During June–August 2007, salvage excavations were conducted at a proto-historic site near Moshav Eshta’ol, adjacent to the northwestern side of Highway 38 and southwest of the main entrance to the Moshav (Permit No. A-5163; map ref. NIG 201075/631700; OIG 151075/131700), prior to the widening of Highway 38. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Public Works bureau, was directed by A. Golani, with the assistance of D. Storchan (area supervison), Y. Ohion, Y. Lender and R. Abu-Halef (administration), M. Kunin and A. Hajian (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), O. Ackerman (geomorphology), H. Khalaily (flint processing), M. Birkenfeld (archaeological inspector) and A. Nagorsky (district archeologist).
The site is located at the base of a moderate slope adjacent to the northwestern bank of Nahal Eshta’ol (wadi Ishwa), a local tributary of Nahal Soreq. A broad expanse of arable land is on the southern side of the wadi, while a dense concentration of foliage and a water pumping station across from the site suggest the existence of a nearby perennial water source. The excavations revealed settlement remains primarily of the Early Bronze IB/II periods, as well as limited remains of the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods (Fig. 1).
The site had previously been sounded by G. Solimany (Area A; Permit No. A-4624) and M. Friekman, on behalf of the Hebrew Union College and the IAA (Areas B and C; License No. B-311/2006; Permit No. A-5088), whereas an additional excavation (Area E; License No. B-322/2007), directed by I. Shay and J. Uziel on behalf of Bar-Ilan University, has recently been undertaken in the same region. The excavation in Area A exposed remains from the Neolithic period and architectural remains from the EBIB/II periods were exposed in Areas A and B. The excavations in Areas C and E revealed architectural remains of the Intermediate Bronze Age (EB IV/MB I). The present excavation (Area D) consisted of a single row of 20 non-consecutive squares that were numbered alphabetically and further divided into sub-areas, which are described from northeast to southwest.
This area, c. 50 m south of the Eshta’ol junction, comprised seven consecutive squares (A1, A, B, C, D, E, and F; Fig. 2)—A1 at the northeastern extremity of the area and F at the southwestern end of this sub-area. A dense and deep accumulation of archeological remains emerged in this region, which was apparently near the center of the site. At least five distinct strata were identified.
Stratum V. Due to time limitations, the earliest stratified remains were uncovered in a very limited probe in Sq A1, revealing numerous water-born gravel sediments (Figs. 3, 4) that may represent the seasonal flooding of the adjacent wadi. The archeological material within this probe included fragments of a cornet, a V-shaped bowl and a backed flint blade that could all be attributed to the Chalcolithic period. Although the probe clearly defined this layer apart from the matrix of Stratum IV, the extremely small scope of this exposure means that it is, as yet, unclear whether these sediments represented a habitation layer or were washed in from another locale.
Stratum IV. Remains from this level were only reached within Sq A1, below the base of Stratum III walls (see Fig. 3). A level of medium to large sized stones of unclear plan and a beaten-earth surface were uncovered. The finds included ceramic fragments from EB I and a few lumps of bitumen.
Stratum III. This stratum included remains of two large structures with rounded outer corners of similar orientation (see Fig. 3).
Building 1 was the northernmost structure and only a portion of the western and northern walls (W208, W200) were discovered. Abutting W200 within the building were the remains of a low stone bench. A threshold (width 0.75 m) that consisted of a large flat boulder was found in W208 (Fig. 5). Within the building, two large, squared and flat-topped stones probably served as pillar bases. Assuming that these stones were positioned along the central axis of the structure and that the entranceway was in the center of W208, a minimalist reconstruction of the building may be suggested (5.6 × 13.0 m). Set into the floor within the building was a large boulder with a hewn and smoothed cupmark that may have been used for crushing and grinding. Upon the floor, a scattered accumulation of burnt mud-brick fragments and debris was found, in addition to several crushed, yet complete store jars (Fig. 6) and a high loop-handled cup that may be assigned to EB IB.
To the north of Building 1, additional walls appear to indicate the existence of another, adjacent structure.
Building 2, to the west of Building 1, was partially uncovered (see Fig. 3). The limited remains of this building suggest a structure of similar construction and orientation as Building 1.
Stratum II. This stratum was a direct continuation of Stratum III as indicated by the continued use of Building 1 and the adjacent structure to its north. Building 2 ceased to function and was replaced with an extension, also with a rounded corner, that was attached to W200 of Building 1 (Fig. 7). Immediately to the west of Building 1, a circular structure was built (outer diam. 3 m, inner diam. 2.1 m; Fig. 8). Entrance to this structure was through an opening (width 0. 55 m) from the north, paved with flat stones, which led down to a beaten-earth floor (Fig. 9). The slightly in-sloping walls (width 0.65 m) suggest it was a domed structure that may be interpreted as a storage room or an above-ground silo.
