During December 2003, an excavation was conducted within the precincts of the Hura township, next to a tributary of Nahal Yattir (Permit No. A-4050*; map ref. NIG 19495/57835; OIG 14495/07835). The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and sponsored by the Israel Land Administration, was directed by M. Haiman, with the assistance of V. Essman (surveying and drafting), A. Pikovsky (pottery drawing) and laborers from Yeruham.
The site had been surveyed within the Emergency Survey of the Negev at the beginning of the 1990s (Map of Nahal Yattir , Site 39). The excavation was conducted in a watchman’s hut (4.35 × 4.50 m; Fig. 1), located on the northwestern slope, overlooking a gentle valley where cultivation plots exist. The watchman’s hut was built atop an artificial terrace that consisted of a retaining wall, which stood one–three courses high (length 1 m) on natural bedrock and a fill of firmly tamped loess (thickness 0.2–0.5 m). The walls of the hut (width 0.65–0.90 m, height 0.6 m) were constructed from two rows of roughly hewn stones (length 1 m) with a fill core, which were preserved one–three courses high. The entrance to the hut (width 0.7 m) was installed in the northern wall. It included a stone threshold (length 1.2 m, width 0.4 m) and was flanked on either side by heavy stone doorjambs. Two floor levels were exposed.
The Lower Level (L102) was c. 0.2 m below the upper level and consisted of tamped loess mixed with crushed limestone (thickness of limestone 5 cm). The fill above the floor contained loess mixed with ash and numerous potsherds. A stone (length 0.8 m) found below the elevation of the threshold served as a step when descending into the watchman’s hut.
Seven tiny coins (nummi) below the floor level were found embedded in the tamped loess at the elevation of the base of the hut’s walls; six were close to the entrance, below the stone step, where it seems they were placed on purpose. They were poorly preserved and disintegrated upon removal.
The Upper Level (L101) was at the same elevation as the threshold stone in the entrance. A stone (0.4 × 0.4 m) that may have been used as a table was set in the northeastern corner of the structure. Loess fill mixed with ash and numerous potsherds was on the floor.
To the right of the entrance was the lower part of a jar (diam. 15 cm), embedded in the floor and filled with loess mixed with ash, indicating it may have been used as a hearth.
The rich pottery assemblage from both floor levels was diverse and contained North African Red Slip bowls (Fig. 2:1–3), dating to the sixth century CE, a cooking pot with an everted rim (Fig. 2:4), jugs and amphoriskoi (Fig. 2:5–8), dating to the fourth–sixth century CE and a stirrup jug (Fig. 2:9), dating to the sixth–beginning of the seventh century CE. The similarity between the ceramic assemblages of the two floor levels indicates they were contemporary; the upper floor (L101) was raised while the watchman’s hut was still in use. The ceramic assemblages and the date of the nummi, which did not precede the end of the fifth century CE, suggest that the watchman’s hut was used in the fifth–sixth centuries CE.
The structure is a typical watchman’s hut, characteristic of the Byzantine-period agricultural settlements in the Negev. It is known from similar structures excavated near Be’er Sheva‘ (HA-ESI 110:85*; 111:91*–92*) that watchman’s huts served agricultural activities performed by residents of urban settlements. The present watchman’s hut is c. 1.5 km northeast of Khirbat Hura from the Byzantine period and close to other watchman’s huts in the vicinity (Map of Nahal Yattir , Sites 36, 38, 63).