Unit (10.00 × 11.25 m). Five rooms (12, 14–17) and a courtyard (13) were exposed at the top of the hill, delimited by walls in the north (W56), east (W37) and west (W2, W6), and to some extent on the south (W7) as well. The boundaries of the unit on the southeastern side are unknown, and it is uncertain if a wall enclosed Rooms 16 and 17 on the east. Between the unit’s eastern wall and the parallel wall of the northern unit (W47) was a space (L215), possibly an opening that connected the northern unit with the southern unit. A partition wall in Room 15 (3 × 4 m) divided the room into two parts (Figs. 4: Section 1–1; 9). The western part was narrow (width 0.8 m); a stone slab pavement (L146) and a brown earthen floor (L133) were discovered in it. Both floors were covered with a layer of loess (L132). The eastern part of Room 15 was enclosed by a wall on the north (W46) built of large, roughly hewn stones in secondary use. A clay oven (L143) was discovered in the southern corner of this part of the unit, near the partition wall. The floor of the eastern part of the unit was covered with a thick layer of ash and stones (L136) overlain with collapsed stones (L126). Numerous fragments of pottery vessels were found on the floors, including FBW and FIW bowls (Fig. 5:1, 4); bowls made of buff-colored clay with a prominent ridge on the outer wall of the rim (Fig. 5:13); a shiny black bowl with an upright rim and a flat base adorned with floral and geometric decorations (Fig. 5:16; Black Ceramic Ware; see Magness 1994); a krater (Fig. 5:23); FBW cups (Fig. 5:29, 30); open cooking pots (Fig. 6:2, 4); jars (Fig. 6:18, 19, 21); mold-made jugs (Fig. 6:23, 24, 29, 33, 35); and a lamp (Fig. 6:39). Grinding stone fragments were also found (Fig. 7: 7). Room 14 may have been the eastern continuation of Room 15. Only the northern corner of Room 14 was exposed (2 × 2 m). The floor in this room (L237) was covered with a thin layer of ash mixed with several fragments of pottery vessels (not drawn). An opening discovered in Room 12 (3 × 4 m; Fig. 10) connected that room with Room 13 (Fig. 11). Next to the northern wall of the room (W56) were roughly hewn stones, possibly pillar bases. Within the collapse inside the room (L202, L223) and on the room’s floor (L208) were numerous fragments of pottery vessels, including bowls (not drawn), a krater (Fig. 5:24), FBW cups (Fig. 5:28), a jar (Fig. 6:15), jug (Fig. 6:32), as well as a fragment of an ostracon incised with the Arabic words “One God” (Fig. 6:41) and a metal cosmetic spoon (Fig. 8:3). Courtyard 13 was covered with collapses stones (L218). Among the stones and on the courtyard floor (L220) were numerous fragments of pottery vessels, including bowls, cooking pots, jars and jugs (not drawn) belonging to the same types as those discovered in the other rooms. Room 16 was narrow, wad was only partly exposed (2 × 3 m). A wall (W57) may have partitioned the room into two long narrow units; a layer of ash (L150) containing a few sherds covered the floor. The floor in Room 17 (presumably 10 × 12 m; Fig. 12) was made of brown earth (mud-brick material? L144, L153) and was covered with collapsed stones (L125, L142). Among the stones were a base of a shiny black bowl adorned with a linear decoration (not drawn), a krater (Fig. 5:21), cooking pots (not drawn), a lamp (Fig. 6:40), a ceramic stopper (Fig. 6:42) and fragments of a clay oven. The lamp found among the collapsed stones may indicate that there was a niche for lamps in the upper part of one of the walls.
