Area A. A large rectangular structure that stood out on the surface in the high, central part of the site was noticed prior to the beginning of the excavation. In trial excavations conducted in 2009 and 2011 it was ascertained that this is a fortified farmhouse or caravanserai from the Byzantine period. The area can be divided into two parts: the large Byzantine building and the area surrounding it (Fig. 3).
While excavating the large courtyard it became apparent that the bedrock was very close to the surface; in some instances it was actually exposed, and in others it was 0.3–0.7 m below the surface. Each habitation layer was built directly on the bedrock and eradicated most of the remains from the periods preceding it. Data about two or three settlement phases were preserved in each excavation square, and the summary of the data from all of the excavation squares enables us to draw conclusions regarding the aggregation in Area A. In the absence of a final enumeration of the strata, they are presented here as letters from the bottom up:
B. Middle Bronze Age II: a layer of soil in one small area only. It contained large potsherds that were not worn; no architectural remains were found.
C. Iron Age: Remains of walls and pottery of a city fortified with a casemate wall and two gates.
D. Late Persian–Early Hellenistic period: secondary use of several of the Iron Age walls, construction of short stone walls and a granary.
E. Foundations of walls built of ashlars, the bottom part of a granary and a plastered ritual bath (miqwe) hewn in the bedrock. These date to the end of the Second Temple period on the basis of a soft chalk cup that was found in 2011 and is characteristic of this period. The floor levels were not found because they had been removed by later construction.
F. An Early Byzantine phase in which a building was constructed. This phase was apparently destroyed by an earthquake, as evidenced by large concentrations of stones that were found mainly in the western part of the area.
G. Another Byzantine phase involving repairs, probably after the earthquake.
H. The two buildings exposed on the surface, which should probably be dated to the Ottoman period.
I. A variety of later activity, including pouring a concrete frame around a cistern dating to the British Mandate era, digging in three rooms of the Byzantine building by local residents (antiquities robbery?), and an assortment of metallic objects from the mid-twentieth century CE.
Architectural remains from two periods were discerned in the area south of the Byzantine structure:
1. A thick wall (length c. 30 m; Fig. 4) that is the southern end of a very large square building (c. 900 sq m) that is situated on the bedrock. The location of the building at the highest spot on the site provides an excellent vantage point looking out over large parts of the city, the Ela Valley, the Judean Hills to the east and the Shephelah and coastal plain to the west. It is obvious that this is the most important building at the site and is either a palace or a governor’s residence. The dating of the wall relies on floors that abutted it from the north and south and were overlain with pottery characteristic of the city in the Iron Age, including a black juglet (the fourth of its kind found at the site).
2. Late Persian–Early Hellenistic period: a granary was built next to the building and other walls were constructed, sometimes inside the building.
Area C. A gate, a gate plaza, four large buildings east of the gate and part of another structure west of the gate plaza had been exposed in the previous seasons in the main excavation area, at the southern part of the site. The first building west of the gate plaza (Building C10) is of particular interest, as it contained evidence of a cult practice in one of its rooms in 2011, which included two models of temples, one made of clay (Fig. 5:1) and the other of stone (Fig. 5:2). The purpose of the excavations in this season was to expose the building completely. Therefore, nine squares were opened to the west of the gate plaza (Fig. 6). The casemate wall is better preserved in the western part of Area C than elsewhere at the site and is sometimes c. 3 m high (Fig. 7); the gate plaza was revealed in its entirety along the first three casemates west of the gate (Fig. 8).
Building C10 consists of two distinct wings. The excavation in the eastern wing, most of which had been uncovered during 2011, was completed in this season. The wing’s courtyard is distinguished by a rich destruction layer and a concentration of broken pottery vessels in the southeastern corner. Two stone seals were found here. The western wing consisted of several rooms, stone columns, a bench and a variety of installations (Fig. 9). Several cult vessels that join the assemblage revealed in 2011 were discovered. The buildings were destroyed suddenly, as indicated by dozens of pottery and stone vessels, as well as various artifacts, which were found lying on the floors of the rooms (Fig. 10). A jar filled with ash and c. 20 burnt olive pits was discovered in one of the rooms. The sealed context in which the concentration of pits was found will enable to accurately date the destruction of the Iron Age city.
