Winter is sometimes the best time to dig in Israel’s Negev desert—and sometimes the worst. In summer the heat can be stifling; while in winter, cold windy days at times prevent any outdoor work. It was the winter of 1979 when I began to excavate Tel Ira, a site in the eastern Negev.a
As BAR readers know, modern archaeologists never excavate a site in isolation. Any site must be understood in the context of the entire area or region of which it is a part.
So naturally we conducted a detailed survey of the region around Tel Ira. Not surprisingly, we discovered literally scores of small archaeological sites that had previously been unknown.
One morning in January we were riding in our Jeep about five miles east of Tel Ira, slowly climbing the deeply fissured side of a hill above the Malhata Valley, looking for new sites. Our experienced eyes easily detected archaeological remains on the highest part of the flat-topped hill. We quickly drove the remaining way up the hill and jumped out of the Jeep.
Scattered about the site were large quantities of pottery sherds, all from the end of the Iron Age period, the ubiquitous archaeological indication of occupation in the Israelite period.