Stratum I. Remains of this stratum were exposed in all the excavated squares of Area D1 and consisted of several large walls that shared a common orientation (Fig. 10). The remains of this stratum canceled nearly all the architectural elements of the previous strata and appear to represent the remains of one or more large sized complex buildings that should possibly be dated to the EB II period. A large open space, covered with a beaten-earth surface, was created in the northern part of Area D1, overlaying the previous remains of Strata II and III. Two walls (W215, W217) were identified in Square C, separated by an entranceway that was blocked up (Fig. 11). A line of upright stones next to one of these walls could have been a windbreak or some other construction feature of unclear function. The architectural remains in Sq F represented elements of three rooms, two of which were connected by an entranceway (Fig. 12), as well as two superimposed floors.
Situated to the south of Area D1, this area comprised two and a half squares (Sqs H, I, J) in which remains of two superimposed architectural phases were uncovered (Fig. 13). The lack of direct physical linkage between Areas D1 and D2 does not permit, at present, to determine to which of the Area D1 strata, the Area D2 phases should be assigned.
Of the earliest phase, a few walls of unclear plan, all set upon sterile alluvium, were revealed. One of the walls (W216) was found to retain a course of burned mud bricks atop the stone foundation (Fig. 14), indicating that this area was destroyed by fire during an earlier phase.
The area was rebuilt in the later phase and portions of the earlier walls were dismantled. In Square H, a portion of a large wall (W218) with an outer rounded corner was exposed (Fig. 15). Abutting W218 was a small circular stone-built installation with a plastered base (Fig. 16), which contained a crushed store jar (Fig. 17). Several large walls, built of medium-sized to large stones, were revealed in Squares I and J (Figs. 18, 19). Some of these walls, which appear to have been part of a complex structure, were slightly curving. Two large grinding stones within the building (see Fig. 19) were apparently set above the floor.
This area, 15 m to the south of Area D2, included two squares (Sqs N, O) in which remains of a single occupational phase that consisted of a curving wall with an associated floor, both set upon sterile alluvium (Fig. 20), were revealed.
This area, 25 m south of Area D3, consisted of four excavation squares (U, V, W, X) that revealed meager architectural remains set upon sterile alluvial soil. A portion of a curving wall of unclear plan was revealed in Square U (Fig. 21). Mechanical probing that followed the excavation in this area revealed another level of architectural remains directly below this wall; however, these could not be fully exposed. Another small portion of a curving wall, which may have belonged to a circular structure, was revealed in Square X.
This area (Sqs AA, AB), c. 30 m south of Area D4, revealed lines of stones that had no clear plan and were set upon sterile soil. The ceramic material from this area was mixed and therefore, the features could not be associated with any specific archeological period.
The present excavations, along with previous investigations in the nearby area, have all exposed portions of an extensive proto-historic settlement of the EB IB/II periods on the western bank of Nahal Eshta’ol, whereas another site of the Intermediate Bronze Age was located farther to the northeast. Scattered finds recovered from the excavation seem to indicate a nearby Neolithic occupation; in situ remains from this period were identified in Area A. A Chalcolithic settlement may have also existed at the site (Stratum V), as evidenced by scattered finds and a limited in situ exposure in Area D1. Although the size of the EB settlement is as yet unclear, it appears to have been spread out along the western bank of the now-dry wadi bed and continues farther upslope toward modern Eshta’ol. Following the present excavation, archaeological inspection of mechanical earthmoving some 500 m southwest of the Eshta’ol junction and southwest of Area D5 revealed more architectural remains that have yet to be excavated. Remains of the Early Bronze Age appear to have been spread out even farther south along the wadi bank, as a cultic site of EB IB is known at Hartuv, located a few kilometers to the south of the present excavation.
During the main period of occupation, EB IB, the site was intensively settled throughout three successive strata that included several large, often complex structures with rounded outer corners alongside large circular structures that were probably intended for storage. The last period of settlement may possibly be associated with the EB II period, as the architectural remains of Stratum I ignored the previous occupation and lacked any remnants of curvilinear architecture that was characteristic of Strata III-II. No evidence of the Intermediate Bronze (EB IV/MB I) settlement was identified in the present excavation; this occupation appears to have been restricted to the area north of the Eshta’ol junction.