The Judean Shephelah is a transitional geographic region situated between the southern Coastal Plain in the west and the Judean mountains in the east, a discrete geographic unit featuring many similar physical characteristics: geology, climate, flora, fauna, soil cover, water sources, etc. It covers ca. 305 miles2 (790 km2) and is characterized by low, rounded hills dissected by dry streambeds and fertile alluvial valleys.

The biblical term Ha-Shephelah can be translated as “The Lowlands,” reflecting its relationship with the central Judean mountains to the east. It is one of the distinct geographic regions belonging to the tribe of Judah and is defined by the list of 39 cities in Joshua 15:33–44. In general, the Shephelah comprises two distinct units: the higher, more rocky hills in the east characterized by little agricultural potential and the lower, gentler hills in the west characterized by large tracts of fertile agricultural land. The primary factor influencing the topography of the Shephelah is the bedrock of soft Eocene chalk, which in most places is topped by a hard calcrete crust 3.3 to 6.6 ft (1–2 m) thick that contributed to the rounded contours of the landscape.

In general, the Shephelah is dominated by the system of streambeds that flow westward through the hills, dividing the landscape into a number of distinct, secondary geographic subregions. The Judean aquifer that lies below the Shephelah contains little water, and it is not replenished by the winter precipitation because of the composition of the bedrock cover. Thus, there are few perennial water sources, and the region is characterized by dried-up wells. In the valleys water originating in winter rains in the eastern mountains flows in the streambeds below the upper pebble layers for several months, while in the east, along the juncture with the Hebron mountains, seasonal springs appear. The inhabitants of the region know how to best exploit these water sources for most months of the year by deepening and widening them.

In the western Shephelah the fertile rendzina soils in the wide valleys, together with ample precipitation, enabled the cultivation of cereal crops under optimal conditions. In the east cultivation was possible only in the streambeds, and this eastern region is characterized by agricultural terracing to increase the available cultivable land.

Geographic and Archaeological Research in the Shephelah.

The first study of the land of Israel in general, and the Shephelah in particular, is the Onomasticon by the church father Eusebius, who lived in Caesarea in the first half of the fourth century C.E. Eusebius compiled the names of the towns mentioned in the Bible and sought to locate them and interpret their names. In the nineteenth century, a number of scholars toured the land of Israel, including the Judean Shephelah, such as E. Robinson, E. Smith, and V. Guérin, who described the land in detail and documented the ancient sites as they were at the time. The Palestine Exploration Fund set about to precisely survey and map the land of Israel, and the Survey of Western Palestine documented the archaeology and topography of the Shephelah, including vegetation, roads, and sites. Flinders Petrie surveyed several of the large tells in the Shephelah, and his research included analyses of the pottery sherds from these sites. At the end of the century F. J. Bliss and R. A. S. Macalister carried out the first scientific excavations of four large tells of the Shephelah, which could be viewed as the first regional project in the world. In the period of the British Mandate, during the first half of the twentieth century, the antiquities inspectors compiled detailed documentation of ruins in the region, which included photographs. A series of aerial photographs taken by the Royal Air Force in 1945 provided invaluable documentation of the agricultural settlements, road systems, water sources, and footpaths at that time.

Prior to 1948, seven tells had been excavated in the Shephelah: Tel ʾAzeka, Tel Ṣafit, Tel Goded, Tel Maresha (all four excavated by Bliss and Macalister), Tel Lachish, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Tel Beth-Shemesh. At four of these tells excavations continued after 1948, and new excavations began at seven additional tells: Tel Yarmut, Tel Batash, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel ʾEton, Tel Burna, Tel ʾErani, and Tel Zayit. In addition, excavations have been undertaken at many other sites in the Shephelah.

In 1977 the Archaeological Survey of the Judean Shephelah began under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of Israel, and since then most of the Shephelah has been surveyed in varying degrees of detail. A high-resolution ecological and archaeological project was undertaken in the area of Ramat Beth-Shemesh, focusing on the interaction between the ancient settlements and the natural environment. It is important to note that survey work and processing of finds is an ongoing process, and the database is constantly evolving. It must also be emphasized that no matter how detailed and meticulous an archaeological survey, it can never identify all the remains that lie beneath the ground. Only a combination of survey and excavation can attain a comprehensive picture of the nature and sequence of settlement in an area, and analysis of survey results must be anchored in the stratigraphic sequences revealed in excavations of sites in the research area.

