During September 2003 an excavation was conducted along the route of the Cross-Israel Highway (Permit No. A-3716; map ref. NIG 20160–230/70200–40; OIG 15160–230/20200–40), in the wake of constructing an interchange at Baqa al-Gharbiya. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Cross-Israel Highway, was directed by A. ‘Ouda, S. Mahajna and A. Gorzalczany, with the assistance of K. Sa‘id, D. Barkan, M. Taver and D. Inbar (area supervision), A. el-Salam Sa‘id and A. Shadman (preliminary examinations), S. Ya‘aqov-Jam (administration), T. Sagiv (field and studio photography), V. Essman, V. Pirsky and T. Kornfeld (surveying), I. Berin and N. Zak (drafting), M. Shuiskaya-Arnov (drawing), P. Gandelman (ceramics), Y. Gorin-Rosen and N. Katsnelson (glass), O. Shorr (glass restoration), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory), E. Barzilay (geomorphology), E. Oren (general assistance and archaeological inspection), H. Abu Fana, A. Mawasi and A. Mas‘oud (mechanical equipment). Additional assistance was rendered by Y. Mor (Gadish Co.), Z. Horovich, E. Yannai, E. ‘Awawdy and inspectors of the Haifa District of the Antiquities Authority. D. Amit provided information about the Qumran tombs.
The site (Fig. 1) is situated on a hilltop of soft qirton and gray rendzina soil, c. 500 m southeast of Horbat Kosit, which is a large site that was initially occupied during the First Temple period and reached its zenith in the Second Temple period.
Four areas were extensively excavated.
(Fig. 2). Twenty one squares were excavated. A hewn subterranean structure, oriented north–south, which served as an entrance hall to a chamber (Walls 607, 608), was exposed. The walls, in a mediocre state of preservation, were built of ashlar stones (0.4 × 0.4 × 0.8 m) and rose to four courses high. They slanted inward and it seems the room was originally covered with a barrel vault that had since collapsed (Fig. 3).
Six rock-hewn steps were uncovered at the northern end of the building, descending in a southerly direction toward the opening of another void that was sealed with a rolling stone, found in situ (diam. 1.2 m, width 0.4 m; Fig. 4). The chamber behind the stone was not excavated.
Twenty four rock-hewn installations were exposed to the north, south and east of the structure. They were divided into two main groups: (1) A small rectangular structure (0.4–0.6 × 1.6 m) of varying depth; a narrow shallow channel was visible along one of the long walls, at the joint between the wall and the floor, and (2) A larger deeper structure (average 1.5 × 2.5 m) with rock-hewn shelves (width 0.2–0.3 m; Figs. 5–7), extending the entire length of its long sides. The hewn installations were clearly related to the underground burial structure and although devoid of osteological and archaeological finds they correspond to the burial style known at Qumran and the adjacent cemeteries at ‘Ein el-Ghuweir, which are dated from 175 BCE to 70 CE (P. Bar-Adon, Eretz Israel 10:73–89). However, unlike the tombs at Qumran, which are mostly oriented north–south and whose kokhim were dug along the eastern wall, the rock-cut installations at Nahal Hadera are practically all oriented east–west and the kokhim are dug either in the northern or southern sides.
A refuse pit, ascribed to the Byzantine period (diam. 4.8 m), was also found in the area.
(Fig. 8). Sixty squares were excavated. A wall (W2405; length 20 m, width c. 2 m) was exposed in the eastern part of the area. It was oriented north–south and built of indigenous fieldstones. Fragments of a sarcophagus (Samaritan?) were incorporated in secondary use within the southern end of W2405 and a corner was formed at its northern end with a similar wall (W2450) that extended 4 m westward. It seems the walls enclosed a region where a total of 68 rock-hewn tombs and installations, similar to those in Area A, were exposed. As in Area A, the installations were found mostly empty. The shallow channel, which connected the walls to the installation, was partly covered with stone slabs. A well-preserved bronze ladle was found in the small-type Installation 118 that was equipped with a channel.
Rock-hewn burial caves, oriented east–west and north–south, were discovered in the middle of the site’s area, which together with W2405, delimited the region where the rock-hewn installations were exposed. Several caves were sealed with rolling stones, discerned in situ. The caves were not excavated.
Cave 124 (Fig. 9) consisted of a rectangular main chamber (2.4 × 3.1 m) whose ceiling was slightly curved (max. height 1.7 m). The entrance to the chamber was in the eastern wall by way of a rock-hewn staircase that descended to a rectangular opening (0.50 × 0.55 m) found blocked by stones. Nine elongated kokhim in the cave were arranged perpendicular to the walls: two in the eastern wall, flanking the opening on either side, two in the western and southern walls and three in the northern wall. All the kokhim had similar dimensions (length 2 m, width 0.5 m, height 0.8 m) with a slightly curved ceiling, except for those in the southern wall that were shorter (length 0.9 and 1.3 m, width 0.6 m). An assemblage of intact glass vessels in an excellent state of preservation was discovered in the cave, which was not excavated; some of the vessels are rare, dating to the third century CE.
Numerous fragments of pottery vessels were found in the southwestern part of the area, particularly jar fragments, dating to the Chalcolithic period (a refuse pit?); the excavation in this region was not completed.
. Two squares (0.4–0.6 m deep) excavated down to qirton bedrock, were devoid of any archaeological finds.
. A hewn elliptical installation, exposed 0.2 m below surface, had a flat floor; its walls opened slightly to form a bell-shaped outline (min. diam. 1.6–1.8, depth 1.7 m). A trapezoid-shaped pit (0.3 × 0.6 m, depth 0.15 m) that was filled with small fieldstones (diam. 0.10–0.15 m) and worn potsherds, probably jars and cooking pots from the Byznatine period, as well as scattered tesserae, was exposed next to the western wall. This was apparently a silo or an installation that held liquids.
The eastern and southern boundaries of Horbat Kosit were ascertained in the excavation at Nahal Hadera and in excavations conducted in the Jatt-Baqa al-Gharbiya region. As customary in many periods, the region around the tell was utilized for burials, industry and other functions that were incompatible with a residential area.
The overall architectural plan and the meticulous finish of the underground burial structure are outstanding. Although the hewn installations around it were empty, a typological and stylistic comparison suggests they were used for burial. The route of the Cross-Israel Highway in this region overlaps, to a great extent the historic route of the Via Maris and mortuaries along the roads was a known and accepted phenomenon in the Roman period.
The Nahal Hadera site may possibly be part of an extensive necropolis that was exposed c. 500 m north of the site, between the eastern fringes of Horbat Kosit and the village of Baqa al-Gharbiya (HA-ESI 118). Nevertheless, the finds at Nahal Hadera can probably be associated with the Roman-Byzantine site in Jatt, despite the difficulty in crossing Nahal Hadera. The mechanically dug probes in the area between the two cemeteries yielded no finds; however, the difference in burial continuity between the two sites probably stemmed from the alluvium soil that was unsuitable for digging graves.
Settlements from the Roman and Byzantine periods in the vicinity of the tombs were excavated at Horbat Kosit (Permit Nos. A-3499), Jatt (‘Atiqot 37) and Baqa al-Gharbiya (ESI 10:113).