During June 1988 a survey and a trial excavation were conducted at H
orbat Qayit, c.
5 km east of Qibbuz Bet Guvrin (A-1547*; map ref. NIG 1959/6147; OIG 1459/1147), in the wake of arson that laid the surface bare. The survey and excavation were conducted on behalf of the Antiquities Authority (the Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1988), under the direction of S. Gudovitch and Y. Tepper.
Settlement remains across two gentle hills had previously been exposed at the site (c. 20 dunam; Kh. Umm el Qutn; SWP III:356). The survey identified settlement remains to the north and east of the 19th–20th century khan, which is located on the northern of the two hills. The remains included the tops of walls, cairns and rock cuttings, as well as numerous robber pits. At the northern part of the site c. 30 entrances to hewn caves, c. 10 plastered bell-shaped water cisterns, burial caves with loculi, a columbarium cave, two large caves with hewn silo installations (base diam. c. 1.6 m, depth c.1.8 m) and a stable were discerned. Pottery fragments dating to the Hellenistic period (few), the Roman and Byzantine periods (many) and the Middle Ages (few) were recovered from the site.
The excavation was undertaken in a hewn under-ground complex (Fig. 1; the plan was prepared according to a drawing of the excavators in the field and may therefore contain inaccuracies). It consisted of a stable (A) that was connected to a bell-shaped water cistern (B) and caves, containing silo installations (C, D, E), which were only surveyed, not excavated. The partitions that separated the underground cavities were subsequently breached and the cavities were converted into a refuge complex, which yielded mixed finds that ranged in date from the Hellenistic period until the end of the Byzantine period.
was hewn in the form of a rectangular hall (A; 4.2 × 7.2 m, height c.
2 m) that was entered from the north via a staircase (1; width 1.1 m). Construction and earthen debris subsequently blocked the entrance, though the stable can be accessed today by way of a breach in the western wall. A hewn wall (width c.
1 m) that consisted of three mangers (5–7; 0.5 × 0.9 m, depth 0.2–0.4 m, height of the walls above floor level 1.2 m) with arched ceilings, which were cut across the wall, divided the hall in two. An entrance (9; width 0.85 m) in the wall had hewn recesses in its doorjambs, indicating it could be sealed with wooden bars. The floor in the northern side of the hall slanted from the manger wall northward. Two channels (10, 13) hewn along the walls of the northern hall’s side drained it out via a passage (12) to the bell-shaped cistern (B). Two mangers (2, 3) flanked the original entrance to the stables and other rock-cut mangers were in the northwestern and southeastern corners of the northern hall (4, 11). Several holes were bored in the stable’s walls for tying up the horses (diam. 7–10 cm; 1.2–1.4 m above floor level in hall); one was located near each manger in the corners, and two were on the manger wall, near each crib. A rectangular cavity (8; 0.9 × 1.4 m, depth c.
0.3 m) was hewn into the floor of the northern hall and was probably used for preparing the horses’ fodder.
Two steps descended from the entrance in the manger wall to the southern side of the hall. The floor of the southern hall sloped down toward the passage (12) that drained it out into the bell-shaped cistern (B). The floor in the southern hall, near the manger wall, was covered with tamped kirton (max. thickness 0.18 m) that was deposited on bedrock and was probably intended to protect the horses’ hooves.
The Bell-Shaped Cistern
(B; diam. c.
5.5 m) was not fully excavated. A staircase (14) leading to the cistern extended along its wall. The top of the staircase was in a passage covered with stone slabs that continued above the manger wall in the stable. The cistern’s original opening is blocked today and therefore, its outline and dimensions are unclear. The cistern was probably used for collecting the urine and run-off from the stable that was utilized in processing skins and may even have been employed for fertilizing fields.
The last phase of the underground complex’s existence evidenced the entrances to the stable (1), the cistern and the cave with the silos (15) sealed off. Passages were breached between Chambers B, C, D and E and the hiding complex was accessed by way of a vertical shaft (16) at its eastern end that had a narrow tunnel, leading into the cave.
An assortment of potsherds from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods were found in the underground complex. The finds were insufficient for dating the complex and its different quarrying phases; generally, they reflected the chronological range of its use. Two operating phases were discerned in the complex. The first dated from the 1st century BCE until the middle of the 2nd century CE and the second dated to the Byzantine period.