During October–November 2003, a salvage excavation was conducted at Site 201 of the Cross-Israel Highway, near Horbat Gilan (Permit No. A-4005; map ref. NIG 20323–60/709839–10030; OIG 15323–60/209839–10030). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Cross-Israel Highway Ltd., was directed by A. Gorzalczany and J. Sharvit, with the assistance of S. Ya‘aqov-Jam and E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (photography), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), Y. Mor, E. Yannai, Z. Horovich and E. ‘Awawdy.
The site (Fig. 1) is located on the southern slopes of Ramat Menashe, along the northern bank of Nahal ‘Iron, slightly south of Horbat Gilan and east of Tel Esur. It lies in a region of extensive areas of chalk from the Menuha formation that are covered with a thin layer of nari and brown forest soil. At the site, which is situated inside the cemetery of adjacent Tel Esur, concentrations of rock-cuttings and installations were documented, among them hewn stones of various sizes, stones that were not completely quarried and abandoned at the site, as well as the negatives of ashlar stones. The quarrying sites are of different sizes; in some a single stone was cut and from others, many stones were extracted. Their outlines are square, rectangular or ribbed, with sharp breaks in the corners and straight walls.
The artifacts comprised a few ribbed and worn potsherds that probably date to the fourth–fifth centuries CE and one coin. The stonemasons were apparently interested in the layer of nari, which is easily extracted and quite suitable for quality construction. They did not continue down to the layer of soft chalk and instead, moved on to new areas. This explains the extensive distribution of the quarry along the top of the spurs south and north of Nahal ‘Iron.
A hewn elliptical (3.5 × 4.0 m) burial cave that was entered from the south through a narrow corridor that became wider on the inside was exposed. The burial chamber was lower than the entrance corridor and contained at least two burial phases that included numerous individuals, some in full anatomical articulation and others in secondary burial. It seems this was a family tomb that was used over several generations; its prolonged usage required the orderly removal of previous interments and offerings to the sides of the cave. The burial phases were sometimes separated by a stone pavement.
The cave was first used in Early Bronze IB (3300–3100 BCE) and continued until the later part of Early Bronze II. Articulated skeletons from the first burial phase were covered by the partial collapse of the cave’s ceiling. When burial was resumed, some of the collapse in the center of the cave was removed and older interments were removed sideways, to make room for the newly interred.
The funeral offerings included 119 counted pottery vessels, weapons, including a well-preserved bronze dagger from the last burial phase, several dozen beads of various materials, quartz or calcite and carnelian, and a bronze earring. Most of the beads were found during sifting of soil and therefore, it is impossible to ascribe them to the deceased; however, it seems they belonged to all phases of interment. Animal bones, mostly rodents, as well as several flint tools and flint debitage, were also found. A correlation was observed between the burial phases and the funerary offerings. During the early phase, jugs, juglets and teapots were common and bowls, which appear in the later phase, were absent.
The articulated position of some of the skeletons provided information regarding age, gender and other details. Preliminary assessment points to at least 60 individuals that were buried in the cave and ranged from infancy to old age (c. 60 years).
The cave was apparently part of the Tel Esur cemetery and its recovered artifacts are in keeping with the data we have today from excavations of other tombs at the site.