Area A
This area extended over two hills (c. 250,000 sq m), where 21 sites were excavated.
A1 (Site 115; Fig. 2). A winepress hewn in a bedrock outcrop was exposed. It consisted of a square treading floor (max. depth 0.1 m) connected by a channel to a round, bell-shaped depression (depth 0.45 m). The treading floor, which was worn, was severed by a curved rock-cutting (diam. 0.7 m, depth 0.1 m) that cut through the rock outcrop; the soil below this rock-cutting was excavated to a depth of 0.8 m, revealing no artifacts. Other irregularly shaped pits were hewn in the same bedrock outcrop.
A2 (Site 127; Fig. 3). Various-sized cupmarks and pits were hewn in no particular order in a bedrock outcrop; most of them were round, and several were elliptical or rectangular. A circular pit (diam. 0.75 m, depth 0.2 m), hewn in the center of the outcrop, extended down through the rock outcrop and into the soil below it. The pit and the earth beneath it were excavated to an overall depth of 2 m in order to determine if this was a shaft leading into a cave; no evidence of a cave was discovered.
A3 (Site 127; Fig. 4). A square building was unearthed; its western and southern walls and a short part of its eastern wall were preserved. The western wall was rock-hewn, whereas the southern wall was built of large stones placed upright. An opening leading into a cave was discovered in the building’s western bedrock wall; it was blocked with large stones and was left unexcavated. The building was isolated and crudely constructed, suggesting that it served as a field tower.
A4 (Fig. 5). Fifteen round cupmarks and rock-cuttings of various shapes were exposed on bedrock outcrops spread over an area c. 20 m long; most of them were arranged in clusters of three. Several worn channels were identified near the cupmarks. West of the cupmarks was a rock-hewn winepress, consisting of a cupmark (diam. 0.35 m, depth 0.2 m) connected by a channel to a rectangular collecting vat (1.0 × 1.7 m, depth 0.6 m). Worn channels were discovered near the winepress. Large stones that formed two walls were unearthed east and north of the winepress.
A5. A Rock shelter with a low opening (height c. 0.6 m) was excavate; no finds were discovered.
A6 (Site 93; Fig. 6). A square structure with walls built of large fieldstones was discovered in the southern part of the site. A plaster floor (thickness 5 cm), set on a bedding of small fieldstones, was unearthed inside the building. The ceramic finds from within the building date mainly from the Byzantine period. The building was probably a field tower, since it was isolated and crudely constructed.
A large cave with several openings, including a shaft leading into it, was discovered 2 m north of the building. The excavation revealed that the cave consisted of a single chamber, with walls coated with hydraulic plaster. A homogenous accumulation of soil (thickness 1.8 m) containing pottery sherds was excavated in the cave. A larger concentration of sherds was discovered in the lower part of the accumulation, right above the cave’s bedrock floor. A tall boulder was found near the cave’s northern opening; homogenous soil accumulations with pottery sherds at the bottom were discovered in its clefts. Sherds found within the cave date from the Iron IIC, Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.
A winepress was hewn in the rock outcrop above the cave. It comprised a warn, square treading floor connected by a short channel to a rectangular collecting vat; a cupmark was hewn inside the collecting vat.
A7 (Site 150; Fig. 7). A heap of small stones (diam. 4.5 m, height 0.6 m), cleared and piled on the bedrock, was enclosed within walls built of large, unworked stones. The walls were founded on the bedrock, on soil and on the cleared stones; many gaps were left between the building stones of the wall. A scant amount of ceramic finds dating from the Byzantine period was discovered.
A8 (Site 151; Fig. 8). A rock-hewn winepress was unearthed. It consisted of a shallow square treading floor (depth 0.1 m) connected by a short channel to a rectangular collecting vat (depth 0.4 m). The winepress was damaged and worn. A conical cupmark (diam. 0.3 m, depth 0.26 m) was hewn in the same bedrock outcrop, 1.8 m to the north of the winepress. Openings leading into a shallow cave were discovered below the winepress and the cupmark.
A9 (Site 158; Fig. 9). A stone clearance heap (diam. 4 m, height 0.5 m) was discovered in the southern part of the site. Adjacent to the northern side of the heap was a winepress: a rectangular treading floor (average depth 0.1 m) and a rectangular collecting vat, connected by a channel. Five rock-hewn cupmarks were exposed within and adjacent to the winepress. Pottery sherds ascribed to the Byzantine period were found in the winepress. A shallow bedrock surface was hewn in another bedrock outcrop, c. 6 m northeast of the winepress. A wall constructed of large fieldstones founded on soil extended north from the southeastern side of the bedrock outcrop.
