Two excavation areas, Areas A and B, located c. 200 m apart, were opened up on the northern bank of Be’er Shevaʻ, in a hard conglomerate of streambed pebbles that was suitable for quarrying. In Area A, six excavated squares yielded quarried steps, a refuse pit and a hearth; the remains of pits were uncovered in trial trenches dug south of Area A. In Area B, six excavated squares exposed built steps and walls, and quarried underground chambers.
Area A (Fig. 2). A flight of eight quarried steps was unearthed (L113; Fig. 3), leading down to the west, away from the Nahal Be’er Shevaʻ riverbed. East of the steps, a refuse pit (L112; Fig. 3) containing some Iron Age II potsherds (not drawn), was found, and to its south, an ashy hearth was exposed (L109; Fig. 4).
In the trial trenches dug c. 50 m south of Area A, large quarried pits (length 10–15 m, depth 6–7 m; not on plan), with no evidence of plaster on their sides, were encountered. They were not accompanied by any building remains, and their function is not clear. Some Iron Age II and Hellenistic (second century BCE) sherds were retrieved in Area A, and in the quarried pits. The pottery may have come from a nearby building, or settlement associated with Tel Be’er Shevaʻ, a tell site that lies about a kilometer east of the excavation.
Area B (Fig. 5). To the east of Area B, several building walls were visible on the surface (not excavated; not in plan). An open area (L206) uncovered in the southern part of Area B may have functioned as a courtyard for these buildings. A flight of steps made of large stone slabs (designated W208; Fig. 6) led down from the open area (L206) into a basement level, with at least three underground cavities, one of which was excavated (L225). A stone wall (W209) built alongside the steps served as a retaining wall; it is not known whether there was originally a parallel wall on the other side of the steps.
A large underground, amorphic-shaped cavity (L225; 7.5 × 10.0 m, c. 5.0 m deep; Fig. 7) was quarried out of the hard pebble conglomerate; the remains of a hearth (L245) were discovered in a depression in its floor. In its western part, three clay ovens (L221–L223; Fig. 8) were built on top of collapsed debris from the underground cavity’s roof, indicating that the space continued to be used after the roof collapsed; a fourth oven was visible in the section. A wall was built (W205; Fig. 9) in the middle of Cavity 225, possibly to support new roofing. Following the construction of W205, six clay ovens (L224, L228, L230, L232, L239, L240; Fig. 10). were built east of the wall, probably relocating the cooking area here. Household pottery vessels found next to the ovens indicate that the ovens were used for cooking. A passage located between two walls (W215, W216; Fig. 7) led into a second underground cavity (L246; at least 5.0 × 10.0 m), only partially excavated as it lay beyond the excavation limits. A section cut in Cavity 246 showed that its roof and northern wall had disintegrated, probably rendering the cavity obsolete.
Subsequent to the excavation, a third underground cavity was discovered northeast of L246, where a c. 1 m deep layer of alluvium had accumulated on the floor. The entrance into this cavity, which was blocked up at some stage, was probably via L246.
The Hellenistic pottery assemblage retrieved in Cavity 225, and next to Staircase 208 comprised characteristic domestic vessels, including fish plates (Fig. 11:1, 2), bowls with incurving rims (Fig. 11:3–8), a Megarian bowl fragment (Fig. 11:9), cooking pots (Fig. 11:10–12), storage jars (Fig. 11:13–15), a small jar (Fig. 12:1), juglets (Fig. 12:2–5), an unguentarium (Fig. 12:6) and a lamp (Fig. 12:7). Also recovered were a stamped Rhodian amphora handle (Fig. 13:1), and a jar fragment bearing the end (?) of an incised inscription (Fig. 13:2). The amphora handle was found near Staircase 208, and it may have rolled there from the open area (L206).
Rhodian amphora handle
Donald T. Ariel
The excavation yielded a Rhodian amphora handle with a rectangular stamp on its upper part containing the Greek eponym Εὐτάκτου (‘of Eutaktos’; see Fig. 13:1). An owl clutching a lightning bolt in its talons appears below the name. The owl’s head divides the name into two parts, separating the two halves of the inscription. The owl and lightning are two well-known symbols on coins from Athens, and on other coins from the Hellenistic period. The two symbols appear on stamped Rhodian amphora handles only in association with the manufacturer Eutaktos. Another manufacturer, Dionysius, used a similar composition in which the owl clutches a caduceus in its talons. Jöhrens (2001:418, No. 197) proposed that the two manufacturers worked in similar periods and possibly in the same workshop; the stamp of Dionysius found in an assemblage in Pergamon is earlier than 180 BCE, leading Jöhrens to conclude that Eutaktos worked in the same period. Cankardes-Senol (2007:36) suggested dating Eutaktos’s work to the early first century BCE. Her theory was evidently based on the discovery of a similar handle in excavations at Alba Fucens (Diez 1980: Pl. 4:12) in Abruzzo (central Italy), where the assemblage is dated to the late second–early first century BCE.
The remains exposed in the excavation may be part of a satellite settlement of a large settlement that was located at Tel Be’er Shevaʻ (Aharoni 1979:224, Fig. 10). There is very little data on the settlement at Tel Be’er Shevaʻ, but it is known that a Hellenistic temple was located there (Aharoni 1974:84; Herzog 1993:172–173). The satellite settlements may have functioned as the agricultural hinterland of a settlement at Tel Be’er Shevaʻ, the agricultural areas extending west of the settlements established along Nahal Be’er Shevaʻ.
The quarried underground cavities may have been used as storage cellars, workshops, and possibly as summer dwellings below the superstructures. Based on the finds, the remains should be dated to the Hellenistic period.
Underground cavities from the Hellenistic period have been excavated at Maresha (Kloner 1996:8–11). Other Hellenistic-period settlements in the Negev include Tel Be’er Shevaʻ (Aharoni 1979:224), Tel ‘Ira (Fischer and Tal 1999), Tel ‘Arad (Aharoni 1993:85; Herzog 1997:249–250), Horvat ‘Uza (Beit Arieh 1993:1496–1497) and Tel Nizzana (Baly 1962). Hellenistic pottery has also been recovered from ‘Avdat and Haluza (Negev 1993:1133); Hellenistic remains were also found further north at Tel Hesi (Fargo 1993:634).
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