A series of probes conducted in the eastern part of Area H (Fig. 2), on the eastern slope of a hamra hill, revealed four pottery kilns (1–4; Figs. 3, 4) dating from Middle Bronze I (Middle Bronze IIA). Inside Kiln 2, a donkey burial was discovered (L50463) dating from the Middle Bronze Age. Inside Kiln 4, a female burial was discovered (L50533) dating from the Middle Bronze Age, and above the kiln another female burial (L50464) was discovered dating from the Late Bronze Age I.
The Kilns
The four kilns originally comprised two chambers each—a combustion chamber overlain by a firing chamber—separated by the firing-chamber floor, on which the pottery was arranged. The kilns’ combustion chambers were far better preserved than the firing chambers. They were dug into the ground and lined with a layer of clay (thickness 2–3 cm), which was fired hard during the kiln’s use. The floors of the firing chambers were not preserved, but based on fragments of these floors found inside the kilns’ combustion chambers, it seems that they too were made of clay and fired hard during the kilns’ use. Some fragments preserved the inlet flues through which the hot air was conveyed into the firing chambers (Rhodes 1968:15; Alizadeh 1985). The firing-chamber floors were probably constructed at ground level.
Kilns 1, 2 and 4 have a lanceolate (teardrop-shaped) plan, with the narrower end facing north; the combustion chamber was preserved in the wider, southern end. It is possible that the narrower, northern part of the kilns was an uncovered opening that led into the combustion chamber, serving as a maintenance opening between firings, as a stoking opening and as a funnel-intake flue during firing.
The MB I activity level (L50166; 21.78–21.82 m asl) is made up mostly of grayish loess soil with kiln and pottery fragments.
Kiln 1 (L50100; length 4.5 m; Fig. 5). The excavation uncovered the remains of the kiln’s lanceolate combustion chamber (depth 1.7 m). It was damaged by a trial trench that cut its southern part. Between the combustion chamber and the narrower part of the kiln were the remains of an arch made of clay (L50590, L50595) that probably supported the floor of the firing chamber, which was not preserved. The wall of the combustion chamber was lined with clay, and four rounded clay rib-like protrusions (L50592–L50594, L50603) extended inward from the upper part of the wall. While their upper part evidently served to support the floor of the firing chamber (Fig. 6), their lower part served to reduce the size of the chamber so as to improve the efficiency of the firing process, and possibly to control the air flow so as to regulate the temperature inside the kiln (Rhodes 1968:16; Alizadeh 1985:48). The clay lining on the upper part of the combustion chamber wall was reddish in color, whereas on the wall’s lower part it was greenish black from exposure to high temperatures that fused the clay and altered its color and texture. The southern part of the combustion chamber’s wall up to about one meter from its floor was covered with large drops of greenish slag (Fig. 7), suggesting that during the final operation of the kiln, control over the temperature in the combustion chamber was lost, leading to the subsequent abandonment of the kiln. The kiln floor was also covered with large drops of slag, which had dripped from the wall of the combustion chamber. Several cones made of fired clay found on the kiln floor were probably used to prop up the pots in the firing chamber.
Kiln 2 (L50089; length 3.8 m). The excavation uncovered the remains of the kiln’s lanceolate combustion chamber (depth 2.4 m). The chamber was divided horizontally into two parts that differed in shape and size: The upper part of the chamber was circular (diam. 2 m, depth 1.3 m), whereas the lower part was elliptical (L50609; depth 1.1 m). Two clay rib-like protrusions that extended into the chamber from the upper part of its wall were located across from each other; the eastern one (L50549) was lower than the western one (L50098). The wall in the lower part of the combustion chamber was evidently exposed to a higher temperature than that in the upper part. At the bottom of the kiln was burnt sand, and below it—dune sand.
While the kiln was still in use, it underwent at least one series of repairs. This is particularly evident in the kiln’s narrower part—possibly an opening—where rectangular mud-bricks were placed to repair the kiln wall: three bricks were placed on the western side (W50610), and a single brick was placed on the eastern side. Another brick was probably inserted as a repair in the eastern part of the combustion chamber.
A soil fill inside the kiln (L50105) contained a few pieces of slag beneath the protrusions and ash at the bottom of the kiln’s narrower part. The soil fill also yielded a few MB I potsherds, as well as fragments of burnt clay from the kiln’s walls and from the firing chamber’s floor.
A heap of large potsherds (L50086; height 0.5 m) found beside the kiln’s eastern wall consisted mostly of MB I jar fragments densely packed in calcareous sediment. The jar sherds in the heap are not typical industrial waste. Furthermore, the shape of the heap—having a wider diameter at the bottom than at the top—and the calcareous sediment do not seem to indicate a refuse pit. Thus, the broken pottery was probably placed here as part of the kiln’s operation (Rhodes 1968:10).
Kiln 3 (L50200). The excavation uncovered the combustion chamber of a long, narrow, almost rectangular kiln (0.57 × 2.50 m, depth 0.6 m). The combustion chamber was dug into sterile hamra soil. The upper southern part of the chamber wall was rounded and widened outwards. At the join of the chamber’s southern and eastern walls, a clay rib-like protrusion (W50616) extended only slightly into the combustion chamber, while most of it jutted out beyond the outer wall of the kiln; its outer part had apparently been fired at a low temperature. Another such protrusion, which also jutted outward from the kiln, was set at mid-length of the kiln’s eastern wall. Although the upper part of the kiln’s western wall was not preserved, the contours of two additional protrusions—fixed to this wall opposite those in the eastern wall—could be discerned on the surface. These protrusions were installed in the upper part of the walls, and probably served to support the firing-chamber floor along the kiln walls; the lower part of the walls was smooth and uniform. The kiln’s northern wall was not preserved.
