Construction and use of rock-cut cisterns: a chronological OSL approach in the arid Negev Highlands, Israel

Andrea Junge, Zachary C. Dunseth, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Israel Finkelstein, Markus Fuchs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Negev Highlands (Israel) are characterized by a rich settlement history over the last millennia. To sustain life in this arid environment, measures to collect and store water were introduced. Two types of installations to collect and store runoff water were built in the region: open reservoirs, and more elaborate subterranean rock-cut cisterns. This article focuses on the latter. Based on a few inscriptions found in rock-cut cisterns, it is assumed that the majority were constructed in the Hellenistic (Nabatean) to Byzantine period. To evaluate this age assessment, this study was carried out at the Borot Hazaz cisterns system, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating together with micromorphological analyses. Both were applied to sediments that were relocated during the cistern’s construction and usage and after the maintenance activities ended. Despite unfavourable conditions for resetting the OSL signal, including fluvial transport over short distances and sediment deposition by humans in large quantities, it was possible to reconstruct the life cycle of the cistern system. The present study places the construction of the system during the late Roman to Byzantine period, with utilization and long-term maintenance during the following centuries. Maintenance ceased at the Borot Hazaz cistern system gradually over the course of the last 500 years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant (No. FU 417/33-1 with M. F. as principal investigator and R. S.-G. and I. F. as co-investigators) from the DFG, German Research Foundation. Excavations were conducted under the Israel Antiquities Authority permit G-17/2018. We would like to thank Abra Spiciarich, Angie Hudson, Brett Cohen and Ronnie Avidov for their relentless work and support during the excavation of Borot Hazaz, and Manfred Fischer from the Bayreuth University for U and Th measurements.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Arid environment
  • Byzantine Period
  • Early Islamic Period
  • Optically stimulated luminescence
  • Water harvesting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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