The Western Area (ZW)
The courtyards of two burial caves, six cupmarks, three rock-hewn installations and a natural cave were exposed in the western area (c. 50 × 100 m; Fig. 2). The excavation in the natural cave was not completed following the objection of ultra-orthodox adherents after human bones were discovered.
Burial Cave Courtyards. Two courtyards (L101, L102; Fig. 2: Section 1–1) quarried in the northern facade of burial caves were exposed in the northern part of the excavation area. Courtyard 101 (c. 2.0 × 2.2–3.2 m, max. depth 1.5 m; Fig. 3) was hewn on a rocky slope; a square opening (0.8 × 0.8 m) that was sealed with a stone slab was installed its southern wall. Courtyard 102 (c. 2 × 5–3 m, max. depth 1.3 m; Fig. 4) was hewn in the bedrock slope, c. 3.7 m west of Courtyard 101. It seems that a rectangular opening was planned in its southern wall, but its quarrying was left unfinished, and the opening remained square (c. 0.8 × 0.8 m); a deep depression south of the facade may have deterred the quarrymen from hewing out the cave itself, as it would have entailed leaving a natural opening in its ceiling.
Cupmarks. Six cupmarks (Nos. 1–6; diam. 0.1–0.2 m, depth 0.1 m) were hewn in the bedrock surface above the facade of Cave 101.
Installations. Three installations (L103, L104, L106) were hewn west and southwest of the burial caves. Installation 103 (c. 1 × 2 m, depth 0.6 m; Fig. 5) was rectangular, and its eastern part was connected to what appeared to be a natural channel (L105; length 10 m, average width 0.15 m, average depth 0.3 m); the installation may have drained rainwater by way of the channel. Installation 104 (diam. 0.9–1.1 m, depth 0.7 m; Fig. 6) was elliptical and was also equipped with a drainage channel. Installation 106 (0.15 × 0.30 m, depth 0.15 m; Fig. 7) was rectangular and rather small; an unfinished perforation in its northwestern corner prevented water from draining from it.
Natural Cave (L107; Fig. 2: Section 2–2). A natural cave was discovered in the southern part of the excavation area. The cave had a natural opening (width 0.9–1.1, height 0.8 m; Fig. 8) that led to an elongated space (length c. 5.5 m, average width c. 1.2 m, height to the top of the fill 0.9 m; Fig. 9). A partition noted at the southern end of the cave seems to divide it into two spaces; the cave’s interior was found filled with soil. Unarticulated human bones were discovered in a trial square. Other finds included two cooking pot fragments (Fig. 10:1, 2) from the Hellenistic period; a bowl (Fig. 10:4), cooking pots (Fig. 10:5–7) and an amphora (Fig. 10:8) from the Early Roman period; and a decorated sherd (Fig. 10:22) from the Mamluk period. Since the bones were not articulated and the ceramic artifacts were not discovered in a clear stratigraphic context, these objects may have originally come from a nearby burial cave, whose contents were re-deposited in this cave.
The Eastern Area (ZE)
The antiquities exposed in the eastern area (40 × 80 m; Fig. 11) included two quarries, five small installations, a winepress and two burial caves, one of which was hewn beneath the winepress. It was impossible to excavate the burial caves due to religious opposition.
Quarries. Two shallow quarries consisting of a single quarrying step (L111, L115) were unearthed. Quarry 111, which was discovered in the western part of the excavation area, comprised two parts (111A—c. 1.5 × 2.2 m; 111B—c. 1.1 × 1.4 m; Fig. 12). The depth of the quarrying in both of its parts was 0.4 m. The quarry was probably used to produce building stones for local construction. Quarry 111 was covered with alluvium that had accumulated after the quarry was no longer in use. The ceramic finds in the alluvium included a Byzantine-period jar sherd (Fig. 10:15).
Quarry 115 (Fig. 13) was uncovered in the eastern part of the excavation area. It was used to produce large blocks that were split into building stones. Judging by the negatives left in the quarry’s bedrock surface, it was possible to estimate the average dimensions of some of the blocks (length 1.2–1.3 m, width 0.5–0.6 m, height c. 0.4 m); blocks c. 1.9 m long were produced in the eastern part of the quarry. Severance channels (width 0.1 m, depth 0.1 m) were noted in the corners of the quarry.
Installations. Five rock-hewn installations (1–3, L109, L118) were discovered. Of these, four were rectangular depressions of various seizes (1–3, L109). Installations 1–3 (length 0.7–0.8 m, width 0.40–0.45 m, depth 0.3 m; Fig. 12) were found near Quarry 111; their purpose remains unclear. Installation 109 (c. 1 × 2 m; Fig. 14) was not excavated. It might have been the entrance shaft to a tomb, similar to the opening that led to a cave that was hewn beneath the winepress (below), or it could be shallow like Installation 103 in Area ZW (see Fig. 2). Installation 118 was elliptical (length c. 0.7 m, width 0.3 m, depth 0.15 m).
