In January 2019, a trial excavation was conducted in Quarter 5b in northwestern Arad (Permit No. A-8450; map ref. 217224–9224/573705–5279, Fig. 1) prior to construction of a neighborhood. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was directed by A. Levi-Hevroni, with the assistance of T. Sapir (area supervision), Y. Alamor (administration), A. Aladjem (surveying and drafting), D. Eisenberg-Degen (documentation of petroglyphs and photography), M. Shemer (flint processing), C. Amit (flint photography) and Y. Abadi-Reiss (scientific guidance).
The excavation area is situated among hills of loess and rock outcrop of limestone and flint. It yielded agricultural terrace walls, field walls and the remains of a field tower from the Byzantine–Early Islamic periods; a survey that accompanied the excavation documented petroglyphs.
Past surveys of the area documented terrace walls, field walls, a field tower, petroglyphs and flint items (License Nos. S-577/2017, S-775/2017, S-819/2017). Remains of a Byzantine-period village, as well as remains of dams, a farmhouse and animal pens were uncovered in an excavation conducted when the city of Arad was under construction (Gutman 1963).
Agricultural terrace walls. Thirteen walls, concentrated in three wadis, were excavated. The walls, which were built across the width of the wadi to create cultivation plots, were preserved to a height of 1–3 courses. Two construction styles were evident: walls built of two rows of large limestones with flint lenses and a core of medium-sized flint stones (Fig. 2); and walls built of two rows of large and medium-sized flint stones, some roughly worked (Fig. 3).
Field walls. Five field walls, built along the wadi, were unearthed. Two construction styles were evident: walls built of one row of medium-sized flint stones (Fig. 4); and walls built of two rows of large and medium-sized stones with a core of stones. In walls constructed of two rows of stones, the row close to the wadi was built of limestones, while the other row was built of flint stones (Fig. 5).
Field tower. In the upper part of the eastern slope of the hill was a rectangular structure built along a north–south axis. The structure consisted of three rooms of equal size (4 × 4 m; Fig. 6). The walls, which were built of two rows of large, naturally rectangular flint stones set on their narrow side, were preserved to a height of one course. No fill was found between the stones. The eastern wall was poorly preserved. Pottery sherds from the Byzantine–Early Islamic periods (not drawn) were found in the structure.
Eighty scattered petroglyph-bearing limestones were documented in the survey that accompanied the excavation (Fig. 7); some of the stones bore more than one phase of engraving. The technique used to form most of the petroglyphs was pecking, and only rarely were they formed by incision. Judging by their designs and the hue of the patina on the stones, the petroglyphs can be classified into three chronological groups.
The earliest group features foot- or sandal-print petroglyphs of various styles, either single or in pairs; a petroglyph featuring a single footprint (Fig. 8) was taken for Reflective Transformation Imaging documentation and is now stored at the National Treasures Department. These petroglyphs are dated to the Roman period based on similar petroglyphs found at Ramat Matred in the Negev Highlands (Eisenberg-Degen and Nash 2017), where they are accompanied by Thamudic (a North Arabian dialect) inscriptions. The documentation of these Roman-period petroglyphs in the survey area, in northwestern ‘Arad, is an important addition to those found in a survey of the eastern neighborhoods of the city (Eisenberg-Degen 2016), enriching our understanding of human activity in this region during the period. The Roman-period petroglyphs in northwestern ‘Arad are more numerous and densely distributed than those in the eastern part of the city.
The second chronological group comprises wasum—Bedouin family, clan or tribal markings—dated from the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s. Nine markings representing four different groups were identified (Fig. 9). Most of the markings have parallels in the eastern neighborhoods of ‘Arad (Eisenberg-Degen 2019); several of these markings were already documented at the end of the nineteenth–early twentieth centuries (Conder 1883).
The most recent group, dated to the last 50 years, consists mainly of Arabic inscriptions or symbols, such as a heart and numbers, and a few abstract signs. One stone bears a sandle-print petroglyph, possibly a renewal of an ancient engraving. The relatively small number of petroglyphs belonging to this later group attests to the reduction in Bedouin grazing activity due to the decrease in grazing land.
The flint items (N=14) were retrieved from a cluster of flint identified on the surface, except for a Lower Paleolithic (Acheulian culture) handaxe found in an agricultural terrace wall (W112). The handaxe (length c. 11 cm, width c. 8 cm, thickness c. 4 cm; Figure 10:1) is covered with a thick white patina; at some point the edge was broken or removed, and was repurposed as a striking platform from which an elongated flake was removed, perhaps to repair and reconstruct the convexity of the handaxe. The working edge of the stone was slightly worn, indicating that it lay exposed on the surface and was swept from its original place of deposit, albeit not over a long distance. Nevertheless, the handaxe does not attest to activity in the Lower Paleolithic near the excavation area. Its discovery in a built wall suggests that the stone served in secondary use at a much later period and may have been retrieved from a distant locale for this purpose.
The rest of the items are made of semi-translucent flint, brown-gray in color and covered with a whitish-gray patina. They include five flakes, one primary item with a cortex covering more than 50% of its dorsal side, a fragment of a core trimming element (ridge blade) and three tools, as well as one fragment and two chunks (smaller than 2 cm) that resulted from knapping. Also retrieved were 40 chunks of flint which bear no evidence of human modification. Among the tools is a fragment of a bifacial tool (Fig. 10:2; L141, B1031/1); a flake with a semi-abrupt back and a notch (Fig. 10:3; L141, B1031/2); and a borer made of a flake, whose edge was shaped by a semi-abrupt retouch (Fig. 10:4; L140, B1029/1). The retouch removed part of the patina on the item, which shows that it post-dates the patina. The items exhibited a medium–high degree of abrasion—blunting and breakage of their cutting edges—suggesting that they are not found in situ, and that their clustering was not the result of human activity. The great number of natural flint chunks may indicate the retrieval of raw material from one of the outcrops in the area.
Varied remains of human activity have been found in the wadis and hills near ‘Arad. The earliest find—a handaxe from the Lower Paleolithic—does not represent activity at the site but rather seems to be associated with utilization of flint outcrops identified in the vicinity. The petroglyphs from the Roman period attest to activity in the area during this period. The walls of agricultural terraces, the field walls and the field tower, dated to the Byzantine–Early Islamic periods, are evidence of a flourishing settlement during these periods.
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