Area A (Fig. 3). Two caves with visible openings and a terrace extending in front of them were excavated. Habitation layers and evidence of activity ascribed to four periods and ceramic artifacts from additional periods were found on the terrace. In a probe excavated at the foot of the hill, east of Area A, no antiquities were found.
The roof of the western cave was removed with a backhoe, after which the cave was excavated down to its bedrock floor. The meager finds discovered in the cave indicate that modern activity eradicated any ancient remains there. A layer of modern finds was excavated to a depth of c. 1.4 m in the northern cave. Below it was an accumulation (thickness 1 m) containing finds from a variety of periods that reached the bottom of the cave. Several walls that blocked the opening of the cave were discovered; these were built both before and after parts of the ceiling had collapsed. This cave was also devoid of ancient finds, probably because of later activity.
A terrace (depth 4 m; Fig. 4) with an accumulation of remains was excavated in front of the caves. The ancient stratum was situated on the bedrock near the caves, and dates to the Chalcolithic period. A thick layer of loess prevented access to the bedrock in the rest of the area, but this layer presumably extended across a larger area. An activity area with installations, rooms with stone walls and tamped-earth floors and a stone pavement with small lumps of bitumen extended near the ancient opening of the northern cave during the Chalcolithic period. The rooms included built installations, such as tabuns (Fig. 5), and pits hewn in the bedrock. The small finds included pottery, flint, bones, charred cereal seeds, an ostrich eggshell and stone implements. The numerous superposed floors point to at least three construction phases during the period. The nature of the material finds suggests that this was a work area rather than a residential area.
An Early Bronze Age layer was found near the cave openings, above the Chalcolithic stratum, and in pits in the southern part of Area A. It included floors and surfaces upon which the inhabitants of the site lived and worked. A massive, well-built staircase made of large fieldstones led into the northern cave; it might have been built in this period or even earlier.
Human activity at the site during the Middle Bronze Age is indicated only by ceramic finds. Since no architectural remains or a distinct habitation level from this period were found, this activity probably took place in areas which have not yet been excavated.
Four granaries ascribed to the Iron Age II were dug into layers of ash fill, ancient excavation debris, concentrations of small stones and natural loess. The granaries were lined with walls of medium-sized fieldstones, and their floors were made of tamped earth. The four granaries, of different sizes, were set very close to each other. Fieldstone enclosure walls were also constructed in this period.
Pottery vessels were found from the Persian–Hellenistic periods; no architectural remains or a distinct stratum were identified.
Wall remains, installations and pottery from the Early Islamic period, belonging to a small settlement that existed at the site, were discovered in the southwestern part of the area.
Area B (Fig. 3) was situated in the northern and highest part of the excavation, above the northern cave, and extended up to the designated limit of the excavation. Architectural finds from the Chalcolithic and Iron II were discovered, as well as pottery sherds dating to the EB, MB, Persian and Hellenistic periods, which were not exposed in any stratigraphic context.
A settlement that existed in Area B during the Chalcolithic period is evidenced by remains that consist, among others, elliptical rooms and walls built of stone and mud-bricks; rock-hewn pits filled with finds from the Chalcolithic period; tamped-earth floors; and hearth remains. The Chalcolithic settlement stratum lay on the bedrock or on a thin overlying layer of natural soil.
During the long period when the site was uninhabited, the Chalcolithic layer was covered over with loess.
Activity at the site resumed with the construction of 13 granaries of varying diameters and depths (Fig. 6) randomly set within a small area. The granaries were built of small and medium-sized fieldstones in pits that were dug into the loess. In two places, new granaries replaced existing ones during one period. The floor of one of the granaries was situated on bedrock, while in others had tamped-earth floors. The granaries were filled with loess that also covered the hill. According to the finds, the granaries date to the Iron II.
Other pottery sherds that were found in the area date to the EB, MB, Persian and Hellenistic periods, and are indicative that the site was inhabited during these periods as well, probably further up the hill.
Area C. Fourteen squares were opened along the southern slope of a hill in the western part of the excavation area. Fieldstone walls which could not be dated were identified in three of the squares. In the other squares, excavated down to the bedrock, pottery from the Bronze, Iron, Persian and Hellenistic periods was discovered. These were apparently washed down the slope from further up the hill, north of the excavation area, where settlement strata belonging to the site were identified.
Area D.Two caves were found: a western one, whose ceiling had collapsed in the past, but its terrace was excavated, and a southern one, whose entrance was discovered during the excavation; this cave was excavated with mechanical equipment after its ceiling was removed. Architectural remains were discovered above the caves and inside them. Several pottery sherds, but no architecture, were discovered a short distance from the caves.
Two Chalcolithic-period walls were built on the bedrock above the southern cave; additional walls from this period were found nearby. This Chalcolithic level continued eastward, into Area B. Pits filled with Chalcolithic pottery and stone vessels were discovered on the rock surface throughout the eastern part of the site. The Chalcolithic settlement remains were eradicated in a later period, but a large amount of pottery remained in bedrock crevices. Chalcolithic remains were also discerned inside the southern cave, in pits below a later habitation layer.