Settlement Patterns in the Judean Shephelah.

Very few prehistoric sites were discovered in the surveys of the Shephelah. The first clear evidence of permanent occupation is attested in the Chalcolithic period, the sites often buried deep beneath the alluvial soil of the valleys or the agricultural terraces. The distribution of the settlements indicates a preference for ecological niches such as the banks of streambeds and the fringes of fertile valleys, and very few settlements have been exposed on hilltops.

Early Bronze Age.

From the data of the Survey of the Judean Shephelah, some 39 sites are attributed to the Early Bronze I, of which 22 were defined as settlements, while the others include burial caves and numerous findspots. In the surveys, it was not always possible to distinguish between Early Bronze II and III because of a lack of diagnostic sherds, and excavations at sites in the area assisted in chronological attribution.

There was a sharp increase in settlement sites and settled area in the Early Bronze II. The first fortified settlements appeared in the Shephelah in this period, and remains have been found at most of the Shephelah tells. These data reflect the emergence of political entities that ruled over well-defined geographic areas. Most of the settlements of this period are situated on a hill near a water source or at a strategically important location. These sites later developed into the main urban centers in later periods, ultimately forming many-layered tells.

There were two large cities in the Shephelah during the Early Bronze I–III: Tel ʾErani in the west and Tel Yarmut in the east (each covering over 37 acres [150 dunams]), only 13.4 miles (21 km) apart. Apparently, both were administrative centers. However, these two Early-Bronze cities were quite different in nature, with Tel ʾErani revealing a strong Egyptian influence. In the hinterland around Tel Yarmut, many unfortified settlements of various types were discerned, which were under the control and protection of the city at Yarmut.

In general, the Early-Bronze settlement pattern in the Judean Shephelah reveals occupation on the large mounds and along the banks of streambeds. The increase in settlement activity from the Early Bronze I into the Early Bronze II–III may be attributed to the growing importance of Canaan for Egyptian commerce as an intensive network of economic ties is evident from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, with Egyptian merchants purchasing local products such as olive oil, one of the most important commodities imported by Egypt, as well as wine.

Middle Bronze Age I.

The Survey of the Judean Shephelah has contributed much data to the knowledge of the Middle Bronze Age I in the region, with at least 25 permanent rural settlements and some 24 other types of rural sites revealed. Many of these were discovered in the intensive surveys, while others were revealed in test trenches carried out during the Ramat Beth-Shemesh Project. As no later settlements were built over the remains of this period, the Middle Bronze–I sites were simply buried beneath the alluvial soil, in many cases leaving no traces of their existence on the surface. The settlements in this period were concentrated mainly in the northern and eastern parts of the Shephelah as well as the western slopes of the Hebron mountains, where the ecological conditions, which offered both ready pasturage and farming potential, and perhaps dwelling caves, attracted these settlers. The excavations of W. G. Dever at Jebel Qaʾaqir in 1967 revealed a large necropolis and nearby dwelling caves. Later, in the framework of the Survey of the Judean Shephelah, many permanent settlements and cave dwellings were discovered in the area. Scattered remains have been discerned at many of the Shephelah tells, although only at Tell Beit Mirsim and Lachish is there any evidence of occupation. The settlement pattern is similar to that of the Chalcolithic period, although at higher altitudes the sites are located near water sources and often in the vicinity of exposed-rock surfaces with hewn vats and cupmarks, which date originally to the Chalcolithic period.

Middle Bronze Age II.

In general, the division between the Middle Bronze IIA and IIB in Canaan is based on the regime change in Egypt as there is no clear-cut archaeological evidence. In the Shephelah, the division of the Middle Bronze II into phases is based on the survey data anchored in the stratigraphy revealed in the excavations at a number of large tells.

In the Middle Bronze IIA (1950–1700 B.C.E.) the Shephelah was sparsely settled, with the higher hilly regions almost unpopulated, the inhabitants preferring the fertile soils along the streambeds in the west. Apparently, there was only one fortified site in this period, at Tell Beit Mirsim. At Tel Beth-Shemesh there is some sparse evidence of a Middle Bronze–IIA phase, which was probably leveled when the Middle Bronze–IIB fortified city was erected. Apart from Tell Beit Mirsim, some 17 sites of this period are thus defined as unfortified villages, along with burial sites and numerous findspots.

