During July 2007 an excavation was conducted in a development plot at Horbat Hammim (South; Permit No. A-5203; map ref. NIG 196705–98/644142–237; OIG 146705–98/144142–237). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by Mega Or Ltd., was directed by E.C.M. van den Brink (photography), with the assistance of S. Ya‘aqov-Jam and E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), L.K. Horwitz (archeozoology) and O. Marder (flints).
Prior to the excavation, the area was probed by mechanical equipment under the inspection of T. Kanias, revealing four sites with potential archaeological remains. Upon excavation, two of the four sites turned out to be natural, shallow bedrock pockets, filled with natural soil and devoid of any anthropogenic materials. The remaining two sites represented archaeological features within the limestone bedrock outcrop.
Rock-cut, circular installation (Fig. 1)
This seemingly isolated feature consisted of a large, circular and shallow rock-cut pit, with a slightly tapering wall and a flat floor (max. diam. c. 2 m, preserved depth c. 0.4 m). The pit was devoid of any diagnostic finds. Scores of similar stationary installations, some of which were tentatively dated to the Chalcolithic period or possibly even earlier, had been exposed in previous excavations at the nearby site of H. Hadat-Be’erit (HA-ESI 119). This type of circular installation, whose actual function is still being debated, was perhaps a threshing or grinding floor for grain.
Cave/water cistern (Fig. 2)
Located c. 6.5 m north of the installation, the sub-rounded to oval aperture in bedrock (max. diam. 0.8 m) led through a slightly oblique shaft into a manmade, rock-cut cavity that widened toward the bottom (max. diam. c. 3 m, depth 4.5 m). It was filled up to the brim with soils, swept in from the surrounding bedrock surface by rain and wind, mixed with large amounts of chalk fieldstones, potsherds, flints and animal bones. The absence of in situ finds on the floor of this cave indicates perhaps that it was not intended for dwelling or storage, but rather served as a water cistern. Another option is that after an initial use for dwelling or storage, the cave might have been adapted for the collection of rainwater. A rock-cut channel leading from the surrounding bedrock surface down to the opening of the cave/cistern seems to corroborate its usage as a water cistern. Traces of possible plaster were observed and sampled around the cistern’s opening interior. Since all the finds derived from fills in the cave/cistern, its dating is problematic. With the notable exception of two jar handles, which seem characteristic of Tel ‘Erani C or early EB IB horizon and were found in the upper level of the fill, i.e. still within the shaft proper, all other ceramics from the cave dated from the early EB I (EB IA). This very homogeneous assemblage suggests that its construction probably did not post-date the early EB I. However, it could have been quarried at the same time as the circular rock-cut installation, whose presumed date is the Chalcolithic period.
The pottery, flints and animal bones, recovered by sieving the entire cave/cistern’s fill, evince human occupation at the site as early as at least EB IA. Future analysis of the animal bones, which included cattle, equids, pigs, dogs and birds (Fig. 3), should provide a better insight into the paleo-environment and possibly into the diet of the people who lived in these environs during early EB I.
Relating to the cave/cistern, two other nearby caves, c. 40 m to the northwest, had previously been excavated (Permit No. A-4693) and contained some Gray Burnished Ware potsherds that are also dated to early EB I. Furthermore, four additional rock-cut pits, situated less than 30 m to the northwest of the present site, were recently excavated (Permit No. A-4913) and also dated to EB I. It would appear that the remains are part of a community of early EB I dwellers, who lived in the nearby caves, processed and stored their agricultural commodities, perhaps in the circular installation and rock-cut pits and during the winter possibly collected rain water in the rock-cut cistern.