Monograph Series No. 15

The Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology

Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

No. 15

Tel ‘Ira: A Stronghold in the Biblical Negev

Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

Contributions by:
E. Ayalon, A. G. Baron, P. Beck, R. Ben-Dov, A. Biran, B. Brandl, S. Bunimowitz, V. Eshed, J. M. Cahill, B. C. Cresson, T. Dayan, D. Goldsmith, I. Finkelstein, M. Fischer, L. Freud, Y. Goren, M. Hershkovitz, I. Hershkovitz, A. Horowitz, L. K. Horwitz, T. Kertesz, A. Kindler, R. Kletter, G. Lehrer-Jacobson, N. Liphschitz, J. Naveh, O. Negbi, W. Neidinger, A. Ovadiah, O. Tal and S. Wish-Baratz

Tel Aviv 1999


In 1979 the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University commenced digging at this important hill-top site between Beersheba and Arad, continuing until 1987. After brief occupation in the Early Bronze Age III, a thriving city and its large cemetery stood at Tel ‘Ira until destroyed at the end of the Iron Age. Sporadic occupation in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods was followed by the construction of a monastic complex in the Byzantine period.

This detailed and comprehensive final report of the excavations includes studies on the ceramic, epigraphic, numismatic, mosaic and stone finds, as well as botanical, faunal and human remains.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: SETTLEMENT IN THE EASTERN NEGEV
Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

Chapter 2: THE SITE AND HISTORY OF EXCAVATION
Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

PART ONE: STRATIGRAPHY AND ARCHITECTURE

Chapter 3: DESCRIPTION OF EXCAVATED AREAS

Chapter 4: THE CEMETERY
Aileen G. Baron and Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

Chapter 5: STRATIGRAPHY & HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Itzhaq Beit-Arieh

PART TWO: FINDS

Chapter 6: POTTERY
Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, Moshe Fischer, Liora Freud, Malka Hershkovitz and Oren Tal

Chapter 7: CLAY FIGURINES
Pirhiyah Beck and Raz Kletter

Chapter 8: THE JEWELLERY FROM THE TOMBS
Liora Freud

Chapter 9: EPIGRAPHIC FINDS
Baruch Brandl, Itzhaq Beit-Arieh and Joseph Naveh

Chapter 10: STONE ARTEFACTS FROM THE BYZANTINE PERIOD
Moshe Fischer and Oren Tal

Chapter 11: THE MONASTIC COMPLEX AND ITS MOSAICS
Asher Ovadiah

Chapter 12: NUMISMATIC FINDS
Arieh Kindler

Chapter 13: GLASS BOTTLES FROM THE EARLY ISLAMIC PERIOD
Gusta Lehrer-Jacobson

Chapter 14: MISCELLANEOUS FINDS
Rahel Ben-Dov, Danny Goldsmith and Trudi Kertesz

PART THREE: INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES

Chapter 15: BOTANICAL REMAINS
Nili Liphshitz

Chapter 16: FAUNAL REMAINS
Tamar Dayan and Liora Kolska Horwitz

Chapter 17: HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS
Vered Eshed, Israel Hershkovitz and Susanne Wish-Baratz

Introduction

SETTLEMENT IN THE EASTERN NEGEV

The Arad – Beersheba valley (the eastern biblical Negev) is possibly one of the most thoroughly archaeologically researched regions of Israel (Fig. 1.1). Most of the area has been surveyed by teams from the Archaeological Survey of Israel and all the large sites have been (or are being) excavated (Fig. 1.2; Table 1.1).

This area was apparently only sparsely populated during the Paleolithic period. Settlement intensified during the Chalcolithic. Settlements from this period were discovered initially along Nahal Beersheba, in the vicinity of the modern town of that name. Subsequently, Chalcolithic remains were found at sites eastward in the direction of Arad, as well as between Arad and Tel Shoqet. At some of these sites (Arad and Small Tel Malhata) occupation continued into Early Bronze I and II. At others there was an occupational gap during Early Bronze I and occupation resumed either in Early Bronze II (e.g. Tel Esdar) or only in the Middle Bronze II period (e.g. Tel Masos and Tel Malhata). All phases of the Early Bronze Age are represented in the eastern Negev.
In Middle Bronze Age II an archaeological hiatus appears to have existed in the area. Only two sites, Tel Masos and Tel Malhata, are known to have been occupied as fortresses during this period. This absence of settlement continued through the Late Bronze Age when even these sites were abandoned.
During the early phases of the Iron Age (12th–10th centuries B.C.E.) settlement resumed at Tel Beersheba, Tel Masos, Tel Malhata, Arad, Tel Esdar and at Yattir Site. In addition, various areas now built over by the modern city of Beersheba were also settled. Judaean occupation of the region continued, with certain changes, till the end of the 8th century B.C.E. At that time there were three fortified settlements in the region: Tel Beersheba (Stratum II) at the western end of the Judahite Negev (Aharoni 1973:4-8), Tel Malhata in the central area (Beit-Arieh 1998) and Arad (Stratum VIII) at its eastern end (Aharoni 1981:8; Herzog et al. 1984:19-22). There were probably also several large settlements, at Tel Shoqet, Horvat Hur and Horvat Yittan (Govrin 1991:17) and a number of scattered small settlements. On the other hand, the settlements at Tel Esdar and Nahal Yattir Site ceased to exist after the 8th century B.C.E.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Judaean Negev reached its floruit in the 7th century B.C.E. At Arad the fortress continued in this phase (Aharoni 1973, 1981; Herzog et al. 1984:22-26), as did settlements at Tel Ira, Tel Aroer, Tel Malhata, Tel Masos and probably Tel Shoqet, Horvat Hur, Horvat Yittan, and several others within the area of modern Beersheba. Moreover, fortresses were built at Horvat Uza (and near it a settlement), Horvat Tov, Horvat Radum and Horvat Anim. In addition to these settlements, there arose alongside them farmsteads (unpublished).