Winepress (Fig. 15). The installation comprised a rectangular treading floor (L114; c. 3.2 × 3.8 m, height 0.4 m) and a rectangular collecting vat (L112; 1.05 × 1.90 m, depth 1.8 m; Fig. 16) to the north. A stone shelf (width 0.6–0.7 m, 0.4 m above the floor level), where grapes were probably placed prior to pressing, was fashioned in the western part of the treading floor. Three small cupmarks were hewn in the treading floor: one round cupmark (diam. 0.15 m, depth 0.1 m) in the northeastern corner; and two square cupmarks (0.10–0.15 × 0.10–0.15 m), one in the middle of the treading floor’s eastern wall and the other near the center of the floor. The must flowed from the treading floor to the collecting vat through a channel (length 0.5 m, width 0.1 m, depth 5 cm) that was hewn in the middle of the floor’s eastern wall. In the southern corner of the collecting vat were three rock-cut steps that probably led down into it.
Most of the ceramic finds from the winepress was discovered in the soil fill that covered the treading floor. The finds range in date from the Hellenistic period to the Early Islamic period, and include a lamp (Fig. 10:3) from the Hellenistic period; a krater and jar (Fig. 10:10, 11) from the Late Roman period; a krater (Fig. 10:12) and two Gaza-type jars (Figs. 10:13, 14) from the early Byzantine period; a krater and a jar (Fig. 10:16, 18) from the late Byzantine period; and a krater (Fig. 10:19) from the Early Islamic period. Another krater (Fig. 10:21) from the Early Islamic period was found in the collecting vat (L112).
Burial Caves. Two loculus caves were examined. One, which was only documented, was hewn beneath the treading floor of the winepress (not on the plan). Its opening was fixed in the southern wall of the winepress’ collecting vat (Fig. 16), after the latter was no longer in use. The cave consisted of at least one room that extended over a larger area than the treading floor above it. Three loculi (Fig. 17) were hewn in the room’s southern wall, and at least one loculus was discerned in its eastern wall.
Another burial cave (L110, L116, L117; Fig. 11: Section 1–1) was hewn southeast of the winepress. The cave had a rectangular opening that faced north (0.7 × 1.0 m). Steps led down from the opening to an elliptical chamber (L110; diam. 2.6–3.0 m, max. depth 1.75 m). In the southeastern corner of the cave was a hewn loculus, whose ceiling was at the same elevation as the ceiling of the chamber (L117; 0.7–0.9 × 2.3 m, height 0.8 m; Figs. 18, 19); the loculus was blocked by fieldstones. Another, broad loculus, which was blocked with slab-like fieldstones, was located at the bottom of the southern wall (L116; Fig. 19). The most important finds from the cave were discovered in the soil that filled the cave’s interior: a jug (Fig. 10:9) from the Early Roman period, a jar (Fig. 10:17) from the end of the Byzantine period and a krater (Fig. 10:20) that dates to the late Byzantine period and the beginning of the Early Islamic period.
The rock-hewn remains on the slope are indicative of industrial-agricultural activity linked to a nearby site, probably Khirbat Badd el-Banat south of the excavation area. This site was apparently the provenance of the pottery discovered in the alluvium that covered the remains uncovered in the excavation. The finds range in date from the Hellenistic period to the Early Islamic period and were devoid of any stratigraphic context; hence, they do not necessarily reflect the time when the remains were built or used. The human bones that were discovered in the natural cave (L107) were found scattered, and they too cannot help in determining when the cave was in use. Nevertheless, it seems that the burial complexes and industrial installations were used during one or more of these periods.
The stratigraphic relationship between some of the remains in Area ZW may be of help in determining their date. The two loculus caves are dated typologically to the Early Roman period. Consequently, we can conclude that the winepress collecting vat (L112) from which one of the burial caves was hewn is earlier. Thus, the winepress may have been installed in the Hellenistic period. The phenomenon of burial caves prepared below winepresses that were no longer in use is known in the Judean Shephelah (S. Gendler and P. Betzer, pers. comm.) and in the region of the Hebron hill country (Baruch 2002). It seems that the elliptical-shaped interior of the second loculus caveindicates that this space was used prior to hewing the burial niches in its walls. The jug from the Early Roman period that was discovered inside the cave (Fig. 19:9) remained from the time when the cave was used for burial.