From November 2004 to the beginning of January 2005 an excavation was conducted at Kh. Umm el-Baqar (Permit No. A-4291; map ref. NIG 18018/60420; OIG 13018/10420), in preparation for the construction of Section 20 of the Cross-Israel Highway. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Cross-Israel Highway Company, was directed by P. Nahshoni and S. Talis, with the assistance of E. Aladjem, H. Lavi (administration), A. Hajian (surveying), C. Amit (studio photography), J. Bukengolts (pottery restoration) and I. Lidski-Reznikov (drawing).
Kh. Umm el-Baqar (Fig. 1) is a tell located north of Nahal Adorayim where remains that dated to the Late Bronze and Iron Ages and the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Ottoman periods (Y. Dagan 1992, Map of Lakhish :90, Site 249) were surveyed.
The excavation was conducted along the edge of the eastern slope of the tell that descends on the western side of a short tributary of Nahal Adorayim. Throughout most of the area bedrock was close to surface and partially exposed.
Two excavation areas were opened, Area A in the north and Area B in the south. No building remains were located in Area A, whereas in Area B remains of buildings and floors that dated to the Iron Age were discovered. The remains, discovered at a depth of several centimeters below surface, were poorly preserved as a result of cultivation and erosion. Scant remains from the Early Bronze Age were found in the southern part of the area.
In Area A two rows of three squares each were opened along an east-west axis. One row was located in the stream channel and the other was to the north of it. Two natural caves whose openings faced east, on the other side of the tributary that surrounds the tell, were also examined. A hewn cupmark was discerned in the bedrock near one of the caves. No building remains were found in the caves, nor was there any evidence that they were used.
In Area B, located at the southeastern end of the site, twenty-five excavation squares were opened. In eight of them a thin layer of soft, dark brown plowed soil was found overlying bedrock, without any architectural remains. Building remains were discovered in fifteen of the squares; at least two buildings dated to the end of Iron I–beginning of Iron II (Buildings 1, 2). Building 1 was exposed in the center of the area and Building 2 was located in its northern part. A pit that contained remains from the Early Bronze Age was uncovered in another square in the south of the area.
A section of Building 1 (Fig. 2) that included one room (2.3 × 3.2 m) delimited by Walls in the east, the west and the south was exposed; its entrance was not discovered. The walls of the room, preserved a single course high (0.10–0.26 m), were erected partly on bedrock and partly on soil fill mixed with small stones. They were built of two rows of fieldstones and a fill of small stones. A beaten-earth floor that was set on bedrock was exposed in the room, beneath a stone collapse. Meager building remains were discovered north of Building 1. South and east of the building were sections of a beaten-earth floor that was laid on bedrock; soil fill was used to level the bedrock depressions.
Building 2 (10 × 20 m; Fig. 3), to the north of Building 1, included a paved courtyard (10) and three rooms (11, 12, 13). The walls of the building were built of two rows of fieldstones and a fill of small stones. Most of the walls were preserved one course high, except for two walls (W29, W32) that survived to a height of two courses. The building’s beaten-earth floors were set on bedrock, and in those places where bedrock was high, it was leveled and apparently used as part of the floor.
Courtyard 10 (5 × 7 m) was delimited in the west by Wall 29 (height 0.4 m) and in the north by Wall 26 (height 0.15 m). There was probably an opening in the western wall of the courtyard leading to Room 11 that was blocked for some reason by Wall 32 (height 0.36 m). The contour of the opening was slightly curved and it abutted Wall 25 in the south and Wall 29 in the north. Sections of a pebble floor, partly covered by stone collapse, were preserved in the courtyard.
West of the courtyard was Room 11, of which only its southeastern corner (2.5 × 2.5 m) was preserved. It was enclosed on the south by W25 (height 0.10–0.20 m) and on the east by W29 and W32. The floor of the room consisted of beaten earth and leveled bedrock. A tabun was found on the floor in the corner of the room (W25 and W32); below the floor was a habitation level that predated the building.
North of Courtyard 10 was another room (12; 2.1 × 5.0 m) that was delimited on the south by Wall 26, on the east by Wall 28 (height 0.10–0.17 m) and on the north by Wall 30 (height 0.15 m). Inside the room was a beaten-earth floor and three flagstones that were not in situ; therefore it is unclear if the room was originally paved. There was probably an opening in W28 that connected Rooms 12 and 13.
East of Room 12 was another room 13, of which only its southwestern part was preserved (1.70 × 2.10 m). It was delimited on the south and west by Walls 26 and 28 respectively.
A section of another wall (W31; height 0.24 m), built on soil fill in bedrock depressions, was discovered 7 m north of Building 2. West of W31 was a beaten-earth floor next to leveled bedrock.
Pottery vessels characteristic of the end of the 11th century and beginning of the 10th century BCE—that is to say the end of Iron I or the beginning of Iron II—were found on the floors of the buildings. The assemblage included an abundance of chalices and goblets, which may be indicative of (domestic?) cultic activity. Many storage jars characteristic of the period were also present.
Stone objects included grinding and pounding tools. Some of these objects, such as basalt, were imported to the site from a considerable distance.
Early Bronze Age
Remains from this period were found in an irregular-shaped pit that was hewn in the friable bedrock (1.3 × 2.5 × 2.0 m). The finds included potsherds and a Canaanean blade.
To summarize, limited activity of an undefined nature occurred at the site during the Early Bronze Age. In the Iron Age a settlement that included buildings and courtyards was established. It seems that the meager architectural finds and their poor state of preservation stem from cultivation and erosion and the fact that the excavated area was located along the fringes of the settlement.