During January 2001 two rock-cut burial caves were recorded at Khirbat Harsis (G-17/00; Sha‘ar Ha-Gây Khan; map ref. NIG 20234–5/63576–8; OIG 15234–5/13576–8), prior to destroying their ceilings in the process of developing the khan. The documentation was conducted by Z. Greenhut, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, assisted by V. Essman and V. Pirsky (surveying and drafting), within the framework of the Map of Sha‘ar Ha-Gây survey .
The two caves appear to have been used for storage as part of the khan complex from the Ottoman period, which was founded in 1869 midway along the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem.
Cave A (Fig. 1). Inside the hewn entrance to the cave, probably in modern times, a stone lintel with an arch above it was built; it is now closed with bars. A corridor (length 4.5 m, height at the lower part
c. 2 m) covered with a plastered vault led from the entrance to the chamber of the cave, via another doorway at its end. Around the doorway was a square chiseled frame with a panel cut above it. A recess at the left side of the panel is of unclear purpose. The doorway was subsequently widened and a double staircase was quarried, separated by a bedrock partition. The eastern staircase consisted of three steps (width 0.7 m) and the western staircase had four steps that became wider toward the bottom (width 1.0–1.8 m). The cave’s chamber (7.5–––8.0 m, height 3.8 m) was oval shaped. A shallow niche was hewn on the southwestern wall, near the corridor. A stone bench was cut along the entire circumference of the cave. On the eastern side, above the bench, was a hewn niche in bedrock. On the southwestern side was a shallow niche cut into the cave’s wall.
The burial cave was located at the northeastern side of the cave’s ceiling. A corridor (length 2 m) with three steps led from surface to the burial cave; the corridor’s entrance was surrounded by a modern wall that was meant to prevent one from falling inside (Fig. 2). At the inner end of the corridor was a small square entry (0.4 × 0.5 m) that led to the burial chamber, which consisted of two arcosolia. The southwestern part of the burial cave was destroyed when the later storage cave was hewn. The plan of the burial cave implied a date in the Late Roman–Byzantine periods.
The cave was quarried above a bell-shaped water cistern and earlier rock-cut burial caves, negating their use. The water cistern was located on the western side of the cave and a hewn corridor (length c. 2 m) from inside the cave was leading into it. The cistern’s opening was square (0.3 × 0.3 m) and enclosed with a stone wall that was built in modern times.
Cave B (Fig. 3). A stone wall, in which a rectangular entrance was installed, was built in front of the cave. Four rock-cut steps led down from the entrance to a circular chamber (average diam. 4.2 m). The northeastern part of the cave’s ceiling was absent and it was repaired with stone and cement construction. The cave’s northeastern wall was also completed with the aid of a stone wall. A small vaulted niche was inserted into this stone wall, 1.1 m above the floor of the cave. On the opposite side, in the western bedrock wall, was another hewn niche, 0.6 m above the floor.