The archaeological picture during this phase shows a considerable increase of Judahite settlement in the eastern Negev, especially as regards fortified sites along the eastern border, of which four strongholds—Horvat Tov, Tel Arad, Horvat Uza and Horvat Radum—are representative. In addition, the settlement at Tel Ira, which at that time was the largest and most strongly fortified town of the region, emphasizes the need for such strongholds.

The hypothesis that fortified settlements were built to guard against incursions by bordering Arab desert tribes or by Edomites (Aharoni 1981:151; Malamat 1983:284-185; Na’aman 1987:15; Rainey 1987:25; Ephal 1982:81-169; Beit-Arieh 1995) seems valid. Historically, this view has a basis in numerous biblical passages, from which it is clear that relations between Judah and Edom abounded in repeated struggles, conquests and a deep hostility that had its origins already in the period of the United Kingdom (II Samuel 8-14; I Kings 22:48; II Kings 8:20-22, 14:7, 22, 16:6; Isaiah 35, 63:1-6; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 24:2 14, 35:1-6; Joel 4:19; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah; Malachi 1:25; Liver 1964).

Archaeological support is provided by the Edomite pottery dating to the 7th century B.C.E. that was found at many settlements in the eastern Negev, e.g. Tel Aroer, Tel Malhata, Tel Arad, Tel Masos and Tel ‘Ira (Mazar, E. 1985; Beit-Arieh 1995, 1998). There are also several epigraphic finds from the same period that contribute to the evidence. Among these are a seal inscribed ì÷åñà (leqosa QWS = QAUS, the principal Edomite deity), a fragment of an Edomite ostracon from Tel Aroer (Biran and Cohen 1981:264; Biran 1982:162), Inscriptions Nos. 3, 21, 40 from Arad, in which both Edom and Edomite persons are mentioned in a somewhat obscure context (Aharoni 1981), Ostracon No. 24 from Arad in which the Edomite threat looming over Judah is made dramatically plain in the last phrase “Lest Edom come there” (Aharoni 1981), and the ostracon from Horvat Uza bearing a blessing in the name of the Edomite deity Qaus addressed to a high Edomite official resident either at the fort itself or somewhere nearby (Beit-Arieh and Cresson 1985). This last may testify to an official Edomite presence in the region. Further important confirmation of this Edomite presence is the shrine at Horvat Qitmit (Beit-Arieh 1995) apparently designed to serve the ritual needs of an Edomite population in this area.
New evidence of Edomite involvement in the eastern Negev came to light recently when more Edomite pottery and Qitmit-type figurines were uncovered in our excavations at Tel Malhata (Beit-Arieh 1998). Additional indications of Edomite control of the route from the Arava to the Arad – Beersheba valley has been discovered of late at En Hazeva in the northern Arava, where a small Edomite cult place was uncovered (Cohen 1995; Cohen and Israel 1995a; 1995b).

The above evidence may be taken to reflect Edomite penetration into the eastern Negev, probably around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The reasons for this incursion may well have been to control trade routes through the region, and also perhaps to exploit its economic resources. Therefore the fortifications in the eastern Negev can plausibly be attributed to Judahite – Edomite hostility at a time when Assyria, the then dominant power in the region, was diverting its major strength toward Egypt and was physically in control of the southern coastal plain of Eretz Israel (Na’aman 1987:7-11).

The Neo-Babylonian period is minimally represented in the finds from our excavations. Only a group of vessels recovered from one of the tombs (T-13) can be assigned to it at the present time. These vessels seem indicative of some kind of occupation at the site, which continued even after the destruction of the town at the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E. However, once the material from all excavated sites in the region has been thoroughly sifted and processed, it may be discovered that there is evidence of additional settlement during Neo-Babylonian times.

During the Persian period the northeastern Negev was relatively sparsely populated. The main centres were at Arad and Tel Beersheba which, by all accounts, served as regional administrative and military centres for the Persian rulers and were designed to stem any incursion of desert tribes. In Stratum H3 at Tel Beersheba segments of walls dating to this period were exposed in the fortress (Aharoni 1973; Naveh 1973:82) and likewise at Arad (Aharoni 1981:8; Naveh 1981:153-176). An additional Persian administrative centre, which evidently was designed to dominate the En Gedi plain, was uncovered at Tel Goren (Stratum V) (Mazar et al. 1966). Contemporaneously a small settlement existed at Tel Ira and there were also small settlements at several sites in the western part of the Judaean Negev (Govrin 1991:18). An agricultural settlement with a central building (perhaps a khan) was uncovered at Nahal Yattir Site, some 5 km. from Tel Beersheba (Govrin 1991:13-23). Aramaic ostraca in which the theophoric syllable qos appears in personal names (Naveh 1973: Ostraca Nos. 1, 10, 20, 32, 33, 80-81) attests to a continuing Edomite presence. The names appearing on Aramaic ostraca (mainly from Arad and Tel Beersheba) suggest that the population of the area in this period was of diverse character and included Jews, Edomites and Arabs (Naveh 1973:82).


ISBN 965-440-008-1, xxii + 520 pages, 406 figures and photograph, 8 colour plates.
Hard Cover. Price $60.00

MONOGRAPH SERIES OF THE SONIA AND MARCO NADLER INSTITUTE OF ARCHAEOLOGY