In November 2017 and April 2018, two salvage excavations were conducted in Compound C in Be’er Shevaʽ (Area A—Permit No. A-8136, map ref. 180425–66/571941–3; Area B—Permit No. A-8273, map ref. 180413–56/571934–61). The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Be’er Shevaʽ Municipality, were directed by D. Eisenberg-Degen (field photography), with the assistance of A. Alamor (administration), M. Kahan (surveying and drafting), V. Lifshits and E. Aladjem (drone photography), Y. Abadi-Reiss (flints and Chalcolithic finds), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (finds drawing), C. Amit (studio photography), I. Reznitsky (coin cleaning), M. Smilanski (flint drawing) C. Hersch (glass drawing) and S. Talis (Iron Age finds). With thanks to T. Sapir, S. Tsur, T. Erickson-Gini, Y. Levi and A. Inbar.
Area A (Fig. 3). Three pits dug in the ground in Iron Age IIB (L109, L113, L114; eighth century BCE) and walls that probably belonged to a Byzantine-period building (fourth–early seventh centuries CE) were unearthed. In addition, a few Chalcolithic potsherds and flint tools were found scattered in a deposit consisting of a layer of fill used to level the compound following the removal of the fuel depot.
The three pits (diam. 1.1–1.8 m; Fig. 4) were dug in the natural loess and were found to be filled with soft gray soil. The pits yielded meager finds—animal bones and Iron IIB potsherds (eight century BCE; see Fig. 12). Only the upper part of the fill in Pit 109 contained a few Byzantine potsherds (see Fig. 13). Since only the bottom part of each pit was preserved, the habitation level during the Iron Age was probably at a higher elevation than the one in which the pits were discovered (262.8 m asl), but it was not preserved. It may have been removed while preparing the area for construction in the Byzantine period.
Three building phases from the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries CE) were identified. In the earliest phase, four walls were built of wadi pebbles (W2, W4, W6, W7); Walls 4 and 6 were built directly over the Iron Age pits. In the second phase, four more walls were built (W1, W3, W8, W9), also with wadi pebbles. Wall 1 was built over Pit 109 (Fig. 5). Wall 2 became obsolete in this phase, and its upper courses were dismantled. Wall 9 was evidently built over W7, but it is not clear whether W7 was also rendered obsolete. Roughly hewn chalk stones were incorporated in W1 and W3. A square block of chalk that probably served as a doorjamb was visible to the south of the west part of W1. Although it was found ex situ, the entrance seems to have been in the west section of W1. In a later phase, the building was abandoned, and the area was filled with a thick layer of building stones (L103). This layer contained numerous fieldstones and wadi pebbles and abutted the lower course of a wall (W5) belonging to the final Byzantine construction phase that abutted the north part of Wall 3 from the west. This is apparently a layer of collapse or deliberate fill. Several Roman potsherds (see Fig. 14) were retrieved from the stone collapse, as well as mosaic tesserae, pottery, glass fragments and a carved bone handle (Fig. 6), dating from the Byzantine period. The collapse destroyed the southwest part of W1 and probably also destroyed the habitation level from the two earlier Byzantine-period building phases. The habitation level to which W5 belongs was destroyed in modern times.
This area contained building stones, Byzantine, Iron Age and Chalcolithic pottery and Roman and Byzantine glass fragments, as well as modern glass fragments. A fourth-century CE coin (IAA 152761) and modern refuse were also retrieved from the surface layer.
Area B (Fig. 7) delimited on the north by a heap of fill and refuse, on the east by a defunct cesspit (4.2 m), and on the west by a foundation trench dug mechanically by the developer to build a new retaining wall, before the work was halted. Eight walls and two installations were excavated; these can be divided into four construction phases (1–4) dating from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.
Phase 4 (the earliest phase; Fig. 8) comprised two installations (L210, L211). Installation 211 was simple and built of irregular limestones placed upright on their narrow edges. The lower part of these stones was sunk into the habitation level. A layer of gravel in the north balk of the square, near Installation 211, indicates that the surface had been leveled prior to the construction of the installation; the elevation of the habitation level was determined according to the base of Installation 211. Installation 210 was round (diam. 2 m) and built of wadi pebbles. It was enclosed by two walls (W50, W80), built as a single element. The bases of the walls and the installation were c. 1.2 m lower than the level of the floor at that time, and they may be the remains of a granary.
Phase 3. During this phase three walls (W10, W60, W70) were built, and the walls and installations of the earliest phase went out of use. Wall 10 was built over W80 and above Installation 210. Walls 60 and 70 create a corner of the building, which extended westward. All the walls were constructed of wadi pebbles and flint nodules, some of which were worked. Along the inner face of W70 was a single row of roughly hewn limestones (Fig. 9), possibly a foundation for a wall or a bench. The habitation level of this phase was not identified, probably because it was removed in later building phases.
