During August 1998, a salvage excavation was conducted south of Ha-Melakha Street and Highway 44 intersection in Azor (License No. B-137/1998; map ref. 181777/658690; Fig. 1), in the wake of damage to ancient remains during the widening of the intersection. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the BG Negev Technologies Company, Ltd. and underwritten by the Department of Public Works, was directed by I. Akus, with the assistance of A. Karasik and P. Kamisky (surveying, drafting and drawing of finds), Y. Yekutieli (guidance, consultation and data processing), T. Ronen, O. Matani and Y. Yolowitz (data processing) and O. Shalev (assistance in preparing for publication).
The excavation was located c. 220 m southeast of Sha‘ar Ziyyon synagogue, which is situated in the building of the Imam Ali mosque that was probably constructed in the twelfth century CE, and c. 70 m south of a previous excavation that revealed Muslim tombs, which ranged in date from the Early Islamic period to the modern era (see Fig. 1; HA-ESI 123).
Two areas (A, F; Fig. 2) were opened. Three trial squares were excavated in friable kurkar mixed with hamra in Area A, and no archaeological finds were discovered. A single square was opened in Area F after a backhoe damaged wall remains and exposed numerous potsherds; the remains of a built tomb were discovered.
Two plastered, fieldstone-built walls, founded on the bedrock, were exposed (W200, W201; Figs. 3, 4). The walls enclosed a funerary structure (min. dimensions 0.7 × 2.9 m), aligned east–west. Sterile ground, devoid of any finds, was excavated around the tomb (L102) and no archaeological finds were discovered in a probe (2 × 4 m), excavated northeast of the tomb. It can be concluded that the tomb was built inside a pit that was dug into sterile soil. Light brown soil (L101, L103), which contained a large quantity of pottery and human bone fragments, was excavated in the tomb. The pottery and bones were discovered mostly in the upper third of the burial cell (L101).
The pottery assemblage is characteristic of the end of the Byzantine and beginning of the Early Islamic periods (sixth–eighth centuries CE). Three Late Roman C bowls made of well-levigated red clay and well-fired were found. The first bowl has a T-shaped rim, a straight wall and a roulette decoration below the rim (Fig. 5:1); the second has a rounded ledge rim, curved wall and a roulette decoration below the rim (Fig. 5:2); and the third has a triangular rim with ribbing (Fig. 5:4). Another bowl, made of orange-brown clay with a ledge rim (Fig. 5:3), is dated to the Early Islamic period (Magness J. 1993. Jerusalem Ceramic Chronology: Circa 200-800 C.E. Sheffield. P. 149). Other finds included a flask with a very short cupmark-like neck dating to the sixth–seventh centuries CE (Fig. 5:5; ‘Atiqot 25:165); a fragment of a pointed and ribbed base of a Gaza type jar that is dated to the sixth century CE (Fig. 5:6; HA-ESI 111:86*–87*); and a fragment of a baggy-shaped jar with an upright neck and a rim beveled inward, dating to the end of the Byzantine and the beginning of the Early Islamic periods (Fig. 5:7; ‘Atiqot 25:164).
Based on probes around the excavation, it seems that the tomb was the only ancient remain in its immediate vicinity. This is probably a Muslim tomb at the southern end of the burial field that extended south of the Imam Ali mosque, sections of which were exposed in other excavations (HA-ESI 109:65*, HA-ESI 123). Remains of archaeological finds in the surface layer, at the time the tomb was dug, were probably removed when the road was being paved before the excavation; therefore, the tomb which penetrated deep into the ground was the only find in the excavation. The potsherds in the tomb dated to the end of the Byzantine and the beginning of the Early Islamic periods (seventh–eighth centuries CE) and were probably raked into it from the ancient surface level together with the soil that was used to cover the tomb. Hence, these potsherds do not necessarily date the digging of the tomb; rather, they determine the earliest threshold for dating it.