In March 2012, an excavation was conducted in a natural cave near Khirbat el-Mitraz (Permit No. A-6462; map ref. 20417/63218; Fig. 1), in the wake of a routine inspection by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by A. Ganor and E. Klein, with the assistance of S. Ganor and D. Ein Mor (inspection), I. Lidski-Reznikov (pottery drawing), and with the participation of G. Fitoussi, S. Bar-Tura, A. Klein and A. Rothstein, inspectors with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery,
The cave developed in dolomite of the Bet Meir formation in the middle portion of a cliff in the center of the southern bank of Nahal Kesalon, c. 100 m above the riverbed and c. 1.2 km north of Khirbat el-Mitraz. The nearest ancient site is Horbat Kesalon, located c. 800 m to the east. The spring of ‘Ein Sheikh Ahmed (‘Ein al-Jib) flows c. 200 m south of the cave.
The cave opening is set c. 20 m below the top of the cliff and c. 7 m above the foot of the cliff. Access to the cave is quite difficult; in the past it was reached by means of a very narrow bedrock ledge leading to the cave opening from the east or by ropes (Fig. 2). Below the cliff is a steep slope with high bedrock steps that descend toward the streambed. The cave opening is narrow and low (height 0.9 m, width 1.3 m), leading into a trapezoidal shaped chamber (length 6.5 m, width 5.0 m; Fig. 3). The chamber’s bedrock floor was exposed in a place where the cave is just c. 0.8 m high. The floor was covered with a thin layer of soil (Area A; thickness 5 cm). A natural depression in the floor was discovered in the front of the cave, c. 0.7 m from the opening (Area B; length 1.5 m, width 1.5 m, height from floor to the ceiling of the cave1.7 m; Fig. 4). The depression was filled with a thick layer of alluvium (height c. 1 m) and a large quantity of pottery sherds. Remains of animal carcasses and debris left behind by a bird of prey that nested in the cave in the past were discovered above this layer. A fissure (width c. 0.2 m, depth unknown; Fig. 5) was discerned in the cave’s eastern wall, in the southern corner of Area B. In the western corner of Area B, the fissure continued in a westward direction, into the western wall of the cave (width c. 0.3 m). This is apparently a natural crack in the bedrock that runs the width of the cave.
Area B is probably an artificial widening of this fissure. The ceramic finds were all discovered in Area B; they consisted of rims and body sherds of jars (Fig. 6:1–6), a cooking pot (Fig. 6:7) and a cooking jug (Fig. 8:6), all typical of assemblages ascribed to the period between the Jewish Revolt and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (Zissu et. al. 2009a: Pl. 2). A small hexagonal glass bead (Fig. 6:9), probably part of a strand, was also discovered.
The excavation yielded rather scant finds. However, their date—from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt—the cave’s location, the dimensions of its entrance and its difficult access allow us to suggest with a high degree of certainty that the cave was used as a hiding refuge during that Bar Kokhba uprising. The cave’s small interior and the paucity of pottery seem to indicate that a small group of people hid in the cave for only a brief period of time. Evidently, those who sought shelter in this cave were from one of the Jewish settlements close by, perhaps from the nearby settlement of Kesalon. Kesalon is mentioned in a document from Wadi Murabba‘at that dates to the first century CE, attesting to the existence of a Jewish settlement there during this period; however, it is unclear whether the settlement continued to exist after the Jewish Revolt and up to Bar Kokhba Revolt. The cave is one of a group of refuge caves from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt that were recently discovered in the cliffs rising above streams in the Jerusalem Hills. These include the Te’omim Cave and the Nahal Soreq cliff caves (Ein Mor 2009; Zissu et. al. 2009b).
Ein-Mor D. 2009. Two Refuge Caves in the ‘Iraq ‘Aisma‘in Cliffs in Nahal Soreq. In H. Eshel and R. Porat eds. Refuge Caves of the Bar Kokhba Revolt: Second Volume. Jerusalem. Pp. 460–477 (Hebrew).
Zissu B., Langford B., Porat R., Davidovich U. and Frumkin A. 2009a. Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period from the Abud Cave. In: H. Eshel and R. Porat eds. Refuge Caves of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Second Volume. Jerusalem. Pp. 478–509 (Hebrew).
Zissu B., Langford B., Porat R. and Frumkin A. 2009b. Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period from the Teomim Cave in the Western Jerusalem Hills. In: H. Eshel and R. Porat eds. Refuge Caves of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Second Volume. Jerusalem. Pp. 402–422 (Hebrew).