Nari (calcrete) outcrop contribution to ancient agricultural terraces in the Southern Shephelah, Israel: insights from digital terrain analysis and a geoarchaeological field survey

Oren Ackermann, Tal Svoray, Mordechai Haiman

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29 Scopus citations


A field survey revealed that Byzantine and Early Arab (ca. 5th to 8th century C.E.) agricultural systems in the semi-arid region of the Shephelah (central Israel) were similar to runoff agricultural systems in the arid region of the Negev (southern Israel). This similarity led to the hypothesis that systems in the Shephelah also function as runoff farms. This hypothesis is not trivial since runoff values in semi-arid regions are generally low due to intensive but short rainfall events, and due to the presence of sink patches that absorb runoff on slope surface. The aim of the current research is to examine whether runoff potential in a representative agricultural system in the Shephelah is sufficient for sustaining runoff farming. A geoarchaeological field survey and digital terrain analysis show that large Nari (calcrete) outcrops on the footslopes generate high runoff values that improve water potential. Hydrological simulations and calculations show that 230 mm of direct rainfall generates a water potential equivalent to 300 mm of direct rainfall. In view of these results, it is reasonable to conclude that the presence of Nari enabled runoff agricultural farming in the Shephelah region, even in drought years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)930-941
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge the following institutions and funds for their financial support: The Dr. Simon Krauthammer Chair in Archaeology, the Irving and Cherna Moskowitz Chair for the Study of the Historic Land of Israel, the Koschitzky Family Foundation, all of Bar Ilan University; Israel Antiquities Authority; the Joe Alon Center–Rimon Association and the Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 692/06). The authors would also like to thank the following individuals, for fruitful discussions: Professor Hanoch Lavee, from the Laboratory of Geomorphology and Soil of the Department of Geography and Environment at Bar Ilan University; Dr. Yoram Benyamini, from the Soil Erosion Research Station, Soil Conservation and Drainage Division, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Israel; and Dr. Yoav Levi, from EMS-Mekorot, Israel national water company. We would also like to thank Hila Markovitch, from the Geographic Information Laboratory at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, for data processing, Roni Blustein-Livnon from the Cartography Laboratory at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for her help designing the figures, and all of the students from The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar Ilan University who helped us in the field. Finally, we thank the two anonymous referees for their constructive comments and suggestions. Needless to say, the authors take responsibility for any errors in the text.


  • Digital terrain analysis
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Israel
  • Nari (calcrete)
  • Runoff farming
  • Semi-arid


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