A10 (Site 64; Fig. 10). A simple winepress, comprising a shallow treading floor (depth 0.1 m) and an adjacent circular collecting vat (diam. 0.8 m, depth 0.4 m), was hewn in a bedrock outcrop. One cupmark (diam. 0.4 m, depth 0.3 m) was hewn south of the winepress, and another one (diam. 0.35 m, depth 0.25 m) was hewn to its west. Natural pits were discovered in the bedrock outcrop between the winepress and the cupmarks. A clearance heap of small fieldstones (diam. 4 m) was found at the northeastern end of the outcrop.
A11 (Site 86; Fig. 11). A simple, rock-hewn winepress was unearthed. It included a worn, round treading floor (diam. 1 m, depth c. 0.15 m) and a round collecting vat (diam. 0.5 m, depth 0.37 m).
A12 (Site 80). A winepress consisting of a rectangular treading floor (1.0 × 1.1 m, depth 0.15 m), a rectangular settling pit (depth 0.1 m) and a round collecting vat (diam. 1.1 m, depth 0.5 m) was hewn in a bedrock outcrop; a channel connected the treading floor and the settling pit. The floor of the collecting vat was covered with a thick layer of dark gray plaster (4.5 cm); its southern part was applied onto the bedrock, and its northern part—onto soil. The layer of plaster extended up to 5 cm high on the lower part of the vat’s walls. The plaster in the collecting vat may indicate that the winepress was adapted for use as a pressing installation.
A13 (Site 12). A rock-hewn limekiln (upper diam. c. 4 m, lower diam. c. 2.5 m, depth c. 5 m) was exposed. A wall constructed of two rows of large fieldstones was built on the surface along the northeastern side of the kiln; it was preserved to a height of one course. The kiln’s stokehole (length 5 m) faced northwest.
A14 (Site 91). A natural round cave (diam. 5 m; Fig. 13) was exposed. It had been plastered and served as a water cistern. Since part of the cave’s ceiling had collapsed, the opening through which the water filled the cistern was not preserved. The upper part of the accumulation of soil found inside the cave contained Mamluk-period sherds, while deeper in the accumulation were Byzantine-period sherds, Gaza ware sherds from the Ottoman period and a part of an iron object.
A15 (Site 89). A natural cave was unearthed. Its original opening was destroyed; rocks and soil that penetrated through a natural shaft in its ceiling accumulated inside the cave. The cave’s bedrock floor was leveled, and contained a hewn cupmark (diam. 0.15 m, depth 0.1 m). Several pottery sherds from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods and a body fragment of an Ottoman-period Gaza vessel were discovered inside the cave.
A16 (Site 90). A cistern consisting two compartments was exposed. Its ceiling had collapsed, making it impossible to identify its opening. The cistern was found full to its top with small fieldstones, which accumulated in it after the cistern was no longer in use. Pottery sherds from the Byzantine period were discovered in the upper part of the stone accumulation.
A16A (Site 90). Another cistern consisting of two compartments was discovered just east of Cistern A16. An accumulation of soil and stones detached from the walls and ceiling was found in the cistern. In the upper part of the accumulation were pottery sherds from the Mamluk period.
A17 (Site 29; Fig. 14). An irregularly shaped rock-hewn columbarium cave (Fig. 15) was excavated. A wide rectangular opening (c. 4 × 6 m), straight on its western and southern sides, was cut open in the cave’s ceiling (thickness 0.5–1.0 m); its eastern and northern sides had collapsed. Four natural entrance shafts were discovered in the cave’s ceiling; three were blocked, and only one was open. The bedrock walls of the cave were in a state of crumbling. Some 25 niches (average dimensions: 0.20 × 0.25 m, depth 0.2 m; see Figs. 14: Section 1–1; Fig. 16), which have eroded over the years, were hewn into the walls of the cave. The niches were found in several clusters with uneven intervals between them. A wall (length 3 m, max. width 0.7 m, height 0.5 m) built of fieldstones and preserved only one course high was revealed near the cave’s western wall. It blocked at least two of the niches. Horizontal spaces (at least 5 m long) were discerned in the western part of the cave, but access to them was blocked due to the collapsed rocks. Inside the cave was a homogenous accumulation comprising soil, stones and rock fragments that crumbled from the cave’s walls. In the upper part of the accumulation (thickness c. 1 m) were animal bones, mainly of mammals, pottery sherds from the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods and modern items, such as barbed wire. No finds were discovered in the bottom part of the accumulation (thickness c. 2 m). It seems that after the columbarium was no longer in use, shepherds and passersby stayed in the cave. Channels and cupmarks were hewn in the rock outcrop above the cave, to its north and south.