The Southern Unit (length 26.25 m). Parts of nine rooms (8–10, 18–21, 23, 24) enclosing a central courtyard (22) were exposed. A rectangular installation built of roughly hewn stones (L194; 1.0 × 1.2 m)—probably intended for cooking—was uncovered in Room 10. A layer of ash (L188) with overlying collapsed stones (L187) were discovered on the floor of the installation. A level of dark brown soil was found above the floor elsewhere in the room (L206). Fragments of pottery vessels were discovered in Room 10. These included a plain bowl made of light yellow fabric identical to the vessel (Fig. 5:9), a carinated bowl (Fig. 5:10), cups (Fig. 5:27, 31), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:9) and a base of a jug (Fig. 6:34). Iron tools (sickle? Fig. 8:4, 5) and a limestone mortar (Fig. 7:9) were found in topsoil above the room (L159). The western part of the unit was delimited for its entire length by Rooms 18–21. An opening discovered in Room 18 (4.50 × 5.75 m) connected that room with Room 19. A loess floor (L151) founded over a bedding of crushed limestone (L214) was discovered in Room 18, under collapsed stones (L149) and an ash level (L130). The floor in Room 18 was higher than that in adjacent Room 17; therefore, the floor in the former room may have been raised. A round grinding stone (Fig. 13) was found below Foundation 214. A stone-built installation (L181) with ash inside it was discovered in the southwestern corner of the room. A bowl (Fig. 5:12), jars (Fig. 6:12, 17) and an open cooking pot (Fig. 6:3) were found in the room’s northwestern corner. The floor elevation and a grinding stone found below the floor foundation seem to indicate that the room had two habitation phases. Only the northern part of Room 19 was exposed, and it is uncertain whether it was one long space (17.5 m) or was divided into several small spaces. Fragments of cooking vessels were found in the room, including a lid (Fig. 6:11), and a stone pounder (Fig. 7:4). A copper nail (Fig. 8:2) was found above the wall separating Room 19 from Room 18 (W21). An opening (width 0.5 m) with a threshold stone with a socket was discovered in Room 20 (c. 3.75 × 4.00 m; Fig. 14), in which there was; the stone had been shifted out of place. The opening connected Room 20 to Room 21 (1.75 × 4.00 m; Fig. 15). It is possible that a partition wall (W48) was divided Room 20 into two small spaces. The floors discovered in Rooms 20 and 21 were made of tamped loess (L152, L170) and stones (L162); they were covered with collapsed stones (L122, L141, L164). Within the collapse and on the floors were fragments of pottery vessels, including FBW bowls (Fig. 5:6, 15); a green, black and yellow glazed bowl (Fig. 5:2); a bowl made of cooking pot material (Fig. 6:1); a krater (Fig. 5:22); an FBW cup (Fig. 5:32); and jugs (6:28, 30, 31, 37). A black steatite vessel with a ledge handle on its side was also found (Fig. 7:10). Doorways discovered in Rooms 23 (1.25 × 2.75 m) and 24 (2.50 × 2.75 m) connected these rooms with the courtyard. The opening in Room 23 was blocked with stones. A bowl (Fig. 5:9) and a krater (Fig. 5:20) were found on the floor in this room (L226). An oven (L228; Fig. 16) embedded in the floor (L224) was discovered in Room 24. The finds discovered in Room 24 included fragments of pottery vessels, among them, a shiny black bowl with a linear decoration (Fig. 5:17), a krater (Fig. 5:25), an FBW cup (Fig. 5:26), open cooking pots (Fig. 6:5, 6, 10) and jugs bearing a molded decoration (Fig. 6:25, 27), as well as fragments of glass vessels (not drawn).
The excavation in the farmhouse yielded several important finds of uncertain context. These included fragments of pottery vessels, such as a bowl decorated with lines and black floral patterns and slipped white (Fig. 5:3); a jar or pipe (Fig. 6:20); stoppers (Fig. 6:43, 44). On the floor of Rooms 16 and 23 were two well-preserved flint items that were discovered. One of the flints (B1264) is a distal fragment of an elongated item, probably a blade. The second item (B1112; Fig. 17) is a sickle blade fashioned on a thick flake. Sickle blades on flakes such as this one are characteristic of earlier periods, particularly the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and Iron Age (Rosen 1997:55–56, 143, Figs. 3.15, 3.16, 6.10). These items may indicate that an ancient site is located nearby.
Area B (Fig. 18)
A broad house (7 × 8 m) built along a north–south axis and constructed in a similar manner as the farmhouse was exposed. The structure probably consisted of two rooms. In the southern room (W22; Fig. 19) were two large stones placed across the wall, creating an opening or recess (length 1 m). A floor (L193) made of tamped brown loess was discovered in the building. A few artifacts, mainly ribbed body sherds of jars and body fragments of glass vessels, were found inside the building. A curved row of stones was exposed adjacent to the southern side of the building. The building may have been used for storage or could have been an open mosque.