Phase 2. A new wall (W20) and a pit (L201; diam. 0.3 m) beside the wall are ascribed to this phase. The pit—found full of soil which contained a few charred seeds, was delimited by limestones on either side and was dug down from an elevation identical to that of the habitation level.
Phase 1 saw the construction of two walls (W30, W40). A rectangular area (0.3 × 1.1 m, 2 cm thick) extending in a southwesterly direction was identified beneath W30; it consisted of a dark sediment that included charred twigs. The nature of the activity that left this stain on the ground is unclear. A grinding stone found beside Wall 10 indicates that the wall continued to exist even after the habitation level was raised at some point after the wall’s construction. The remains of this phase are poorly preserved as a result of modern disturbances.
The walls can be dated based on the finds from Installation 210, of the earliest phase—glass shards (not drawn), potsherds and tesserae dating from the Byzantine period—which reflect the end of the installation’s operation and the end of the use of W50. A few Early Islamic potsherds were found throughout the area, with a slightly larger concentration in its eastern part. Based on these finds, the walls can be dated to the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The Iron Age and Roman-period pottery and Chalcolithic pottery and flints were found in later settlement strata, but are not associated with any clear architectural remains or occupation levels.
Chalcolithic Period (Figs. 10, 11). Several Chalcolithic finds were retrieved from the excavation. A dozen diagnostic potsherds were found in the two excavation areas: four fragments of V-shaped bowls (Fig. 10:1) with a red ‘lipstick’ band on the rim, two bowls with a straight rim protruding in both directions (Fig. 10:2), three bases of bowls (Fig. 10:3), a krater with a thickened rim (not drawn), a fragment of a churn decorated with red with a handle that is triangular in section (Fig. 10:4) and a finger-impressed strap handle (Fig. 10:5). The excavation also yielded pottery made of a light orangish fabric with large, coarse grits and potsherds made of levigated raw material with fine grits, up to 1 mm in size. The nature of the raw material and the variety of vessel types are consistent with finds from the Chalcolithic Ghassulian period known in the Be’er Sheva‘ Valley.
The flint items retrieved in the excavation are typical of the period and resemble flint assemblages from nearby excavations in Compound C and at the site of Bet Eshel Street (Gil‘ad et al. 2004). The tools include a narrow, backed sickle blade (Fig. 11:1), a notch on a flake (Fig. 11:2) and an unusual, heavy-duty tool (Fig. 11:3). The debitage consists of a few flakes (not drawn) and blades (Fig. 11:4–7) and is strikingly similar to the debitage from the site of Bet Eshel Street (Gil‘ad et al. 2004). The Chalcolithic flint collected during the excavation consisted of two cores—one for the production of flakes, the other for the production of both flakes and blades with a single striking platform (Fig. 11:8)—and two hammerstones: one round and made of flint (Fig. 11:9), the other slightly elliptical and made of limestone (Fig. 11:10).
Iron Age IIB (Figs. 12, 13). The Iron Age IIB pottery retrieved from the pits and the overlying fill included a bowl (Fig. 12:1) with straight, thin walls, whose upper part slants slightly inward and lower third is carinated, with burnishing and red slip on the interior and exterior; a rounded bowl (Fig. 12:2) with a carination at mid-wall and a thickened everted rim, of a type that is extremely common in numerous eighth-century BCE sites in Israel (Zimhoni 2004:1793; Singer-Avitz 2016:589–590); a bowl (Fig. 12:3) with a round, thickened rim that is red-slipped on the interior and on the outer rim; deep closed kraters (Fig. 12:4–6) with an upright wall, a rounded carination at mid-wall, and an everted (sometimes inverted) thickened rim. The tradition of straight-walled kraters began in Iron Age IIA and continued into the eighth century BCE, although they were not common during this century (Zimhoni 2004: Pl. 26.29:17). Also retrieved were rounded cooking pots with a squat body, a slight carination in the center of the vessel and a protruding ridge at the base of the rim; one (Fig. 12:7) has an elongated rim, the other (Fig. 12:8)—a rounded rim, thickened rim on the interior. Cooking pots of this type have been found at numerous sites in strata dating from the eighth century BCE (Singer-Avitz 2016:1794, Pls. 12.15:7, 12.28:12). The excavation also yielded a holemouth jar (Fig. 12:9) with a thickened everted rim, of a type that first appears in Iron Age II and developed into one of the most common vessels at Judahite sites by the end of the period (Zimhoni 2004: Pl. 26.5:9–13; Singer-Avitz 2016: Pl. 21:9); and two rims of jars with a long, thickened neck (Fig. 12:10, 11). Although it is impossible to specify the types of these jars, but they may be lmlk jars—a type commonly found at Judahite sites in Iron Age IIB. Another jar, without a neck (Fig. 12:12), probably belongs to a type that originated in the southern coastal region (Singer-Avitz 2016:615–616) and is found in two variants (D, E) in Strata III and II at Tel Lakhish (Lachish; Zimhoni 2004:1799–1803). A cut rim of single pithos (Fig. 12:13) has a narrow mouth, forming a diagonal shelf on the interior and a sloping shoulder—similar to the most common type of pithos in Judah, which was classified as SJ-15 at Tel Be’er Sheva‘ (Singer-Avitz 2016:619-620). Jugs (Fig. 12:14–16), decanters (Fig. 12:17, 18) and juglets (Figs. 12:19, 20) were found, some resembling vessels discovered in Strata III–II at Tel Be’er Sheva‘ (Singer-Avitz 2016: Pls. 12.3:11, 12.7:9, 12.18:8, 12.21:15) and in Strata III at Tel Lakhish (Zimhoni 2004: Pl. 26.51:4).