A18 (Site 43; Fig. 17). A rock-hewn winepress (Fig. 18) consisting of a treading floor, a round settling pit (diam. 0.35 m) and a rectangular collecting vat (depth 1.4 m) was discovered in a bedrock outcrop; the settling pit and collecting vat were connected by a short channel. Only the eastern part of the treading floor was preserved, though extremely worn. A light colored plaster floor (thickness 1–2 cm), founded on a dense layer of body sherds from the Byzantine period, was discovered at the bottom of the collecting vat. The plaster floor in the collecting vat may indicate that the winepress was converted for use as a pressing installation. On the same bedrock outcrop, north of the winepress, were 19 hewn cupmarks, mostt of them small (diam. c. 0.1 m, depth 2–3 cm).
A19 (Site 110). A small cave (width c. 3 m, height c. 2.5 m) that bore no traces of rock-cuttings or plaster on its walls was exposed. An accumulation of soil was discovered inside the cave. Pottery sherds from the Byzantine period were exposed in the upper part of the soil and sherds from the Iron Age were found in the bottom part of the soil.
A20 (Site 33). A crushing basin of an oil press (yam; diam. 1 m, thickness 0.8 m; Fig. 19) was found. Neither an oil press nor a quarry were identified nearby.
Area B
Twelve sites were discovered on the northern slope of a hill (26,000 sq m).
B1 (Site 20). A rock-hewn winepress was discovered. It consisted of a rectangular treading floor and an elliptical collecting vat (depth 1 m), which were connected by a channel. A small settling pit (depth 0.15 m) was hewn in the floor of the collecting vat. Also discovered at the bottom of the collecting vat was an opening of an underground channel (diam. 0.1 m) that led toward the southwest, possibly to a subterranean cavity. Several pottery sherds from the Byzantine period were found in the winepress.
B2 (see Fig. 20). Slightly to the south of Winepress B1 was a natural cave that was used as a refuse pit, possibly for refuse from the winepress. Several pottery sherds that date from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods were discovered.
B3 (Fig. 21). Seven steps descended to the opening of a rock-hewn cave. It seems that the cave was first used as either a ritual bath (miqveh) or a burial cave, and was later enlarged by quarrying. One Byzantine-period pottery sherd was discovered.
B4 and B5. Two rock shelters (max. height 1 m) were exposed; they were probably natural caves that were slightly enlarged by quarrying. Body sherds ascribed to the Byzantine period were found in the soil that had accumulated inside the rock shelters.
B6 (Site 22). Three cupmarks were hewn in a bedrock outcrop: two large ones (diam. c. 0.46 m, depth 0.3 m) and one small (diam. 0.12 m, depth 4 cm). The bedrock around large northern cupmark was leveled, possibly to accommodate a cover.
B7 (see Fig. 22). A natural cave with evidence of quarrying was partially excavated. It yielded two rock-hewn niches that had either been destroyed or were never completed. A layer of ash (thickness 0.3 m) rich in charcoal was discovered in the cave, indicating that the cave was used as a charcoal kiln or as a refuse pit for a nearby charcoal kiln. Several body sherds from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods and fragments of pottery vessels from the Ottoman period were discovered.
B8 (Fig. 23). A rock-hewn winepress was unearthed. It consisted of a square treading floor (depth c. 2 cm) and a rectangular collecting vat (depth 0.6 m), which are connected by a channel. The treading floor sloped northward, toward the collecting vat. A narrow channel extended northward from the northern side of the treading floor. A shaft (diam. 0.9 m, depth c. 2.5 m) was hewn in the eastern part of the collecting vat. A natural horizontal fissure (length 0.3 m, depth 0.3 m) was discovered about 1.4 m down the shaft. Due to safety concerns, the shaft was not excavated down to its base. Two non-diagnostic body sherds were discovered.
B9 (Fig. 24). A quarry on a bedrock surface was exposed. It comprised chisel marks and evidence of detached stones. The quarry walls were straight and its floor was level. Shallow rock-cuttings, possibly a winepress, were discerned in the northeastern corner of the quarry. Several body sherds from the Byzantine period were found.
B10. A quarry with chisel marks and severance channels was exposed.
B20. A boulder partially carved into a collecting container (inner diam. 0.55 m, outer diam. 0.8 m, height c. 0.8 m; Fig. 25) was found on the hillside near the quarry. The carving was unfinished and irregular, and the walls were of uneven thickness; part of the boulder remained unworked.
B21. A large open cave was discovered. It was examined and documented, but was not excavated.
