During August–September 2009, a salvage excavation was conducted at the site of Nahal Sekher VI (B81; Permit No. A-5717; map ref. 18352–5/55626–33), prior to widening Highway 40 between Be’er Sheva‘ and the Negev Junction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Israel National Roads Company Ltd., was directed by O. Barzilay and N. Agha (field photography), with the assistance of I. Milevski and H. Ashkenazy (area supervision), S. Lender and Y. el-Amorr (administration), O. Marder and H. Khalaily (preliminary inspections), Y. Roskin, Y. Sharfi and N. Porat (Geology), V. Essman, M. Kipnis and T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting) and L. Barda (GPS).
The site is located in the middle section of Nahal Sekher, at an elevation of c. 350 m above sea level, southeast of Ramat Hovav (Fig. 1). The region, which is today covered with active sand dunes (thickness 3–10 m), adjoins Holot Haluza in the west and the limestone hills of Ramat Beka‘ in the east.The current climate in the region is arid, with an average annual precipitation of c. 200 mm.
The site was discovered in a section of the road in the 1950s (F. Burian and E. Friedman. 1975. Prehistoric Sites in the Nahal Sekher Area. Mitekufat Haeven 13:68–69).A small-scale salvage excavation (18 sq m) was conducted in the southern part of the site in 1981, where remains from the Natufian culture that included numerous flint tools, as well as lunates and burnt stones (A.N. Goring-Morris and O. Bar-Yosef. 1987. A Late Natufian Campsite from the Western Negev, Israel. Paléorient 13/1:107–112) were exposed.The area of the site has been estimated at c. 60 sq m, but this could not be verified due to the sand dunes that cover it. Thirty-five prehistoric sites dating to the Upper Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods were identified within the framework of the Negev Emergency Survey (ESI 1:85–86).Temporary encampments that dated to the Chalcolithic period were found along the northern bank of the stream, c. 1 km to the west (I. Gilead and Y. Goren. 1986. Stations of the Chalcolithic Period in Nahal Sekher, Northern Negev. Paléorient 12/1:83–90).
Probe trenches were excavated at the site in June 2009.An archaeological level, which turned out to be a site (c. 0.5 dunam) covered with a sand dune (thickness c. 2 m in northeast, c. 0.7 m in southwest), was identified.
The current excavation was undertaken in three areas (A–C).Area A was excavated in sub-squares (0.5×0.5 m), while documenting the coordinates of the diagnostic items, such as lunates and cores; Areas B and C were excavated in a grid (5×5 m). All the excavated sediment was sifted through a 1 mm sieve.Remains of a temporary encampment from the Natufian culture were exposed (Area A) and evidence of a presence (Areas A and B) during the Chalcolithic, Byzantine and Ottoman periods was revealed.
Area A (165 sq m)
A thin archaeological level (thickness 2–5 cm; Fig. 2), consisting mainly of flint artifacts and burnt stones, was exposed on a stable sand dune. The area was divided into two: a high, level region in the east and an area with sloping fringes to the south and west.A tool-preparation post, which included a broken stone anvil, pounders, a flint bladelet core and large Helwan lunates, was located in the center of the archaeological level (Fig. 3). It seems that the finds in this area were in situ, unlikethe finds along the fringes of the site that were eroded because the archaeological level was inclined and in Squares B11–D14, finds even penetrated below the level (as much as 0.3 m deep).
The flint assemblage is characterized by bladelet cores (Fig. 4: A), debitage and tools.It seems that the stone knapping at the site was primarily intended for the production of bladelets, from which lunates were fashioned.The lunates include mostly large Helwan lunates (Fig. 4: B), which are characteristic of the Early Natufian culture, and small backed lunates (Fig. 4: C) that are typical of the Late Natufian culture.The appearance of both types together at the site raises the question of whether there were two phases, early and late ones, or one transitional phase when the two types co-existed. An analysis of the spatial distribution of the flint artifacts at the site and an examination of the patina overlying them will possibly provide an answer in the future.
A considerable quantity of burnt stones was found; these are indicative of hearths that were not identified in the excavation.Other finds include calcareousconcentrations that stemmed from roots and bones, beads of dentalium shells, which come from the Red Sea, and fragments of ostrich eggs, characteristic of the Natufian culture in the Negev region (Fig. 5).
A few fragments of pottery vessels that dated to the Chalcolithic period were found on the surface of the archaeological level in the eastern part of the area. Hence, the site was partially exposed during this period. The provenance of the pottery vessels was probably one of the Chalcolithic sites that were identified in the vicinity (ESI 1; Gilead and Goren 1986).
Area B (150 sq m)
The area is located in a depression on an active sand dune (Fig. 6). The discovered artifacts were not in situ. The finds included flint artifacts from the Chalcolithic period, fragments of pottery vessels from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods and burnt stones.
The Natufian finds at the site, especially the tool-preparation post and the numerous lunates, denote activity associated with hunting.It can reasonably be assumed that the site’s location, as well as the presence of other Natufian sites in the vicinity, such as Nahal Sekher 23 and Nahal Sekher 30 (A.N. Goring-Morris. 1987. At the Edge: Terminal Pleistocene Hunter-Gatherers in the Negev and Sinai [BAR Int. S. 361]. Oxford), are associated with the seasonal lake that existed downstream, c. 1.5 km west of the site (Y. Anzel. 1984. The Geomorphology of Lower Nahal Sekher. M.Sc. Thesis, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem).
Area C (75 sq m)
A depression devoid of finds, except for a number of non-diagnostic flint flakes.
Following the abandonment of the site, it was covered over with shifting sand dunes until the Chalcolithic period, at which time its eastern part was exposed and then re-covered by a layer of thick sand until the modern era.The meager amount of Chalcolithic finds, which included fragments of pottery vessels in Area A and flint artifacts in Area B, indicate either the existence of a nearby temporary encampment or ties to other temporary sites in the region.