Cave A (map ref. 173080/131786) was revealed while digging the foundations of an illegal building. A rectangular entrance shaft (length 1.5 m, width c. 1 m) hewn on an east–west axis led to its opening. The shaft was covered with four stone slabs, resting on its corners; local residents had removed one of the slabs. Five steps installed in the shaft descended to the cave opening, in the eastern side of the shaft. The square cave opening (c. 0.7 × 0.7 m) was surrounded by an arched frame (Fig. 1: Section 2-2), and about 0.3 m above it were three small brownish red crosses, poorly preserved but clear enough to be discerned. A wide rock-cut step led from the cave opening down into the main burial chamber. The construction and rock-cutting activity described above led to the collapse of many parts of the chamber and some parts were found covered with fallen rock that had detached from the sides of the cave. Nonetheless, it was still possible to discern most of the cave’s components, a rectangular burial chamber (1.0 × 1.2 m) and arcosolia (I–III), installed in three of its sides. Three burial troughs aligned east–west and separated from each other by a bedrock partition (height 0.4 m) were installed inside each arcosolium. Because the average length of the arcosolium (c. 1.5 m) was shorter than the height of a person lying in a supine position, niches were hewn at the eastern and western ends of the troughs, which lengthened them to about 1.8–2.0 m. The level of the opening of Arcosolium II is c. 0.6 m below the openings of Arcosolia I and III. Thick white plaster coated the sides of the cave and the arcosolia. Although no datable finds were discovered in the cave, its architectural style, consisting of a burial chamber with three arcosolia (Type 2.4 in Avni 1997:40–44) and the painted crosses, make it possible to determine with a high degree of certainty that it was used during the Byzantine period.
Cave Complex B (map ref. 173097/131793). The complex comprised four adjacent burial caves (I–IV; Cave IV does not appear on the plan), three of which were connected, apparently after their common walls had been breached in antiquity by tomb robbers. Cave I, aligned east–west, had a rectangular entrance shaft closed with three covering slabs (two of them in situ). The entrance shaft led down into a standing space (height from the bottom to the top of the entrance shaft 1.8 m). Two burial benches (I1, I2; average length 1.6 m, width 0.5 m), installed on either side of the central standing space, were separated from this space by a low partition (height 0.3 m). A narrow opening breached in antiquity in the eastern side of the standing space led to the northern arcosolium of Cave II, hewn next to Cave I, on an east–west axis. Cave II had a central standing space (II; length 1 m, width 0.6 m), flanked by arcosolia, each of them separated from the standing space by a low bedrock partition (height 0.3 m, width c. 0.2 m). Two shallow burial benches separated by a partition were installed inside each arcosolium (II1–II4). Two steps descended to the central standing space from the tomb’s opening, in the western side of the cave, which was blocked by a roll-stone found in situ. In the past, an opening was breached in the eastern side of the southern arcosolium; it led to the northern arcosolium of Cave III, which is slightly higher than Cave II. This cave, also aligned east–west, had a stepped entrance shaft sealed with three covering slabs, a rectangular standing space (1.0 × 1.3 m, height c. 1.8 m) and three arcosolia, installed in its sides. A single burial bench (III1, III4) was fixed in the northern and southern arcosolia, separated from the standing pit by a rock partition (height 0.5 m) and an internal partition divided the eastern arcosolium into two burial benches (III2, III3), aligned east–west. Skeletal remains lying in a supine position with heads facing west and feet to the east were found on each burial bench. Above the opening of each arcosolium was a small painted brownish-red cross (average height 0.12 m), similar to the crosses documented in Cave A (Figs. 3, 4). Three high steps led to the cave opening, which was set in the western side of the standing pit. A large brownish-red cross, inside a wreath (diameter 0.23 m; Fig. 5), was painted on the eastern side of the entrance shaft and above the cave opening. At the bottom of the wreath, was a clear depiction of two ribbons dangling and curling on both sides of the top of the opening. The cross had a horizontal (length 0.1 m) and a vertical arm (length 0.18 m) that split in two at the bottom. The cave’s decorations and architectural style, as in the case of Cave A, indicate it was used for Christian burial during the Byzantine period. About 3.5 m southwest of the shaft of Cave I and at a similar level, was the entrance shaft to Cave IV, oriented north–south, hewn in an architectural style similar to that of Cave I. The soil accumulation on the floor of the cave prevented drawing an accurate plan of the tomb. The four caves were devoid of datable finds because they had been plundered in the past.
The burial caves are situated within the boundaries of a large necropolis that is dated, based on the finds, to the Early Roman, Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods (third–fifth centuries CE; Bagatti and Milik 1958
). Sixty-six rock-hewn burial caves with arcosolia
and burial benches similar to the benches in Cave A and Caves II and III in Cave Complex B, and 43 similar to Caves I and IV in Complex B, were discovered in this necropolis (Avni 1997
:349–362). Nearby, close to the Church of Gethsemane, two burial caves from the Byzantine period with brownish-red crosses similar to the those adorning two of the burial caves documented here, were discovered in the past (Lagrange 1892
; Corbo 1965
:71–74). Again, the caves were devoid of datable finds; however, their architectural style and the cross decorations in two of them suggest that they were used for Christian burials during the Byzantine period.