The presence of available sources of water in Beer Sheva (within the city limits) is the preliminary factor for the development of settlements in the area that is located in the ‘desert fringe’. The first period in which settlement sites existed here was in the Chalcolithic period – the fifth millennium BCE. The well-known sites of the period are: Beer Safad (= Neveh Noy), Horvat Betar, Abu Matar and the region north of ‘Beer Avraham’.
Extensive excavations have been conducted over the past fifty years, the most important of which were carried out by J. Perrot during the 1960’s.
The concentration of the settlements within the limits of the city of Beer Sheva is part of a more extensive concentration that includes Tel Sheva, Nabatim, Shoket Junction, Nahal Ashan and Abu Hof. Other centers are located in the Nahal Beer Sheva and Besor river basin: Shiqmim, Gil’at, Gerar and the Besor sites. Besides the aforementioned sites, which are outstanding in their size, other smaller sites exist in the Nahal Beer Sheva–Besor basin.
Some of the sites mentioned such as: the Besor sites and Ramot site (Beer Sheva) are chronologically early.
Owing to the difficulty in establishing a chronological continuum it is unclear if the early sites are those that were replaced by the Beer Sheva sites. If there is no continuity, the question arises what is the origin of the sites’ culture/population.
The sites of the Beer Sheva culture have common components. These are villages characterized by rectangular above ground architecture and subterranean room complexes that are hewn in loess. However, certain sites are conspicuous in their dissimilarities. At Shiqmim the buildings are cramped, close together and oriented along a set axis; while elsewhere the buildings stand alone and are scattered about the site. The site at Gil’at is different and is identified as a temple.
The economic basis of the sites is diversified: beginning with agriculture (which reality requires and signs of it were found at Shiqmim and in pottery vessels and flint implements), and on to the production of flint tools (tools and ornaments), animal husbandry (raising goats, sheep, cattle and pigs), production of pottery vessels and working basalt and phosphorite, stone jewelry {pendants and figurines). The complexity of the economy is attested to by the production of copper from ore and processing it into objects (and the recycling of metal objects that are flawed).
At a number of sites objects were found that are associated with cultic practices (ivory figurines and fiddle-shaped figurines) and ornamentation and jewelry made of various materials.
The distribution of the sites and the topography raise the question how/where was the local commerce carried out and along which routes. The trade in raw materials (metal, flint, stone and ivory) raise the question of how were the goods and finished products transferred between the Beer Sheva sites themselves and the centers along the Beer Sheva Valley and Nahal Besor? An entirely different question is that of the origin of the raw materials that came from further away (copper from Punon and ivory from Egypt?).
Fifty years of research and the collection of data requires a renewed examination of the repertoire of ivory objects, figurines, and their function in the cultic practices of the various settlements. And what is the relationship between the Beer Sheva sites and the site at Gil’at?
Despite the many excavations, the problem of burial still remains unsolved. It is true that there were burials (primary and secondary) in some of the underground complexes; however, it seems that they were done at sites (in voids) that were no longer in use (Beer Safad, Tel Sheva). It seems that secondary burial (in most of the instances) was the preferred method and was done in sites that have still not been found (except Shiqmim).
Today’s use of means and methods that are not from the field of archaeology (e.g. C14, petrography, trace elements, TL) and the improvement in our ability to quantify the finds through the use of computers (and statistics) makes it possible to carry out a renewed examination of the finds and the available data base and improve our ability to establish hypotheses and verify or build new theories about the socio-economic structure of the Beer Sheva culture.