The relative vacuum in the Shephelah, with apparently large empty spaces, stands in contrast to the flourishing settlement in the southern Coastal Plain. The settlements along the streambeds in the west may represent the first penetration into the region by populations from the Coastal Plain.

There is a marked change in the settlement pattern in the Shephelah in the Middle Bronze IIB (1700–1600 B.C.E.), representing the reemergence of an urban culture and the first for which written documents are available. There were nine fortified towns or cities in the Shephelah, characterized by city walls and a glacis, all of them apparently planned as such from their inception; these include Tel Lachish, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tel Batash, Tel Beth-Shemesh, Tel Ṣafit, Tel ʾErani, Ḥorvat Keilah, Tel Malḥa, and Khirbet el-Rass. Three of these, Lachish, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Tel Beth-Shemesh, were destroyed by conflagration at the end of the period.

In addition to the fortified sites, there were some 40 other sites, including villages, burials, and findspots. The settlement pattern of the Middle Bronze–IIB Shephelah resembled that of the southern Coastal Plain, an area that apparently flourished as a result of Egyptian commercial interests and international trade routes. Settlers from this region probably penetrated into the fertile Shephelah throughout this period.

It is generally assumed that the administrative pattern in Middle Bronze–II Canaan was that of city-states and that the fortified settlements functioned as the administrative centers of these states. In the Shephelah the city of Tel Beth-Shemesh was surrounded by a cluster of rural agricultural settlements of varying sizes and types, and it can be postulated that a similar situation existed around the other fortified tell sites. Based on the city-state system in the Late Bronze Age, which probably continued from the earlier Middle Bronze II, Lachish and Gath (Tel Ṣafit) controlled most of the Shephelah, with further subdivisions into smaller states, such as Tel Beth-Shemesh.

Late Bronze Age.

While it was difficult to distinguish phases within the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.) in the survey, it is evident that there was a slight increase in settlement activity from the previous Middle Bronze Age. Fifteen of the large mounds in the Shephelah were occupied in this period, although in most cases the nature of the settlement, whether fortified or not, cannot be determined. Lachish was already important in the early Late Bronze–I phase as it is mentioned in Egyptian documents. During the Late Bronze IIA evidence from the El-Amarna letters sheds light on relations between the Canaanite city-states and the Egyptian authorities, and three cities are mentioned in the Shephelah, Lachish, Gath, and Keilah, which were probably royal administrative urban centers. In addition, while Keilah was of some importance, it was subordinate to the nearby Kingdom of Gezer. Alongside the occupation of the large mounds, 16 smaller rural settlements were discovered around the large centers, and probably dependent upon them, as well as numerous burial caves and findspots. It appears that in this period there was a preference for settlement on the large mounds, with the hinterland seemingly sparsely occupied. In the mountains to the east, settlement was even sparser with no large sites, while to the west several large cities are known, although no smaller sites have been identified, which may be a result of the political situation or perhaps incomplete data.

The Canaanite cities were largely destroyed at the end of the thirteenth century B.C.E., probably following the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. The excavations at Lachish are the main source of stratigraphic data for the Late Bronze Age in the Shephelah. The Late-Bronze city of Lachish was destroyed in a conflagration, as were the cities at Tel Beth-Shemesh, Tel Yarmut, and Tel Batash, although because of a lack of archaeological evidence, it cannot be determined if the various destructions in this period are linked to any single event.

Iron Age.

The survey results in the Shephelah reflect the important status of this region in the Judean settlement network. The Iron Age in the Shephelah is divided into four clear phases, which correspond to the chronological division of the Kingdom of Judah as a whole: Iron I (1200–985 B.C.E.), Iron IIA (985–840 B.C.E.), Iron Age IIB (840–700 B.C.E.), and Iron IIC (700–586 B.C.E.). The tells of the Shephelah suffered destruction at least twice during the six centuries of the Iron Age: the first during Sennacherib’s (r. 704–681 B.C.E.) campaign to Judah in 701 B.C.E. following the revolt of Hezekiah (r. ca. 715–686 B.C.E.) and the second at the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah in 586 B.C.E., representing the end of the Iron Age. These provide important chronological anchors for analysis of survey results. For example, the distinction between the ninth to eighth centuries and the seventh to sixth centuries in the Shephelah is based on the ceramic assemblages of levels III to II at Tel Lachish. However, as many ceramic types that first appeared in the tenth century continued well into later centuries, the dating of sites is of necessity based on a restricted number of types that appear exclusively in a particular phase. Such diagnostic types are not always collected during the survey, often hindering assignation of survey sites to a particular chronological phase.

