During March 2012, a salvage excavation was conducted at Kh. Umm Leisun in Jerusalem (Permit No. A-6427; map ref. 223278/627433), following the discovery of a cistern prior to the installation of a water line. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Gihon Company, Ltd., was directed by S. Mizrahi, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), N. Shami (archaeological inspection), M. Kunin and A. Hajian (surveying), B. Touri (safety), D. Levi (GPS) and N. Zak and M. Cohen (drafting).
The settlement at Kh. Umm Leisun, on a hill between Nahal Darga to the west and Wadi Iluzto the east, was founded in the twentieth century CE. The cistern was located on the hilltop (707 m asl; Fig. 1). According to the maps of the British Survey (Conder and Kitchener 1883: Sheet XVII), the region was uninhabited and named ‘Umm el Aisun’. The closest settlement is Sur Bahir, which was described at the end of the nineteenth century as a modern village with stone houses where c. 400 residents lived (Guérin 1968; Conder and Kitchener 1883:30). Presumably, the region was used as an agricultural area that was cultivated by the inhabitants of Sur Bahir until the village of Umm Leisun was established. Archaeological excavations were formerly conducted in the vicinity, at Khirbat Umm Leisun, c. 300 m north of the current excavation, where a Georgian monastery that existed from the Byzantine until the Early Islamic (749 CE) periods was revealed. A cave below the monastery contained the remains of a ritual bath (miqwe) and pottery that attested to the existence of a Jewish settlement in the Early Roman period (Seligman and Abu Raya 2000, 2002; Kloner 2000:147). A terrace wall was exposed in the northeastern part of the village; it dated to the Byzantine period and continued to be used in the Early Islamic period. Remains of rock-cuttings were discovered on the bedrock (Permit No. A-5828). At Horbat Brekhot, c. 1 km south of the excavation area, remains of walls built of large roughly hewn stones that were part of a large building dating to the Iron Age II were discovered. Furthermore, a stone clearance heap that was delimited by field walls and date from the Roman and Byzantine periods was excavated (Permit No. A-4884).
An area (L400; 6.0×7.5 m; Figs. 2, 3) was excavated and its surface that served as the ceiling of the cistern was exposed, as well as an opening for drawing water and a cupmark. The northwestern side of the cistern, which was damaged by mechanical equipment when the water pipe was being installed, was also excavated. The cistern itself was not excavated due to the possible collapse of its ceiling.
The opening through which water was drawn was rock-hewn and circular (diam. 0.9 m, depth 0.22 m) and sealed with a large irregular-shaped fieldstone (0.5×0.7 m, height 0.31; Fig. 4). A cupmark hewn in the bedrock (L401; diam. 0.2 m, depth 0.18 m; Fig. 5) was discovered c. 2.5 m east of the opening. The elliptical cistern (9×12 m, depth 3.5 m) was hewn in limestone bedrock and was coated with white gravelly plaster from its bottom to midway up its side (Fig. 6). Alluvium penetrated into the opening after the cistern was no longer in use (Fig. 7). Two layers were exposed in the excavation on the northwestern side (L402; 1×2 m; Fig. 8); an upper layer (thickness 0.5 m) that was an accumulation of brown alluvium with medium and large stones and potsherds from the Iron Age and Byzantine period, and a lower layer that consisted of light colored soil, reaching the bottom of the cistern (max. thickness 0.4 m; Fig. 9) and several non-diagnostic potsherds.
Since only a small portion of the cistern was excavated and the ceramic finds were eroded, it is impossible to date the time of its construction or use. Archaeological evidence in the region points to the existence of a Byzantine–Early Islamic monastery and a Jewish settlement from the Early Roman period at nearby Khirbat Umm Leisun (Seligman and Abu Raya 2002
). It seems that a settlement hiatus transpired in the region from the Islamic period until the early twentieth century CE and the construction of the village. Therefore, it can be cautiously suggested that the cistern was installed in one of these periods.
Conder C. R. and Kitchener F. H. 1883. The Survey of Western Palestine. Volume III. Judaea.London.
Guérin V. 1983. Description géographique, historique et archéologique de la Palestine. Third volume: Judaea [translation to Hebrew from the French by H. Ben-Amram]. Jerusalem. Pp. 57–58.
Kloner A. 2000. Survey of Jerusalem, the Southern Sector. Jerusalem.
Seligman J. and Abu Raya R. 2000. Jerusalem, Umm Leisun. HA-ESI 111:72*.