Burials. Eighty-seven cist tombs and pit graves (average dimensions 0.8 × 2.0 m, depth 1.1–1.7 m) were discovered. They were dug in a northwest–southeast direction into a loess soil containing a high density of chalk conglomerate. The cist tombs were constructed of roughly hewn chalk and flint slabs that were placed in narrow trenches dug at the bottom of the graves. Two to four slabs (0.23–0.45 × 0.25–0.90 m, thickness 6–11 cm) were set along the longitudinal walls of the tombs, and one slab was inserted along each of the latitudinal walls. The tombs were covered with two to six stone slabs (0.35–0.57 × 0.44–0.90 m, thickness 8–10 cm), which were supported on the sides by small stones. Some of the tombs were covered with well-dressed chalk slabs (Fig. 4). Several of the cist tombs were paved with stone slabs. The pit graves were covered with roughly hewn stone slabs, mud-bricks or earth. One of the graves (L194; Fig. 5) was covered with mud-bricks that formed a gable.
Most of the deceased were placed in the funerary position characteristic of cist tombs in the Byzantine period, which was practiced by Christian populations: primary burial in a supine position, with the head in the west and slightly raised, the arms bent and hands folded on the abdomen or chest (Peleg 2009
). Six deceased were placed on their right side with their faces turned toward the south, as is the custom in Muslim burials (Gorzalczany 2007
). Funerary offerings dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods were discovered in the tombs. These included metal and glass jewelry, glassware, coins, bone items, figurines and alabaster objects. Remains of clothes and shoes made of cloth and leather were found on some of the deceased. Remnants of wooden coffins were discovered in a few of the pit graves (Fig. 6).
Incineration pits dug in the loess soil (Fig. 7) were discovered in the northwestern part of Area B. Several of the pits were dug next to each other, separated by earthen partitions (L185, L187–L189), and others were dug into earlier pits that were no longer in use (L184, L190, L191). Pottery vessels dating from the second century CE, metal and bone objects, glass vessels, organic material and animal bones were found at the bottom of the pits (Fig. 8). The walls of the pits and some of the contents in them were burnt and intentionally covered with soil. Thus, it seems that the finds were set afire and covered with soil after they had been discarded in the pit, perhaps as part of a mortuary ritual that was customary in the Late Roman period.
The tombs discovered in the excavation were used in the Roman and Byzantine periods and are probably part of the cemetery belonging to the settlement that was discovered south of Tel Malh
ata (HA 1979
; Eldar and Baumgarten 1993
). The construction of the tombs unearthed by Eldar and Baumgarten closely resembles that of the tombs unearthed in our excavation as well as other Byzantine-period tombs discovered at sites in the Negev (Nagar and Sonntag 2008
). The burial practices indicate that the cemetery, and perhaps the adjacent settlement, continued to be in use at the beginning of the Early Islamic period, as was the case, for example, in the large settlement of Rehovot-in-the-Negev that was abandoned only in the eighth century CE (Tsafrir 1988