The ceramic finds from the excavation date from a range of periods: Iron Age IIC, Hellenistic, Early Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Mamluk and Ottoman. Most of these finds were abraded and had seem to have been transported to the sites from further up the hillside. Thus they cannot date the remains that were discovered in the excavation, although they date the range of periods when human activity occurred in this area. Ceramic artifacts were discovered in situ only in the collecting vat of Winepress A18, where they were sealed beneath a layer of plaster. These sherds, ascribed to the Byzantine period, date the use of this winepress.
The sherds from the Iron Age IIC included bowls (Fig. 26:1–4), cooking pots (Fig. 26:7–10), a holemouth jar (Fig. 26:11) and a decanter (Fig. 26:12) that were discovered in Cave A6. Other bowls from this period were found in Caves A19 (Fig. 26:5) and A15 (Fig. 26:6). Small sherds dating from the Hellenistic period were found in Cave A6 (not drawn). The base of a bowl (Fig. 26:13) from the Early Roman period was discovered in Cave A16. Body fragments and the handles of pottery vessels from the Byzantine period were exposed (not drawn). A cooking pot (Fig. 26:14), handles of decorated jugs (Fig. 26:15, 16) and body fragments of handmade vessels decorated with paint (Fig. 26:17–21), all of which date to the Mamluk period, were recovered from inside Cisterns A14 and A16. Also found was a scant amount of Ottoman-period sherds. These included a broad shallow bowl with thick walls and a round rim, which was made of gray clay containing a large amount of coarse vegetal temper, which was fired at a low temperature (Fig. 26:22), and the handle of a Gaza jar (Fig. 26:23). A fragment of a grindstone made of metamorphic sandstone rich in iron oxides (Fig. 26:24) was found in Cave A14. It has one flat worn work surface and another surface that is convex with curved edges. The remains of modern hearths were found, alongside items dating from the twentieth century, such as barbed wire, an iron knife, pieces of glass and animal bones. Most of the very recent remains were found in Cave A17, which was the largest and most accessible cave in the excavated area.
The 33 sites excavated on the hills to the north and south of Neta‘ yielded numerous indications of ancient agricultural activity. Natural bedrock terraces on the hillsides were used as small cultivation plots. It was easy to hew installations in the bedrock outcrops of soft chalk and to adapt them for alternative uses. The installations were used for seasonal activities, such as processing of agricultural products and collecting runoff, as well as for extended activities, such as raising doves and producing lime and charcoal. The two buildings that were discovered were apparently field towers meant for guarding the cultivated plots and orchards. The numerous cupmarks of various sizes were used to produce food and process materials as part of household activities.
Since the agricultural area was situated not far from the surrounding settlements, the workers did not have to stay there; consequently, neither dwellings nor a large amounts of pottery sherds characteristic of residential activity were discovered. The ceramic finds from the excavation were meager and mostly worn; the majority date from the periods when there was human activity in this area. Remains from most of the periods to which the pottery was dated were discovered in the nearby settlements. Remains from the Iron Age were revealed at Tel ʽEton, Tell Beit Mirsim, Khirbat en-Nusrani and Horbat Benaya. The remains at Tel ʽEton and Tell Beit Mirsim date from the Iron Age IIB, when thee settlements were urban. The installations discovered in the excavation were used in a later, more rural phase, during the Iron Age IIC. Hence, the agricultural installations at Neta‘ are evidence of the dispersion of the population in the Iron Age IIC from cities to villages.
Changes made in the installations indicate that the residents in the area returned to them multiple times over the years. The treading surface in Winepress A1 was severed by a curved rock-cutting that put it out of use. Cistern A16 was filled with stones. A wall in the columbarium cave (A17) canceled two of its niches. Modern remains discovered in Cave A17 indicate that it was used by shepherds centuries after it stopped being used for its original purpose as a place for raising doves. Niches as well as a layer of ash and pieces of charcoal were revealed in Cave B7, suggesting that the cave had been adapted for use as a charcoal kiln or a refuse pit. A rock-cutting in Quarry B9 probably indicates the intent of converting it into a winepress. Cave B3 seems to have been used either as a ritual bath (miqveh) or as burial cave, and was enlarged by quarrying in a later phase. The plaster on the floors of the collecting vats in Winepresses A12 and A18 suggests that they were modified for use as pressing installations, although the plaster served to repair errors made due to the deep quarrying that mistakenly cut through the rock and reached the soil. Numerous shafts were leading into underground caves were found in the excavation areas. These openings were blocked with large boulders probably in order to prevent people and animals from falling into them. It seems that this was done by modern shepherds who frequented the place until recently.