Shephelah

View toward the Elah Valley from Azekah. Kim Walton

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The Iron Age I is shrouded in uncertainty and difficult to isolate in surveys. The Shephelah was sparsely populated in this phase of the Iron Age, which may be a result of the seminomadic nature of the populations. New settlers from the east were probably attracted by the fertile soil of the streambeds (Soreq, Yarmut, Ha-Elah, Govrin, Lachish, Adorayim, Shikma) and the open expanses and used the Shephelah for temporary seasonal settlement and animal husbandry because of the sparse population.

Six cities or towns were defined, with only isolated rural settlements. The ceramic evidence from Tel Beth-Shemesh attests to contacts with the Philistine culture, and this is also reflected in a rich ceramic assemblage from a burial cave documented during the survey (Dagan, 2010, site 247). This system of contact with the coastal culture, the nature of which is unknown, appears to have continued into the Iron IIA, the period of the formation of the Kingdom of Judah.

The Iron Age IIA is the key to understanding the origins of the flourishing settlement that took place in the Shephelah in the following period. It is the period when the Judean monarchy began to expand westward in search of new lands. Some 13 cities were defined in the Shephelah, at least six of them fortified, and over 35 additional rural settlements, probably reflecting the beginning of permanent settlement in previously unoccupied areas, a process that began when the Philistine culture to the west fell into decline.

In view of the relatively small number of settlements dated to the tenth century B.C.E., the pattern of settlement cannot be determined. The identification of the sites at which settlement began in this phase of the Iron Age is fraught with difficulty, mainly because of the continuity of pottery types into later centuries. It should be stressed that the settlements where pottery types of this phase have been clearly identified continued to exist into the Iron Age IIB; hence, it is possible that additional Iron-IIA settlements are buried below the later occupation levels and have not been identified.

The network of contacts between the population of the Shephelah and the inhabitants of the Coastal Plain, first evident in Iron I, is also discerned in the ceramics of this phase, substantiated by petrographic analyses. There are also some affinities with the culture in the Negev to the south, indicating economic contacts with neighboring populations.

The main characteristic of the Iron Age IIB, the golden age of the Kingdom of Judah, is the conspicuous increase in settlement, which left clear remains at the tells of the Shephelah and spread into hitherto uninhabited geographic areas. Iron-IIB pottery was identified at 731 sites, including 37 cities or large towns, at least 31 of them fortified; some 25 rural settlements of various types and sizes; as well as over 420 findspots. The settlement model consists of a central city surrounded by a diversity of agricultural villages and farmsteads, within well-defined geographic boundaries. This pattern is indicative of maximal exploitation of cultivable land and a sense of security guaranteed by a central authority and a period of relative peace. Sennacherib’s destructive campaign in the year 701 B.C.E. brought a halt to the settlement momentum and is evidenced at almost all the cities of the Shephelah (especially Lachish).

The Iron Age IIC, the period between the two major destructions (700–586 B.C.E.), witnessed a drastic decline in settlement and population; and many cities and villages were not resettled. Occupation was concentrated in the east, and only 128 sites were discerned, 91 of them defined as settlements of various kinds, probably temporary occupations on and around the tells. Because of its short and ephemeral nature, this phase is elusive in surveys. In addition, as this phase was often near the surface of the tells, it was disturbed by erosion and the removal or transferal of soil. Careful examination of the survey finds reveals a picture of a small part of the population returning to some of the destroyed settlements and building their homes upon the ruins, where they reused the building materials and cultivated the nearby fertile lands.

In summary, following the destruction of the Canaanite cities at the end of the thirteenth century B.C.E., probably caused by the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan, for a very short period the Judean Shephelah became a buffer zone between the Philistine kingdoms in the southern Coastal Plain and the Israelite population that had begun to settle in the Judean mountains.

