An agricultural complex (c. 100 dunams; see the location alongside Structure VI in Hirschfeld and Tepper 2006: Fig. 1), which was related to the dovecote, was identified in the current excavation. It contained a cistern, a field of small mounds on the slopes, and a field tower and dams in the streambed; an archaeological trench was excavated in each component of the complex. Evidence that was uncovered in the cistern, dam and tower, indicated that they were in use during the Byzantine period. The cistern remained in use into the modern era, and until the present. The remains that were exposed in the mound-field could not be dated. The excavation finds demonstrate association between the components of the agricultural system, most of them dated to the Byzantine period.
Cistern. Slightly east of the base of the dovecote was a rock-hewn cistern (more than 4 m deep, with a capacity greater than 200 m3) with an opening to the east; a dug channel that drained the runoff from the adjacent slopes led to the opening. On the western wall of the cistern was an engraving of a cross between two palm trees. The walls of the cistern were covered with gray-pink plaster over a base layer of gray mortar. Cracks in the walls were hewn to widen them, and filled with small stones and plaster. The cistern was accessible through a staircase along its eastern and southern walls. At the bottom was a layer of loess and modern refuse. The depth of this layer (c. 0.6 m; Fig. 1) was determined in a section at the northwestern corner. The floor of the cistern was hewn smooth and covered with gray plaster. A rock-cut step (over 0.7 m high) in the southern part of the section, testifies to the middle and southern parts of the cistern being deeper than the northwestern part. The finds on the floor of the cistern were mixed and included pottery from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Modern items discovered above the accumulation on the bottom of the cistern, show that the installation was used until the mid-twentieth century CE.
Dams. Northwest of the cistern, several dams were documented across the streambed that flows from south to north; some of the dams were covered with alluvium while others were exposed on the surface. The dams were constructed of an upper wall and a lower wall, with a fill of small stones and soil between them. Between the dams were cultivation plots in which loess had accumulated. The agricultural area was enclosed by a perimeter wall. One of the dams (width c. 2 m; Fig. 2), in the middle of the streambed, was excavated; its upper wall was two courses high, built of roughly hewn local stones. A section was excavated alongside the wall (depth 1.7 m) and four strata were documented in it: the top was gray colored topsoil (thickness 0.15 m); below it a stratum of light loess (thickness c. 1 m); the third was a strip of small stones; and the bottom stratum was loess (depth > 0.5 m). The lower wall of the dam sloped moderately, in the direction of the water flow. Six–seven courses (c. 1 m) were exposed. The width of the wall was of a single stone, and it seems that the manner of its construction allowed water to flow over it, thereby preventing the flow from undermining its foundation. In a section that was excavated perpendicular to the wall, a uniform deposition of loess was documented, divided into two levels (0.9 m, 1.2 m below the surface) of small roughly worked stones, probably indicative of streambeds carrying water and depositing fluvial material and silt. The levels were visible below the height of the dam’s foundations, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that they predate the construction of the foundations. The level of loess that was deposited above the dam postdates its construction, as does the top level that was identified in the topsoil; it seems that the accumulation of the loess is a direct result of the building of the dam. The ceramic finds from the surface level included several sherds from the Roman period, but mainly sherds that date to the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
Field Tower. A stone tower (outer dimensions 3.8 × 4.2 m, height 1.5 m; Fig. 3) was exposed on a high rock-terrace at the edge of the channel, west of the dam. The fences that enclosed the cultivation plots abutted the tower from the south and north. A trial trench was excavated across the width of the tower, next to its northwestern wall. At the top of the tower, next to a stone collapse, a hearth, which is indicative of a temporary presence after the tower was abandoned, was revealed. When excavating the top of the collapse, fallen voussoirs and the tops of pilasters that were used to support the arch were uncovered. The outer wall of the tower (width 0.7 m, height c. 1.5 m) was built of large roughly hewn stones along its outer face and small stones on its inner face. The floor of the tower was made of tamped earth that was founded on a bed of small stones overlying the bedrock. Two fragments of terra cotta pipes dating to the Byzantine period were found in the accumulations above the tower’s floor.
Field Mounds. Two types of stone heaps were identified along the slopes that drain into the streambed from the east, south and west: mounds (max. diam. 3 m; max. height 1 m) and long rows (max. length 100 m, max. height 1 m). The rock in the southern and eastern parts of the streambed was calcareous, and mounds of limestone were identified there. Numerous flint stones were scattered in the western part of the streambed, where flint mounds were identified. Loess was exposed beneath the mounds in both areas. Two mounds, one of flint and the other of limestone, were excavated. The flint mound (diam. c. 4 m, height 0.9 m; Fig. 4) to the west of the dovecote, had a trail several meters long in its western part. A north–south trench which was excavated through it demonstrated its uniform makeup, showing it to be made of numerous small flint stones with some indigenous loess. An east–west trial trench was excavated through the limestone mound (diam. c. 4 m, height 1 m; Fig. 5) on the slope east of the dovecote. Many small and medium size limestones and indigenous loess were found, in a larger concentration than in the flint mound; it seems that the mound piled up randomly. Beneath the limestone mound was a natural loess layer thickness 0.15 m) overlaying the bedrock. No datable artifacts were discovered in the excavation of the mound.
Components of an agricultural complex which were related to a dovecote were excavated. The dovecote produced more than one ton of high quality dove manure annually, which was used to improve the soil of the orchards and vineyards (Tepper 1986
; Tepper 2007
). The builders of the agricultural complex exploited the environmental conditions to the full. They collected soil erosion and runoff for the plots above the dams which were built in the streambeds, constructed dovecotes that produced high-quality manure for agriculture, and collected rainwater in cisterns that were hewn alongside them. Similar systems were established in Shivta since the Roman period and reached their zenith during the Byzantine period. Trial trenches in the cistern, the dams and the mounds did not yield any datable archaeological finds. Nevertheless, a comparative analysis of the sediments that were collected in these complexes using advanced research methods, may clarify their date and function.