During August and November 2004 and January and April 2005, two seasons of salvage excavations were conducted south of the Bet Dagan site, c. 1 km northeast of the Bet Dagan intersection (Permit No. A-4243; map ref. NIG 1838–40/65605–20; OIG 1338–40/15605–20), in the wake of damage to antiquities while preparing infrastructures. The excavation, carried out on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Hanan Mor and the Almog C.A.D.I. Construction Companies, was directed by E. Yannai (surveying, photography), with the assistance of M. Ajami, M. Mulokandov and D. Golan, Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), N. Zak (drafting), C. Amit (studio photography), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory) and Y. Ben-Michael.
The site, on a hamra
hill mixed with kurkar
, 35–40 m above sea level, had been excavated by M. Peilstöcker in the past, revealing two tombs from the Intermediate Bronze Age and one tomb from the Roman period (‘Atiqot
Three areas were opened: Area A in the north, Area B in the west and Area C in the south. Tombs from the Mamluk period were exposed in Area B and shaft tombs, dating to Early Bronze IV, were uncovered in Areas A and C. No artifacts were found in the Mamluk tombs and the skeletons were poorly preserved. The shaft tombs in Areas A and C contained artifacts and skeletons that were not well preserved, yet pottery vessels, bronze artifacts and beads were found.
Area B –
A Cemetery from the Mamluk Period
One hundred and twelve tombs that were dug in the hard hamra soil were exposed. The crowded tombs, 1.5–2.0 m apart, were found in several levels at a general depth of 0.6 m below surface. Half of the tombs were pit graves without a cover or tombstone. Two of the tombs were rectangular, lined with bricks (1 × 2 m) and covered with 5–6 brick capstones placed on top of the tomb. The other half of the tombs were not lined and covered with 4–5 gray clay bricks, mixed with potsherds. All the deceased were placed on their right side, their heads to the west and faces to the south, in the direction of Mecca. The dating of the cemetery is based on the potsherds found inside the clay bricks that lined and covered the tombs. Most of these fragments were ribbed potsherds that dated to the Byzantine period. Three potsherds from the Mamluk period, decorated with a dark green and yellow glaze, dated the cemetery to this era.
Areas A and C – Early Bronze IV Cemetery
One hundred thirty-four tombs, dug into hamra soil that was as hard as bedrock, were exposed. Some of the tombs were damaged by the development activities, but most of them were found intact. Each tomb consisted of three components: a cylindrical entrance shaft (diam. 1.2 m, depth 3 m), a short narrow passage and a burial chamber accessed via the passage. The burial chambers had various shapes and sizes (length 1–2 m); most were oval and a few were round (Figs. 1, 2). Most of the tombs had a single burial chamber for each shaft; in three of the tombs a common shaft served two burial chambers. Complete skeletons were found, although the state of the bones was very poor.
The heads of most deceased faced the opening and their backs were set against the side of the chamber. Alongside the deceased pottery vessels and often bronze artifacts and beads were found. The assemblage of pottery vessels at Bet Dagan is similar to the vessels found in the excavations at Horshim (‘Atiqot 21:1–8 [Hebrew]), at the Azor cemetery (‘Atiqot 55:1–28 [Hebrew]), at Benaya (Permit No. &-16/1962) and at Holon (Permit No. A-566). All the pottery vessels had a flat base and a combed decoration; they resembed the pottery vessels that prevailed in the southern region of the Land of Israel. None of the pottery vessels had a globular body and a round base, which were typical of the northern coastal plain. The decoration of the vessels was done by incising, stamping, combing and application. Most of the vessels were decorated with horizontal incising or combing, done by hand. A few vessels had a combed or incised decoration and applied lugs. The incised decoration on several of the lamps, known so far only in the Ayyalon basin, was not found in other regions of the Land of Israel.
The two cemeteries exposed at Bet Dagan are from two periods and represent completely different funerary practices. The shaft tombs in the early cemetery from Early Bronze IV are similar to those found in other regions of the Land of Israel. The tombs in the later cemetery are Muslim graves that date to the Mamluk period. No comparisons for this cemetery were found and it is reasonable to assume that graves from this period were removed from other sites without documentation. The Mamluk-period cemetery did not damage the area of the Early Bronze IV cemetery.