The Archaeology and History of Rock-cut Cisterns and Open Water Reservoirs in the Negev Highlands

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article provides the final assessment of a large-scale optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating project of water installations in the arid Negev Highlands, southern Israel. Results from five open reservoirs and five rock-cut cisterns are reported. By sampling spoil piles, feeding channels, and accumulation of sediments within reservoirs and cisterns, their construction and phases of maintenance and abandonment are dated. Conventional wisdom argued for progress from simpler open reservoirs in the Bronze or Iron Ages to the more sophisticated rock-cut cisterns of the Nabatean-Byzantine periods. It is shown that open reservoirs were dug throughout the history of the region, likely from the Early or Intermediate Bronze Ages until the medieval period, including periods with no stone-built remains in the region. The construction of subterranean cisterns, which calls for more resources and skill, characterize the Late Roman/ Byzantine to Early Islamic period. The significance of these results for reconstructing the history of human activity in the region is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-216
Number of pages26
JournalBulletin of ASOR
StatePublished - May 2023


FundersFunder number
Eli Itkin
Israel Antiquities AuthorityG-17/2018
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Tel Aviv University


    • Byzantine period
    • Early Bronze Age
    • Early Islamic period
    • Intermediate Bronze Age
    • Iron Age
    • Nabatean period
    • Negev Highlands
    • OSL dating
    • geoarchaeology
    • open reservoirs
    • rock-cut cisterns
    • settlement oscillations
    • water installations


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