Phase A. The site was first inhabited during the fourth century BCE, as indicated by coins from that period. However, no architectural finds that could be positively attributed to this period were unearthed.
Phase B. The site was settled continuously during the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. The uncovered remains, such as ancient ritual baths, stone vessels and coins, provide evidence of Jewish settlement.
Phase C. During the first half of the first century CE, extensive construction and development work took place at the site. Planned residential quarters were built around two main courtyards, and underground storage systems were quarried out. The settlement was partially destroyed during the first Jewish Revolt (66–70 CE), after which it was abandoned for a short time.
Phase D. A Jewish population resettled at the site between the Grea`t Revolt and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The buildings in the east part of the site were renovated and made habitable, whereas those on its west side were left in ruins after the destruction of the first Jewish Revolt. A broad building (M) identified as a public building, possibly a synagogue, which was built during this period near Residential Units T and N was in use up to and during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. During this phase, additional subterranean cavities were hewn beneath the dwellings; some of these served as hiding complexes for the local population during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. With the failure of the revolt, the site was destroyed.
Phase E. Early in the third century CE, the ruins in the east part of the site were rebuilt by pagan settlers. The site was abandoned early in the fifth century CE and was never reoccupied.
The current excavations focused on an insula in the site’s northern section (Insula F; c. 14 × 19 m; Figs. 1, 2), built on the northern part of the hill and comprising rooms with a series of stepped floors descending northward in accordance with the topography.
The excavations unearthed four elongate ed rooms (F2, F3, F5, F8), built along a similar northwest–southeast alignment, as well as two lateral rooms (F4, F7) built immediately to their east along a northeast–southwest axis. A heap of stones (F1) to the south of the insula turned out to be a collapse from walls flanking a pedestrian alley linked to the road leading to the settlement from the west. The walls of the rooms were all built of large, roughly hewn fieldstones (length c. 0.6–0.8 m, average width 0.4–0.5 m), preserved to the height of two or three courses. In Rooms 3 and 5, a level floor of tamped brownish gray soil was laid on the bedrock and filled the hollows in the natural rock surface. The pottery found on the floor consisted of typical first-century BCE to first-century CE potsherds, whereas characteristically second-century BCE pottery was discovered beneath the floor. The finds allow us to date these two rooms to the late second or early first century BCE.
To the northwest of Room 5 was a small room (F6) delimited by three walls (W7—length c. 3.5 m; W8—length c. 7 m; W9—length c. 2 m). The orientation of Walls 8 and 9 and the elevation at their base, which is lower than that of the other walls of the building suggest that the small room, although adjacent to Insula F on the east, predates it. The north part of the small room was partially excavated, but at present it is impossible to provide an accurate date for its construction.
In the east part of Room 2 was a system of subterranean cavities (Chamber III; Cave of the Reliefs) that were excavated in 1999–2001 and found to be underground storage complexes dating from the first century CE. In the Late Roman period (second–fourth centuries CE), they were converted into an arcosolia burial cave, in which the facades of the arcosolia bore reliefs associated with pagan funerary practices (Zissu et al. 2014).
The current excavation unearthed another complex of subterranean cavities (Complex XXXIV; Fig. 3) was discovered in the east part of Room 3, slightly north of the entrance to the Cave of the Reliefs. This complex was entered via a hewn shaft (A; L6113; c. 2.5 m below surface level); two recesses in its eastern and western walls were hewn to fit a wooden panel or stone slab designed to seal the complex and conceal its entrance. A low opening hewn at the bottom of the shaft led to an elliptical chamber (B; L6118; length c. 2.45 m, width c. 2.2 m, height c. 1.9 m; Fig. 4), which was probably used to store agricultural produce. The chamber yielded potsherds and eight coins of types that were in circulation during the first century CE, including a coin of Antiochus IV, prutot from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, coins of Agrippa I and coins from the second year of the first Jewish Revolt (IAA 165079–165086). A hewn entrance at the center of Chamber B led to a bell-shaped chamber on a lower level (D; L6123; height 1.7 m, diam. 2 m). The entrance was blocked with a broken stone slab—an olive-press weight in secondary use. To aid access from Chamber B to Chamber D, a rectangular stone (height 0.7 m) was placed as a step below the entrance to the installation. The floor and the bottom part of the chamber’s walls were coated with gray hydraulic plaster characteristic of the late Second Temple period. A plastered depression (D1; diam.0.5 m, depth 0.5 m; Fig. 5) was hewn on the north side of the chamber; based on its size, it was apparently used to store jars containing liquids, probably wine or olive oil. The volume of the depression corresponds to the volume of a jar of this period and would have thus served to save the contents of a broken jar. The soil accumulated in Installation D1 yielded potsherds and 13 bronze coins that were in circulation during the first century CE, including a coin from the reign of Antiochus III, a coin from the time of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, coins from the reign of Agrippa I and a coin from the second year of the first Jewish Revolt (IAA 165088–165100). A low, narrow tunnel (b-c; length c. 2 m) was hewn into the north wall of Chamber B that, after a 90-degree turn, provided a crawlway leading to another elliptical subterranean chamber (C; L6119; length c. 2.3 m, width c. 1.8 m, height c. 1.8 m). A hewn ledge (B1) installed above the entrance to the crawlway in Chamber B increased its storage capacity. Fragments of two first-century CE jars were found in Chamber C. The underground complex was probably used to store agricultural produce during the first century CE.
Insula F is a further example of the architectural style of the Second Temple-period settlement at Horbat ‛Etri. Houses constructed of roughly hewn fieldstones were built above ground. The walls were founded on the bedrock, which was at times hewn to serve as the lower part of a wall. The floors in the buildings were mostly hewn in the bedrock, and bedrock pockets and damaged areas were filled in with small fieldstones and brown soil covered over with a floor of tamped gray soil. Entrance shafts leading to subterranean chambers that served for storage were hewn through the bedrock floors of hard nari; the chambers were elliptical and bottle-like in section, hewn in the soft chalk layer of bedrock, sometimes on several levels.
Based on data from the partial excavations conducted in Insula F, it can be determined that like the remains in the western part of the ruin, it was established in the late second or early first century BCE and was used until the first century CE (Phases B and C). It was apparently destroyed during the first Jewish Revolt, perhaps during the military campaign led by the Roman commander Cerealis to Upper Idumea in 68 or 69 CE (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews IV, 552; Zissu 2005). Except for Chamber III, which was converted into a pagan burial chamber in the Late Roman period, Insula F provided no evidence of any rebuilding attempts following the first Jewish Revolt.
Complex XXXIV was used during the first century CE as a storage room for agricultural produce and possibly as a hiding place for the local population during the first Jewish Revolt, but it bears no evidence of subsequent used.
Like the first century CE subterranean complexes found in the west part of the site (e.g., Insula K), with their low, narrow tunnels, Complex XXXIV is an early prototype of the elaborate hiding refuge systems from the Bar Kokhba Revolt (see Zissu and Ganor 2002:20–21).