During July 2011, an excavation was conducted at the Nahal Ef‘eh antiquities site (West; Permit No. A-6224; map ref. 206910–45/549940–85), prior to setting an electric pole. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Israel Electric Company, was directed by O. Shmueli (field photography and drafting), with the assistance of Y. al-Amor (administration) and S. Gal and M. Kunin (surveying). Thanks to M. Haiman for his very helpful suggestions.
The excavation area is located in the northeastern Negev highlands, c. 1.8 km northeast of the Nabataean city Mamshit (Fig. 1). Two nearby farmsteads (1, 2; Fig. 2) along the Nahal Ef‘eh wadi channel were documented at the site and two half squares were excavated on the fringes of Farmstead 1. Two farmsteads had been discovered in the past near Mamshit (A. Kloner. 1975. Ancient Agriculture in the Mamshit Region and Dating the Diverting Systems. Eretz Israel 12: 167–170). The region is characterized by an arid climate and the average annual precipitation is c. 100 mm. The agriculture in the region is based on run-off, namely rainwater that flows in the wadi channels and on the slopes to the cultivated areas. Researchers accept the supposition that the farmsteads in the Negev highlands date from the Byzantine period until the end of the Early Islamic period (G. Avni, Y. Avni and N. Porat. 2010. Ancient Agriculture in the Negev Highlands – a Renewed Examination. Cathedra 133:13–44 [Hebrew]; M. Haiman. 1997. Farming and Nomads in the Desert Fringes in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods. In S. Dar and Z. Safrai, eds. The Ancient Village in Israel. Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, pp. 327–350; L. Shanan and N. Tadmor 1979. Ancient Agriculture in the Central Negev. In O. Shmueli and Y. Gross, eds. Land of the Negev: Man and Desert. Ministry of Defense. Tel Aviv, pp. 270–296).
Farmstead 1. Six partly preserved farming terraces were documented within the precincts of the farmstead (23 dunams). The terrace walls (width 0.9 m, height c. 0.7 m), aligned southeast-northwest, were built of two rows of different size fieldstones, forming a dam of sorts in the wadi channel. Field walls that divided the farmstead into small agricultural plots were built on the banks of the wadi, above the flow channel. The construction of the field walls was similar to that of the farming terrace walls. The farmstead was surrounded by an enclosure wall (width c. 1.2 m; Fig. 3) built of medium-sized fieldstones. Three openings were installed in the enclosure wall (each c. 10 m wide), on the slopes of a ridge in the western part of the farmstead. Walls (length 2–5 m) were built on the sides of the openings, perpendicular to the enclosure. These openings diverted the run-off that flowed from the slopes of the ridge to the wadi channel and the cultivation plots in it.
Farmstead 2. Eight well-preserved farming terrace walls were documented within the precincts of the farmstead (40 dunams). The walls (width 0.5–1.0 m, height c. 0.6 m), aligned northwest-southeast, were built of two rows of different size fieldstones placed on the loess, forming a dam of sorts in the wadi channel (Fig. 4). Cultivation plots delimited by field walls were preserved in the part of the farmstead upstream. The farmstead was surrounded by an enclosure wall (width 0.8 m) built of two rows of medium-sized fieldstones with a core of small fieldstones. The western part of the enclosure wall was partially preserved. The wall might have been destroyed in this section in a later phase, to enable the construction of other farming terraces in the west of the farmstead.
The Excavation. Two half squares were excavated along the edge of Farmstead 1, close to the three openings in the enclosure wall and a section of the farmstead’s enclosure wall was exposed (W1; exposed length 2 m, width c. 1.2 m; Figs. 5, 6). The wall, oriented east–west and placed on the loess soil, was built of two rows of different size fieldstones with a core of small fieldstones. A heap of small fieldstones (L101; 1.2×1.5 m, height 0.3 m) was exposed outside the area of the farmstead, c. 2.8 m north of the wall. These stones may have been used for building the wall or maintaining it.
Potsherds were collected in the survey that was conducted within the framework of the excavation. These included a bowl rim dating to the Byzantine–Umayyad periods, several non-diagnostic body fragments and several body fragments of black Gaza ware from the end of the Ottoman period.
It seems that the farmsteads documented in the excavation were used by residents of the nearby city of Mamshit. The construction method utilized in building the farming terraces is similar to that of the farmsteads west of Mamshit. It is extremely difficult to date the farmsteads in the Negev highlands and the meager ceramic artifacts in this excavation do not contribute much to solving the problem; at the very best, they allude to activity that occurred in the Late Byzantine–Umayyad and Ottoman periods.