During the years 2000–2004 excavations were conducted in Subterranean Complex 57, located c. 100 m southeast of Maresha’s upper city (License Nos. G-3/2000, G-52/2001; Permit Nos. A-3567, A-3941, A-4099; map ref. NIG 190551/611000; OIG 140551/111000). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and funded by the Archaeological Seminars, was directed by B. Alpert and I. Stern, with the assistance of M. Osband (area supervision), S. Shaharit and L. Yaborsky (pottery restoration, registration and organization) and S. Neuman (photography, drafting and drawing). The staff of the Archaeological Seminars and their participants from around the globe took part in the excavation, which benefited from the cooperation of T. Tzuk and the staff of the Bet Guvrin National Park.
Subterranean Complex 57 is relatively small, comprising only four rooms (Fig. 1). The entrance, lying on a north–south alignment, leads to an open antechamber with three entries: on the west, into Room 3, on the north, into Room 2 and on the east, into Room 1. It appears that the northern and western entrances were quarried at the same time, sharing similar framed lintels and door jambs, unlike the entrance on the eastern side, which was plain and may have been a later addition. A fourth entrance, to the south of the main entrance into Room 1, was not excavated. The stairs that accessed these entrances are not yet exposed.
. The shape of this room, its two entrances and the outline remains of an earlier wall in its middle indicates that it was originally divided into two rooms. At a later stage, when the partition wall was destroyed, the two small rooms were combined into one larger room that eventually was connected to Room 2 on its north. During the final stage, a tunnel was quarried on the southern side of Room 1, but never completed. The refuse from hewing the tunnel was found in the form of qirton chips next to its entrance. The actual use of these relatively small rooms is unclear.
. Little work was done in Room 2, since it accessed the excavation of the other rooms and the debris on its northern side could not be removed for safety reasons. Visible immediately inside the entranceway are stairs and a small banister that curves curiously to the west, in the direction of the room’s western wall. Room 2 does not appear to have been originally connected to either Rooms 1 or 3. The connection to Room 3 is a small robber's hole in the southwest corner and the opening into Room 1 may have been quarried away at another time, since the chisel marks are distinctly different in the two rooms.
. The large entrance (height 2.74 m) to this room (3.5 × 4.5 m) was in its eastern wall. Initially, it was filled to within 1 m of the ceiling and had been subject to recent looting. A niche visible on the southern wall may indicate that this room was originally a corridor to Room 4 on its west and at a later stage, its floor was lowered.
. This room resembles a water cistern (diam. 6 m; Fig. 2). Twenty-four stairs in good condition and a partially broken banister were cleaned down to bedrock floor. The room has neither a shaft in the ceiling nor a channel to bring water inside. If it was a cistern, the water would have been brought through Room 3; however, the floor of Room 3 is much lower than the threshold leading into Room 4, suggesting a different function.
The actual use of Room 4 is still questionable. While it appears to have been designed as a cistern, its walls are not plastered and no means for the entering of water is observed. This phenomenon, as well as the signs of quarrying noticed on the floor, exists in other subterranean systems around Maresha, which appear to have functioned as quarries for the insulae or dwellings above. In addition, the exceptional condition of the stairs would have shown signs of wear even with minimal usage, due to the softness of the qirton. Hence, it appears as if Room 4 was hardly ever used.
The system contained some very exceptional finds. An impressive repertoire of ceramic vessels and a large variety of fragmentary and complete figurines from the Persian and Hellenistic periods was discovered. Room 1 yielded abundant epigraphic material, including 32 ostraca, two execration bowls with Aramaic text, a small domestic qirton altar with a cursive inscription in Greek and three different broken inscriptions inscribed in Attic Greek on Hebron limestone, as well as a large number of petroglyphs with floral, faunal and human depictions.