Area C (Figs. 20, 21)
The foundations of a round tower (diam. c. 5.8 m), apparently a columbarium, were exposed. They were built mainly of blocks of chalk of various sizes, some of which were roughly hewn; they were preserved to a maximum height of 0.5 m. The construction method was similar to that of the buildings in Areas A and B. Many of the stones from the walls had collapsed into the structure. A tamped-loess floor (L209, L210, L213, L241) was exposed in the structure. The floor was covered with crushed limestone (L210) that may have fell from the walls. Among the collapses stones was a jar rim (not drawn) belonging to the most common type of jar found in the farmhouse, fragments of glass vessels from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods and a fragment of a limestone grille or window (Fig. 7:3).
Area D (Figs. 22, 23)
Prior to the excavation, heaps of stones and chunks of cement were discerned in the area around a deep depression in the ground. A small area (3.0 × 5.5 m) was excavated using a backhoe, yielding the remains of a built installation (2.8 × 5.5 m, min. depth c. 1.14 m), apparently modern. Three plastered walls (W90–W92; width c. 0.18 m) built of poured gray cement formed a U-shaped structure. Only the southern wall was preserved for its entire length. The floor of the installation was not exposed. An accumulation of loess mixed with limestone and chalk was found in a probe excavated inside the installation near W90 (L901). Several pottery sherds from the Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods and the time of the British Mandate were discovered in the loess.
Area E (Figs. 24, 25)
A cistern hewn in chalk bedrock and an adjacent concrete surface were exposed. The cistern opening (diam. 0.9 m) was surrounded by a circular wall (W500) built of one row of medium-sized blocks of chalk (0.20 × 0.25 m). A feeder channel (length 0.7 m, max. width 0.4 m, depth 0.2 m) built of light gray cement on a bedding of loess conveyed water from the southwest to the cistern opening. A wall foundation (W501; length 2.25 m, width 0.2 m) built of chalk was unearthed beneath the topsoil. Wall 501 delineated a gray concrete surface (L603A) built to its north and east. This surface was probably part of a settling pool or the base of a pumping installation. A foundation (L603B) made of small river pebbles, several fragments of glass vessels and fragments of Black Gaza ware from the Ottoman period and British Mandate was exposed southeast of the concrete surface. It seems that the cistern was used by the inhabitants of the farmhouse as early as the Early Islamic period and subsequently by Bedouins in the Ottoman period and was renovated during the British Mandate or later.
A large farmhouse complex was discovered at the site, possibly the beginning of a small village dating to the Late Umayyad and Abbasid periods (eighth–ninth centuries CE). The site reached its zenith at the beginning of the Abbasid period, when it included, in addition to the farmhouse, a tower that was probably used as a columbarium for raising doves, and a building that may have been a mosque. It also seems that the cistern was first used when the farmhouse was inhabited. Judging by the finds and the deliberate blocking of the openings in the farmhouse, it seems that the structure was abandoned in an orderly manner. The material finds in the building consist mainly of pottery sherds that characterize the sites in the Negev and ‘Arava during these periods (Nol 2008:83–84). During the Ottoman period or the British Mandate, a pool was built in Area D, and a settling pool or pumping installation was constructed in Area E, near the cistern opening. The inhabitants during these later periods may have been engaged in sowing and grazing in the vicinity of the farmhouse.
This site is one of several similar sites of the Early Islamic period that were excavated in the Northern Negev. An excavation in the Ramot neighborhood of Be’er Sheva‘ yielded a large Umayyad-period farmhouse similar to the one exposed in the current excavation (Gilad and Fabian 2008:327). That farmhouse extended across an area of more than one dunam and consisted of dozens of rooms, courtyards and storerooms, in which there were concentrations of ash and ovens. It was abandoned in the Early Abbasid period (ninth century CE). A farmhouse was exposed at Horbat Molada as well; it that developed into a small village during the seventh–eighth centuries CE (Permit No. A-6304; pers. comm. from Alexander Fraiberg). Other sites were exposed besides these large farms or small villages: a farm or fortified rural villa that dates from the seventh century to the end of the eighth century CE was unearthed at Giv‘at Mahat in Hura, northwest of Horbat Molada (Peretz 2012), and a farmhouse from the beginning of the Early Islamic period was exposed at Horbat Rosh (Permit No. A-6055; pers. comm. from Vlada Carmel).