The site’s Iron IIB pottery assemblage contains vessels characteristic of Judahite sites during this period. Most of them resemble examples from Strata III–II at Tel Be’er Sheva‘ and from Stratum III at Tel Lakhish that have been dated to the eighth century BCE.
Roman Period. A few potsherds from the site date from the Late Roman period. They include a cooking pot with a twisted horizontal handle (Fig. 13:1), an oil lamp (Fig. 13:2) and a Terra Sigillata bowl (Fig. 13:3).
Byzantine Period. The excavation recovered numerous Byzantine-period potsherds, represented mainly by Gaza Ware jars (Fig. 13:4) and bag-shaped jars (Fig. 13:5). A few sherds of tableware were found, including imported dishes, such as a Late Roman C/Phocaean bowl (Fig. 13:6), and local ware such as a bowl with an everted infolded rim (Fig. 13:7) and an applied thumb-impressed decoration. Cooking ware was also retrieved, consisting of casseroles (not drawn) and lids (Fig. 13:8).
Early Islamic Period. Early Islamic potsherds found in Area B include fragments of simple bowls (not drawn) and Kh. el-Mafjar pottery (Fig. 13:9). A fragment of a steatite vessel (Fig. 13:10) incised with a vegetal motif was also recovered. Steatite vessels are characteristic of the eighth century BCE (Nol 2014:14).
Another find was a fragment of a grinding tool (Fig. 13:11) made of kurkar stone with a flat working face. It is impossible to determine whether it comes from the Byzantine layer or the Early Islamic layer.
Although no Chalcolithic occupation layer was identified in the excavation, the items retrieved can clearly be associated with the Be’er Sheva‘ Ghassulian culture, as do sites excavated along Nahal Be’er Sheva‘ (Gil‘ad and Fabian 2008; Paz et al. 2014; Be’eri et al. 2017) and the large flint-production workshop unearthed at the nearby site of Bet Eshel Street (Gilad et al. 2004).
The remains found in previous excavations indicate the existence of an Iron Age settlement with monumental public construction and residential neighborhoods that fit an urban context. This excavation, however, yielded only pits. The phenomenon of pits dug and used during the Iron Age was identified in an excavation conducted to the south of Hebron Road (Talis and Seriy 2007). The site’s archaeologists suggested that the Iron Age site extended northward, and that the pits were confined to the southern fringes of the settlement. The current excavation strengthens the evidence of intensive activity in the city of Be’er Sheva‘ during the Iron Age. Alongside the Judahite typed ceramic vessels are a number of vessels which reflect the influence of the Southern coast culture. The Compound C ceramic assemblage, like that of Tel Be’er Sheva‘ included, alongside the local ceramics, vessel forms influenced by other cultures (Singer-Avitz 1999:53-54). During this period, Be’er Sheva‘and its surroundings enjoyed the proximity to a major east–west caravan trading route.
Despite the proximity of the site to the Byzantine-period city center, the architectural remains from this period are rather scant. The Byzantine settlement is represented in this excavation mainly by tesserae, coins, a bone handle, and the variety of glass fragments and potsherds. The limited extent of the excavation and the destruction of the site’s upper layers make it difficult to understand the nature of the structures that were unearthed. Nevertheless, the multiple walls and construction phases indicate a settlement continuum that lasted throughout the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.