Ancient cisterns in the Negev Highlands: Types and spatial correlation with Bronze and Iron Age sites

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Extensive archaeological surveys have been conducted in recent years in the Negev desert region. The present research focusses on the central Negev Highlands north of the Makhtesh Ramon erosion cirque. The density of settlement sites in this area during the Bronze and Iron Ages is surprising in view of the absence of permanent water sources. Water is of course the primary and critical precondition for settlement and survival. The lack of springs necessitated water-harvesting of local rainfall for drinking water, by means of ingenious runoff capture in cisterns. Four types of cisterns occur in the region: (a) open cisterns dug in soft clayey marl, (b) bell-shaped cisterns (c) small bowl shaped cisterns and (d) roofed cisterns. The latter three types were hewn in hard limestone or chalk. This article deals in particular with the so-called open cisterns and the problem of their archaeological association and age. The time of construction of these cisterns has often been presumed to relate to the Iron Age. However, such a suggested association ignores the large number of Bronze Age sites in the area and the question of their water supply. The latter sites belong to the Early Bronze Age and/or the Middle Bronze Age I. This investigation evaluates for the first time by means of spatial analyses the distribution of cistern types and their association with settlements of various archaeological periods. Nine archaeological survey maps, each covering an area of 10 × 10 km, were included in this spatial analysis. Hence the total study area comprises 900 km2. The results show that open cisterns are not common at elevations below 600 m in the Negev Highlands. Many open cisterns are concentrated along a linear axis north of the Makhtesh Ramon erosion cirque, which is not the case for other cistern types. The average distances of all Bronze and Iron Age sites around the cisterns were evaluated. The open cisterns show a clear spatial correlation with Bronze Age sites, in particular with sites inhabited during both the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age I.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102227
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Bronze Age
  • Cisterns
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Iron Age
  • Negev desert
  • Spatial analyses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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