During May–June 2007, a trial excavation was conducted at the Melilot site (Permit No. A-5135; map ref. NIG 1615/5878; OIG 1115/0878), following the discovery of archaeological remains in probe trenches that were dug along the planned route of the Be’er Sheva‘–Netivot railroad track. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Israel Railway Authority, was directed by P. Nahshoni, with the assistance of Y. Lender (administration), M. Kunin (surveying), the Sky View Company (aerial photography), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology) and laborers from Rahat.
The site is situated northwest of Nahal Gerar (Fig. 1), c. 1.5 km southwest of Tel Haror and c. 3 km southwest of the Gerar site. Pits and underground cavities are easily dug in the indigenous loess soil and the proximity of water in Nahal Gerar, as well as an annual rainfall of c. 300 mm, enables subsistence on agriculture of growing grains and raising livestock.
Four squares were opened, revealing settlement remains that were attributed to the Besor culture, which is dated to the pre-Ghassulian Chalcolithic period (Fig. 2). Due to the limited excavation area it was impossible to determine the boundaries of the site; however, it seems to extend south and east of the investigated area. Three phases of activity were identified at the site.
The remains from the earliest phase consisted of at least two pits that were dug and lined with mud bricks: a large elliptical pit (L116/L136; diam. 4 m, thickness of mud-brick lining 0.25–0.30 m, preserved height 0.9 m) in the center of the excavation and a pit that was probably elliptical (L139; min. thickness of mud-brick lining 0.4 m, preserved height c. 0.6 m) in the northwestern part of the excavation area. Pottery and stone vessels, as well as flint implements (Fig. 3), were found on the bottom of the pits; the artifacts in Pit 139 included a concentration of grinding stones. A section of a mud-brick wall (W3; length c. 4 m, width c. 0.3 m, preserved height 0.3 m) was exposed southeast of the pits. Since no evidence of the pits’ roofing was found it seems that perishable materials, such as branches of bushes or trees, were used for this purpose.
The lined pits were sealed with a rich habitation level (Loci 106–108, L122), which was overlain with a concentration of stones that could be the remains of installations, as well as fragments of pottery and stone vessels and flint tools. The habitation level reflected continuous and prolonged activity that transpired in an open area. A secondary burial of a child, five to ten years of age (L135; Fig. 4), was interred in this level (L106) and ascribed to the latest phase at the site.