During May 2005 a salvage excavation was conducted west of Khirbat esh-Sheikh Madkur (Permit No. A-4468*; map ref. NIG 19995/61724; OIG 14995/11724). The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Ministry of Defense, was directed by O. Sion, with the assistance of A. Hajian (surveying), E. Belashov (drafting), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), Y. Rapuano and R. Bar-Natan (pottery reading), C. Hersch (pottery drawing) and D.T. Ariel (numismatics).
The excavation was conducted on a spur southwest of Khirbat esh-Sheikh Madkur. A preliminary survey in the area revealed several sites, including winepresses, a cave and an ancient road, dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods, which were excavated (Fig. 1).
Site 1 (Figs. 2, 3)
An ancient road was exposed at the top of the slope, which led from Khirbat esh-Sheikh Madkur to cultivation plots, c. 350 m to the west. The entire length of the road was delimited by two walls founded on bedrock, which consisted of two rows of fieldstones that were preserved two courses high (0.9 m). The road was 2.4 m wide at the top of the slope and 5.2 m wide at its lower part. Two soundings were cut across the road, revealing a stone fill that had been deposited to conform to natural bedrock (height 0.1–0.9 m). Stones cleared from the fields were used to raise the road surface 0.2–0.4 m above the surrounding area. To the north and south of the road were cultivation plots delimited by walls, which were partly preserved a single course high and abutted the road. Fragments of pottery vessels were found in the eastern sounding, dating to the first–fourth centuries CE, including a bowl (Fig. 4:1) and jars (Fig. 4:2–8).
Site 2 (Fig. 5)
A winepress hewn in a bedrock surface on the slope was partly excavated. The winepress consisted of a treading floor (L111; 4.2 × 4.3 m) and a settling pit (L112; c. 0.9 × 0.9 m; visible depth 0.5 m) that were connected by way of a channel (width 0.15 m). A wall built of a single row of fieldstones and preserved a single course high (W1; length 1.6 m, height 0.25 m) was exposed south of and adjacent to the winepress. An agricultural wall (W2; length 3.3 m) was at a higher level, west of the winepress. Close to the surface of the treading floor was a jug fragment from Iron II (Fig. 4:9) and in its southeastern corner, in a calcified deposit near bedrock, was a jar fragment that dated to the Herodian period (Fig. 4:10).
Site 3 (Figs. 6, 7)
A winepress, which included a treading floor (L99; 1.5 × 2.1 m), a settling pit (0.3 × 0.4 m, depth 0.3 m) and a collecting vat (L102; 1.15 × 1.20 m, depth 0.7 m) in the southwestern corner, was excavated. At the bottom of the collecting vat was a hewn depression (diam. 0.4 m).
Site 4 (Fig. 8)
A natural cave (c. 10 × 10 m), c. 10 m east of Site 3 and 5 m below it, was excavated. A path across the slope led to its opening (width 2.1 m, height 1.6 m) on the eastern side. The excavation in the middle of the cave and adjacent to the opening revealed three strata.
Stratum 3 was soil fill and potsherds on the floor of the cave (height 0.25–0.50 m; Loci 108, 109, 110). The potsherds from the Roman period included a cooking pot lid (Fig. 4:14) and a jar (Fig. 4:15), and those from the Byzantine period consisted of a jug (Fig. 4:13) and a lamp (Fig. 4:16).
Stratum 2 consisted of an ash layer (L109; height 7–14 cm) that was exposed in the middle and inner parts of the cave, sealing Stratum 3. No datable finds were recovered from this layer.
Stratum 1 comprised a floor of crushed chalk (Loci 105A, 105B; thickness 0.1 m) that was spread out in all the area and abutted a wall (W3), which blocked the cave’s opening and was preserved three courses high (1.1 m). Several ash concentrations were noted on the floor, which was overlaid with a fill that contained a jar fragment from the Byzantine period (Fig. 4:12) and a bowl from the Mamluk period (Fig. 4:11).
The excavated sites were probably part of an agricultural system that operated in the Herodian and Byzantine periods. Based on the late potsherds recovered from the roadbed it was dated to the Byzantine period, not prior to the fourth century CE. The preparation of the road in this period points to an extensive agricultural activity that is also apparent from the finds on the floor of the cave, which may have been used to store wine jars. The Mamluk pottery on its floor probably attests to the temporary use of the cave in this period.