No finds or ash were found on the kiln floor (L50521), which was made of tamped earth, suggesting that it was cleaned after its final use and before the superstructure collapsed inward. On the floor of the kiln in the southern part of the combustion chamber, beside the wall, was a ball of clay containing organic remains—probably burnt wood. This may have been served as a firelighter to ignite the fuel in the combustion chamber.
A soil fill inside the combustion chamber (L50447) contained a few potsherds, as well as numerous large lumps of clay that crumbled from the kiln’s walls, the floor of the firing chamber and from the clay protrusions; hardly any remains of ash or industrial waste, such as slag, were found.
This kiln cut into Kiln 4, and rubble from its walls was found inside Kiln 4 and on top of its wall, indicating beyond doubt that it is the later of the two.
Kiln 4 (L50325; length c. 4.4 m). The excavation uncovered remains of a combustion chamber (diam. c. 2.5 m, depth c. 2.0 m) of a lanceolate kiln. Four clay rib-like protrusions (L50611–50614) were installed in the upper part of the combustion chamber wall, extending into the chamber. Several indications that the protrusions were repaired during the kiln’s use could be discerned: The protrusions were originally rounded, like those in Kiln 1, but were later slightly thickened and squared; and the two eastern protrusions were originally separate but were later joined together, as were the two western ones. Another protrusion (L50615) was revealed near the base of the kiln, beneath Protrusions 50614. Remains of a pebble floor (L50571) were preserved in the southern part of the kiln. A layer of burnt sand on top of dune sand marked the bottom of the northern, narrower part of the kiln, as in Kiln 2.
A soil fill (L50496) inside the kiln yielded fragments from the kiln wall and a few potsherds, as in Kilns 2 and 3. The fill did not contain any traces of ash or industrial debris. To the north of the kiln, complete pottery vessels were found on an activity level dated to MB I (L50166).
Burial 50463 (Fig. 8). After Kiln 2 was abandoned, a donkey was interred in its narrower, northern part. The donkey was placed in a flexed position on its right side, with its head on the kiln’s eastern wall, raised higher than the rest of the body and facing south. Its forelegs were bent beneath its stomach, and its hind legs were slightly bent and jetted forward beneath the forelegs, pressing against the kiln’s eastern wall. Numerous river pebbles (length 5–10 cm) were placed around, above and beneath the donkey’s head. Its pelvis was pressed against the narrowest part of the kiln, and the tail was rolled up beside the kiln wall. The lower jaw of another donkey was found beside the donkey’s chest, apart from which no grave goods were discovered. Based on the ceramic finds in the overlying soil fill, the burial was dated to the Middle Bronze Age.
Burial 50533 (Fig. 9). After Kiln 4 was abandoned, a young woman was buried inside the combustion chamber. This could be sone only after part of the kiln wall was removed. The deceased was laid in a supine position, with the head pressed against Protrusion 50614, her right side beside the kiln’s southern wall, and her legs extending outside the kiln as they were laid under its wall. No grave goods were placed with the burial. The covering soil fill yielded Middle Bronze potsherds, dating the burial to this period.
Burial 50464 (Figs. 10, 11). After Kiln 4 was abandoned, and its upper part had collapsed, a grave for a young woman was dug into the rubble. The deceased was laid on her back, with her head in the west and her legs—bent at a ninety-degree angle—in the east. The burial included grave goods: a bowl containing a juglet that was placed near the head; a jar with a pinched rim placed to the west of the head; a toggle pin near the shoulder; and a scarab near the sternum. The burial was dated according to the finds to Late Bronze Age I.
In Area H, four kilns dating from Middle Bronze I (Middle Bronze IIA) were excavated. Three of them, Kilns 1, 2 and 4, are similar in plan and construction methods. A comparable kiln from this period was excavated in Ramat Aviv (Kletter and Gorzalczany 2001:98). At this stage of the research, it is impossible to determine whether the three kilns operated simultaneously, although it is clear that they do not intrude on each other, and it even appears that the operators of each kiln were aware of the others. Kiln 3 cut into the upper part of Kiln 4, and therefore postdates it. The woman was evidently buried inside Kiln 4 (L50533) when the two kilns were no longer in use. Apart from Kiln 1, the kilns seem to have been cleaned of any operation debris—slag, ash and pottery—when they were put out of use, and they may even have been covered with soil in a ritualistic manner reminiscent of a burial.
The earliest evidence of donkey burials appears in the Early Bronze Age in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Levant. The earliest donkey burial in Israel was found at Tel Zafit (Greenfield, Shay and Maeir 2012), and dates from the Early Bronze Age. Most donkey burials appear in the context of tombs and temples, although some have also been found beneath the walls of dwellings. No other donkey burials have been discovered in the context of pottery-production kilns or any other industrial installations. The only comparable donkey burial in an industrial context may be the one found at Tel ed-Dab‘a (Avaris), the ancient capital of the Hyksos dynasty in Egypt (Prell 2021:30), where several donkey bones were found in association with an installation resembling a kiln, although not a pottery kiln.