During October–November 2002 trial and salvage excavations were conducted along the route of the Cross-Israel Highway, in the western outskirts of Baqa el-Gharbiya and east of Horbat Kosit (Permit No. A-3744; map ref. NIG 202250/702907; OIG 152250/202907). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Cross-Israel Highway Company, was directed by A. Gorzalczany, with the assistance of K. Sa‘id, D. Barkan, M. Tabber and L. Yihye (area supervision), ‘A. a-Salam Sa‘id and A. Shadman (preliminary inspections), S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), T. Sagiv (photography), V. Essman, V. Pirsky and T. Kornfeld (surveying), M. Shuiskaya-Arnov (drawing), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), N. Katsnelson (glass), Y. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory) and H. Abu Fana and A. Mas‘ud (mechanical equipment). Z. Horovich, E. ‘Awawdy, E. Yannai, Z. ‘Abbas and Y. Mor (Gadish Company) provided additional assistance.
Area A. Remains of a poorly preserved square building (4 × 4 m), whose walls were thick (1.0–1.2 m) and built of irregular indigenous stones, were exposed. Floors associated with the building were not found. Potsherds dating to the fourth–fifth centuries CE were discovered. The building was probably a field tower or a watchman’s booth.
Area B. Two main strata were discerned.
Stratum II. Numerous rock-hewn installations, possibly quarries or preparation for tombs, were found. A staircase in the western part of the area led to two burial shafts sealed with roll stones, which were not excavated. The main find consisted of a cemetery, which included six rectangular burial structures (average dimensions 2.5 × 3.5 m) aligned southeast–northwest, attributed to the Late Roman period. One of the burial structures (Fig. 1) was accessed by way of a staircase that consisted of seven plastered steps, descending eastward and turning at a right angle to the south. The steps led to an entrance threshold equipped with doorjambs of dressed stones. A socket for a missing door pivot that contained bronze remains, probably belonging to it, was in the western side of the threshold.
A hall to a mausoleum (2 × 2 m) was exposed south of the entrance. The walls of the structure were constructed from gray-plastered ashlar stones and a debesh core. Stone-built benches were preserved along its eastern and western walls. A doorway blocked by alluvium, which led to an arcosolium that was not excavated, was discerned in the southern wall.
A further entrance to a similar burial structure (1.5 × 1.5 m) was discerned, with an in situ roll stone at its end. Hewn stone benches were noted along its western and eastern walls. A small niche for an oil lamp was discerned in the ashlar-built western wall. An intact lamp, dating to the second century CE, was found in the fill above the stone bench. In addition to these burial structures, two rock-hewn cist tombs, covered with stone slabs and oriented along the same axis as the burial structures, were exposed. The only artifact recovered from the cist tombs was an intact juglet.
Stratum I. Fieldstone-built floors and work surfaces bonded with gray-white mortar were excavated. A large quantity of potsherds, dating to the fourth–fifth centuries CE, was found on the floors, as well as in several refuse pits, including a Type I Samaritan oil lamp, juglets, many jars, glass vessels and c. 20 bronze coins. Numerous industrial tesserae were also scattered in the area.
Area C. Remains of a cave and a plastered bell-shaped cistern that had been converted to a quarry (Fig. 2) were found; both were devoid of diagnostic finds. A burial complex (Fig. 3), which consisted of a rectangular shaft (L507), leading to two sealed burial caves (Loci 508, 509) that were not excavated, was also exposed.
The architectural plan of the burial structures was both complete and meticulously finished. The large number of jars and tesserae indicate that the cemetery was transformed into an industrial zone during the Byzantine period. If the caves in the western part of the area are shaft tombs, the occupation of the site had probably begun in an earlier period.