Data concerning the earliest population of the Shephelah at the beginning of the Iron Age I are accumulating slowly, indicating sporadic settlements, some quite substantial. The significance of these remains is a matter of interpretation; perhaps they represent the traces of seminomads penetrating into the lands of the Shephelah from the Judean mountains.

A dramatic change took place in the Shephelah in the Iron IIA, with the establishment of the Judean Kingdom and an administrative framework taking shape. There was a steady increase in population, a process that began when the Philistine culture to the west fell into decline, enabling expansion of Judah westward. In the Iron IIB, the Kingdom of Judah continued to expand westward and the Shephelah flourished.

Since no significant environmental changes have occurred in the region for thousands of years, the dramatic transformation in the settlement pattern and the westward expansion of settlement from the Shephelah must be associated with the strengthened geopolitical position of the rulers of Judah, which began in the middle of the ninth century B.C.E. and peaked during King Hezekiah’s reign in the last quarter of the eighth century B.C.E. The consolidation of central government and the increase in population obliged the Kingdom of Judah to seek further living space and gain control of fertile lands to the west of the Shephelah.

The year 701 B.C.E. marked a significant turning point in the history of settlement in the Judean Shephelah, which had reached its peak in the Iron IIB. The number of settlements fell drastically, and evidence of the destruction of cities is clearly visible at a number of the Shephelah tells. The Assyrian campaign of Sennacherib was designed to suppress the rebellion in the Shephelah, to rehabilitate their Philistine vassals, and to extend their territories eastward into the Shephelah at the expense of the Judean kingdom. This is reflected in the new status of the city of Ekron (Tel Miqne), which became a flourishing economic center.

Thus, Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in 701 B.C.E. signaled the end of a significant chapter in the history of human habitation in the Shephelah. The settlement boom of the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E. was disrupted at its peak, the urban and rural infrastructures were destroyed, and the Kingdom of Judah never regained its previous grandeur and extent.

Following 701 B.C.E., the western parts of the Shephelah were annexed to the Assyrian vassal states, which probably used the lands mainly for cultivation of olive groves, as suggested by the evidence of a thriving olive oil industry there (for example, at Ekron and Batash). The ephemeral settlements in the Shephelah in the seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. were therefore concentrated mainly in the east. However, the political processes put in motion by the Judean monarchy resulted in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the conquest of the cities of Judah and the Shephelah by the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.E. The descriptions in the book of Kings and in letter 4 from Lachish vividly illustrate the misery of the inhabitants of the Shephelah prior to their exile to Babylon. Archaeologically, the conquest is illustrated by the strata of heavy conflagration and devastation at most Judean cities.

Persian period.

Despite the deportation of the Jews, the land was not left unpopulated as the Bible states that “the poorest people of the land” remained (2 Kings 25:12). The nature of settlement during the period immediately after the destruction (586–539 B.C.E.) remains uncertain as pottery finds are meager and, therefore, so are diagnostic sherds. After 539 B.C.E., the exiles began to return and the population increased (Neh 7:6, 11:29–30). The Persian authorities apparently divided the Shephelah between three provinces: the northern part until the Ha-Elah Valley was incorporated into Medinat Yehud, the southern part became part of Idumaea, and the western Shephelah was annexed to the province of Ashdod. Occupation in the Persian period was discerned at nine tell sites, and the nature of another approximately 44 settlements was determined based mainly on quantity and variety of sherds; little can be said of the nature of these settlements.

Hellenistic period.

During the Hellenistic period (332–53 B.C.E.) the Shephelah under Greek dominance witnessed a flourishing settlement pattern, with over 300 sites identified in the surveys and excavations, divided between two administrative districts, Judea in the north until the Ha-Elah Valley and Idumaea in the south. Hellenistic remains have been uncovered at a number of tells in the Shephelah, but most knowledge of the material culture of this period originates from the excavations at Maresha, which was a center of pagan pan-Hellenism at this time. Much of the settlement in this period clustered around this city, highlighting its importance and centrality. Other concentrations of occupation were discerned around Ḥorvat Zanoaḥ, Ḥorvat Qeiyafa, and Tel Azeka.

Roman period.