Another building (C11) that included an especially grand entrance accentuated by a large threshold stone and two steps, was exposed in its entirety west of Building C10. The structure comprised three interior spaces: a small lobby, an especially large space and a casemate. Numerous artifacts were discovered, including an abundance of restorable pottery vessels, stone vessels and a large bathtub made of soft limestone, as well as fragments of an inscription, bearing Canaanite letters engraved on a vessel before firing.
Area F. A new excavation area was opened in the northern part of the site (Fig. 11). The purpose of the excavation was to find the point in the city wall where the openings in the casemates change their location. There are two gates at the site and the casemate openings in the wall were always built in the corner farthest from the gate. The casemate openings adjacent to the southern gate (Area C) are always located in the corner farthest from the gate and that is also the case in the western gate (Area B). Consequently, it is obvious that somewhere along the city wall there are two points, in the north and south, where the direction of the openings changes. This point was indeed found in Area F and two casemates whose openings are next to each other were identified. While looking for the meeting point of the casemate openings, nine squares were excavated next to the city wall (length 45 m).
Next to the meeting point of the casemate openings was a colonnaded building, divided into three longitudinal spaces, as customary in the colonnaded buildings of the Iron Age (Fig. 12). Part of the building’s floor was paved with flagstones. Only the northern part of the structure was excavated, and another season is required to expose the entire building. The structure was built in the Iron Age and also used in the Late Persian–Early Hellenistic period. Part of a building was found in two squares in the eastern part of Area F; on the basis of the pottery and coins, it was dated to the Hasmonean period—unknown until now at Khirbat Qeiyafa.
Area W. The area is located on the western slope of the site, c. 100 m west of the Iron Age IIA fortified city. Several years ago, A. Davidowitz found a handle with a stamped rosette on the surface, which is characteristic of the First Temple period, from the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. A section of a massive building with extremely thick walls was exposed in a small trial excavation this season (Fig. 13). Several of the finds recovered from the excavation confirm the date of the building to the end of the First Temple period, which is not represented in the fortified area of Khirbat Qeiyafa.
Public and administrative aspects of the site were clarified in the 2012 season:
1. A large building in Area A at the top of the site, whose southern side extended c. 30 m. This is the optimal vantage point at the site, allowing a wide and clear view of Khirbat Qeiyafa’s lower city, the Ela Valley, the Judean hills to the east and the lower Shephelah and coastal plain to the west. This is undoubtedly the governor’s palace, similar to the main structure of the Iron Age in the center of Tel Lakhish.
2. A tripartite storehouse structure in Area F. The building has two rows of large stone columns that form a central passageway, similar to buildings exposed at other Iron Age sites, such as Tel Hadar, Hazor and Be’er Sheva‘. The center and western spaces of the building were paved with stone.
3. Complete exposure of the southern gate plaza, over a distance of c. 20 m. The plaza is bounded on the north by a massive wall, which obviously forms another barrier in the entrance to the city. Apparently, some people were allowed to enter the plaza, but were denied access into the city proper. The plaza was used for a variety of activities; it might have been the public congregation place for religious worship, next to the cult room where the two temple models were found.
4. Two stamp seals were found in Building C10. Throughout all the previous excavation seasons, when especially large areas were exposed, only one seal was discovered at the site. Now, when the group of seals has increased to three items, it underlines the administrative aspect of the site, particularly the special function of the building alongside the gate, which was connected to both administration and ritual.
5. The exposure of additional inscriptions shows that the ostracon uncovered in 2008 was not a random find and that some people at the site were literate.