During May 2005 a salvage excavation was conducted in the employment district of Modi‘in (Permit No. A-4461*; map ref. NIG 19714/64768; OIG 14714/14768), in a cave that was discovered during an antiquities inspection by A. Gruber, prior to infrastructure work for an industrial building. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by the late G. Parnos, with the assistance of S. Ya‘aqov-Jam and E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian and T. Kornfeld (surveying), E. Belashov (drafting) and T. Sagiv (photography).
The cave (Fig. 1) was on the northwestern moderate slope of a rocky hill, at an elevation of c. 170 m above sea level. The natural cave was formed in the interface of the soft qirton bedrock with the harder nari covering. During the Early Roman period the cave was hewn deeper and quarried into an underground installation that was probably a ritual bath or storage space; in the Early Islamic period it was used as a dwelling.
The cave had an irregular shape (width c. 6.5 m, max. height 2.9 m) and its roof was dome-like (0.6 m thick), with two adjacent openings set in its western side (Fig. 2). It was entered via the northern opening (Fig. 3), which was the larger of the two (length 3 m, width 1.8 m). The cave was found filled with alluvium, reaching a height of c. 0.2 m below the ceiling. The danger of roof collapse during the excavation required its removal by mechanical equipment.
The Early Roman Period
The cave (Figs. 1, 4) consisted of a square opening (L1) in the west and two chambers, a northern (L6) and a southern (L7)––hewn in qirton. A staircase, whose southern side was damaged by the removal of the cave’s roof, led from the opening to the northern chamber (width 1.6 m; Fig. 5). Eight steps were poorly preserved because bedrock is friable and some were completely worn away; the bottom step was the only one entirely preserved (height 0.18 m, breadth 0.4 m).
The western and northern walls of the northern oval chamber (length 3.2 m, width 3 m, height 2.2 m; Fig. 6) were straight and formed a rounded corner. The chamber’s eastern wall was curved and the southern wall was breached in a later phase and only its eastern end was preserved. The quality of wall quarrying in the southern chamber (length 2.7 m, width 2.5 m) was not as meticulous as in the northern chamber.
The initial use of the cave is dated to the Early Roman period, based on the earliest potsherds found in it. Judging by the plan of the complex it was probably used as a ritual bath. As it was hewn in impermeable qirton bedrock, its walls and floor did not need to be sealed with a layer of plaster. Another option is that this was an underground storehouse, which could not be used during the winter months because the qirton bedrock would retain the run-off flowing into the cavity.
Early Islamic Period
During this period the partition between the northern and southern chambers was removed and the cave was paved with large stones, mostly preserved in the southern side. The pavement, variable and carelessly installed, was primarily meant to raise the habitation level (c. 0.4 m above bottom of cave) above the run-off level that accumulated at the bottom of the cave. Between the paving stones in the center of the cave was a hearth that contained a small amount of ash. Potsherds dating to the Early Islamic period were found on the pavement.