The occupation of the land of Israel in 63 B.C.E. by the Roman commander Pompey ushered in a new era in the history of Israel, although it is difficult to pinpoint clearly a break between the Hellenistic and Roman periods in the archaeological remains. In 37 B.C.E. Herod the Great came to the throne of Judea (r. 37–4 B.C.E.), founding the dynasty that ruled the country until 70 C.E. The Early Roman period in the Shephelah, which includes the Herodian period, came to an end with the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 C.E. During this period the Judean Shephelah hosted a large Jewish population, as evidenced by Jewish ethnic and religious artifacts, burial practices, as well as ritual baths (miqvaot) and synagogues revealed in surveys and excavations. Remains of “hiding complexes” or “refuge caves” have been unearthed in the Shephelah, more common in the southern than the northern part. These cave systems were in use during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, although it is uncertain exactly when they were hewn. This phenomenon of cave systems below village houses, used for purposes such as refuge and concealing food, is typical of the Judean Shephelah, at least from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Following the revolt, the Jewish population was largely depleted in the Shephelah.

While it is often difficult to distinguish between pottery of the Early and Late Roman periods in surveys, it appears that most of the sites defined during the Survey of the Judean Shephelah date to the Late Roman period, when settlements spread throughout the region into previously uninhabited areas. Some 855 sites in the Shephelah are recorded for this period, reflecting similar growth throughout the land. The settlement pattern is characterized by few large cities and mostly agricultural settlements. In the south the city of Eleutheropolis (Beth-Guvrin) was district capital, while in the north it seems that Beth-Natif, located at a strategic junction on a major highway, played a similar role. The large public buildings unearthed at Eleutheropolis, including an amphitheater, a bathhouse, an inn, and two aqueducts, as well as villas with mosaics, testify to the prosperity of the city. Eleutheropolis was also a major junction in the Roman system of paved roads and the meeting point of five Roman roads: from Jerusalem, the Hebron mountains, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Lydda. The road from Jerusalem to Gaza, passing through Eleutheropolis, was one of the most important roads in the country. The remains of these roads are still visible in the twenty-first century. The Roman road system of the Shephelah has been studied in the surveys, which have uncovered many road segments, milestones, and milestone stations.

Byzantine period.

The Byzantine period (324–638 C.E.) brought unparalleled prosperity throughout the land of Israel, and in the Shephelah the number of sites increased to over 1,560, with most of the settlement sites producing finds from this period. Settlement patterns continued those of the Roman period, with few urban centers and most of the population living in agricultural villages of varying sizes, surrounded by a profusion of agricultural installations such as wine and olive presses and terraces. Most of the Shephelah was in the administrative orbit of the city of Eleutheropolis, with Beth-Natif still an important center in the north; and the system of highways continued to be maintained. Various pilgrims’ itineraries testify to the use of the main Jerusalem to Gaza highway that passed through the Shephelah.

Surveys in the Shephelah have revealed that most of the population was Christian, and most of the settlements of all sizes contained a church. The many burial caves from this period have been plundered and were used for storage purposes during the Ottoman period.

The unprecedented peak in population and the boom in agricultural settlements and activity resulted in the need for agricultural land. This period witnessed a plethora of agricultural terraces appearing over all the hills of the Shephelah in previously uncultivated areas, and the land was exploited to its full potential. This phenomenon probably began at the beginning of the Roman period and reached its peak in the Byzantine period. The Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638 C.E. brought about the end of the prosperous Byzantine period, and a slow process of abandonment of settlements took place over the years.

Summary.

Surveys and excavations in the Judean Shephelah have revealed that humans first exploited the favorable ecological conditions of this hilly region as early as the eighth to the seventh millennia B.C.E. The first settlers in the Neolithic period were probably attracted by the fertile lands and the readily available water sources. The earliest clusters of permanent settlements that adapted to the characteristic ecology of the Shephelah can be identified in the Chalcolithic period, and since then the fertile valleys and rolling hills of the Shephelah have accommodated a great variety of cultures, both urban and rural, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, at times serving as a buffer zone between opposing forces or as the agricultural hinterland of powerful urban entities. Thus, the shifting settlement patterns in the Shephelah through the ages, as revealed in surveys and excavations, reflect the geopolitical realities and upheavals throughout the southern part of the country.

[See also BAR KOKHBA CAVES; BETH-SHEMESH; COASTAL PLAIN; EKRON; GATH; KHIRBET QEIYAFA; LACHISH; and TIMNAH, TEL BATASH.)]

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Yehuda Dagan Translated from the Hebrew by Shelley Sadehtt