No architecture or habitation levels were discovered that can be attributed to the Early Bronze Age; however, levels with pottery belonging to this period only were exposed in several squares. Scattered finds dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages were discovered as well.
The Iron II remains—walls and habitation levels with pottery and metal artifacts—were discovered in the western part of the area. At least two construction phases were apparent in the walls belonging to this period.
Massive walls (thickness c. 1 m) dating to the Persian and Hellenistic periods were discovered in three parts of the area (Figs. 7, 8). One wall sealed off the opening of the western cave; it adjoined the cave from the south and probably continued up to the bedrock on the north as well. After its construction, parts of the cave’s ceiling collapsed on it. This wall was used in at least two phases of the period, and occupation levels and floors were associate with it. Two massive walls that formed a corner were built on the bedrock above the southern cave. Massive walls erected within the southern cave delimited areas within its entrance. The pottery from this period was very common in Area D, but rare elsewhere in the excavation.
Although pottery dating to the Roman period was discovered, it lacked a clear stratigraphic context. Pottery sherds from the Byzantine period were collected, including imported vessels, but these were not found in an architectural or stratigraphic context.
The architectural remains at the site are buildings and installations from the Chalcolithic, EB, Iron II, Persian–Hellenistic and Early Islamic periods. The pottery that was recovered indicates that the site was inhabited during additional periods as well. The earliest inhabitants lived inside the natural caves, near their openings and above them. At this point, pottery constitutes the basis for dating the strata, but as research continues the results of radiometric dating will be added. The assemblage of stone items found at the site contributes information that helps in identifying activity areas. Several bone items were discovered in the Chalcolithic strata, while animal bones were found in all of the strata. The flint artifacts include numerous tools and cores.
During the Chalcolithic period, a large site, with distinct areas for dwelling and for domestic production activities, existed on the hill. In the Iron Age, an unusually dense concentration of 17 granaries was built, indicating a level of agricultural ability that provided surplus grain for storage, suggesting that a centralized authority managed this inventory. During the Iron Age II, the site was divided into activity areas, in which buildings were constructed away from the granaries. In the Persian–Hellenistic periods, a settlement existed only in Area D, in the high section of the site. The settlement was concentrated around the cave openings, inside them and above them. In the Islamic period, a small settlement existed in the western part of Area A. The pottery from the other periods indicates the presence of additional settlements that have not been discovered yet and were likely situated uphill, on one of the two hilltops and on its western slopes.
The settlement strata discovered in the excavation are congruent with our knowledge of the regional settlement pattern in the different periods. During the Chalcolithic period, the nearest settlement was Tel ‘Arad, c. 8 km to the northeast (Amiran 1978). Nevatim lies c. 18 km to the southwest (Gilead and Fabian 2001), and Tel Sheva‘, a large Chalcolithic site, is c. 20 km to the southwest (Abadi-Reiss 2008). Sites in the Be’er Sheva‘ Valley are located further to the west. Sixteen sites dating to the Chalcolithic period which were not excavated were identified within the area of Map 139, to the west of the site (Govrin 1991). The geographic proximity of the site to other Chalcolithic sites and its affiliation with the Ghassulian culture indicate that the Chalcolithic settlement was part of the array of Chalcolithic-period sites in the northern Negev.
During the Early Bronze Age, two urban centers existed in the region of Horbat Kasif (Northwest)—Tel ‘Arad and Tel Lahav; 14 additional sites of this period were identified in the survey of the Map of Yattir (Govrin 1991). The evidence for human presence at the site during the Early Bronze Age is indeed fragmentary; however, without doubt it is part of the known distribution of open sites, in which resided a population that engaged in agriculture and seasonal pastoralism, with ties to the urban centers.
During the Iron Age, the site was part of the settlement array in the region, which included a fortress at Tel ‘Arad (Cohen 1990), cities at Tel Masos (Kempinski 1978) and Tel Be’er Sheva‘ (Aharoni 1984) as well as rural settlements (Govrin 1991). The numerous granaries of the Iron II settlement suggest that it was a central storage site for grain.
The settlement on the hill was not far from the Byzantine and Early Islamic remains that were discovered in surveys and trial excavations at Horbat Kasif. The proximity of the sites—separated by a wadi—shows that during these periods the site at Horbat Kasif (Northwest) was part of the settlement that was identified at Horbat Kasif.
The excavation at Horbat Kasif (Northwest) yielded a multi-strata site dating to periods, remains of which were previously unknown on the hill. The settlement’s characteristics contribute to understanding the nature of habitation in the region, as well as the relations held by the site’s residents with their surroundings and with more distant sites. The findings indicate a multi-strata site where diverse activities were undertaken throughout many periods stretching over thousands of years. The excavation, which was limited to the planned route of the highway, exposed only a small portion of this large site, which was previously unknown.