In February 2005 a cemetery dating to the Chalcolithic period was discovered during the course of development work north of Kibbutz Palmahim. The site is characterized by burials inside round, elliptical and rectangular structures built of indigenous kurkar. Some 50 structures of different kinds were exposed, arranged in rows on an area paved with small pieces of kurkar. That notwithstanding, not all of the structures were built at the same time.
The site is in a rare state of preservation and some of the tombs are covered with corbelled stone domes that are still in situ. Most of the tombs have a rectangular opening sealed with a stone slab. These openings face north, probably in accordance with the topography. In most of the structures there were matzevot situated inside niches, facing east. The number of matzevot in the structures ranges from one to four and occur in different sizes and shapes.
Hewn kurkar ossuaries, resting in situ on the stone floors were exposed inside the structures. These ossuaries are somewhat oviform, with slightly rounded sides and corners. In several instances the ossuaries were found sealed with a fitted stone slab, but the osteological material inside them was extremely meager. Jars that were apparently also used for burials were found too. Other ossuaries were found scattered between the tombs. Other methods of interment that were revealed at the site include burials in clay ossuaries, in clay jars or in small cells hewn in the kurkar. A single matzevah was also found standing in the area. The pottery finds are scant and in a deteriorated condition, and include mostly jars (for burials) and cornets. Flint implements and a pendant were found, as were burnt traces near the matzevot, perhaps suggesting some sort of cult practice. Due to strategraphic considerations, we believe the cemetery was used over the course of several generations until it was abandoned and covered by sand dunes.
Until now it was thought that the funerary practices of the Chalcolithic period on the coastal plain and in the Shephelah were characterized by burials in ossuaries, usually made of clay, placed inside of caves. This phenomenon is known from Azor, Hadera and Peqi’in in the Galilee, among other places. On the other hand stone-built burial structures typified the frontier regions and the northern Negev in such sites as Shiqmim or Nahal Sekher, eastern Transjordan or the nawamis structures on the Sinai Peninsula.
The singularity of the cemetery at Palmahim, besides its rare state of preservation, is the discovery of stone structures (for the first time on the coastal plain) in which there are burials in kurkar ossuaries. Until now we knew of a cemetery at Palmahim where burials were conducted in caves hewn in the kurkar. The existence of two kinds of cemeteries next to each other raises questions regarding their function and the funerary practices of the period. The part of the cemetery that was preserved in situ was not excavated and part of it was moved for relocation to an alternative site nearby.