Artifacts that had not been plundered were found in two of the caves (B and C) while examining and partially excavating the cave complex.
The three caves (A–C) that were documented shared a common courtyard (Fig. 2) aligned in a general north–south direction (Courtyard D, length c. 2.5 m; width 1.8–2.1 m; depth of the courtyard 1.6–1.9 m below the surface level). Openings leading to the three burial caves were fixed in three of the courtyard’s walls.
The antiquities robbers dug into the eastern part of the courtyard, breaching the opening of Burial Cave A. They succeeded in going from Cave A to Caves B and C by way of ancient passages between the caves’ burial niches.
Cave A. The facade was decorated with a rock-hewn arched frame in the center of which was a rectangular frame around the cave opening that was intended to accommodate a plug-shaped roll-stone (Fig. 3). A step (width 0.3 m, height above the entrance threshold 0.5 m, c. 0.6 m above the level of the burial chamber’s floor) led from the cave opening to the main burial chamber (2.3 × 2.3 m, height 1.7 m), equipped with five loculi (average length 1.8 m, width c. 0.7 m). A rectangular frame was hewn around the openings of the loculi to accommodate stone closing slabs that were found lying in the burial chamber (Fig. 4). A wide loculus (A4; width c. 1 m) hewn in the southern wall had an opening hewn inside it that led toward another loculus/small chamber (A5), which was blocked with a closing stone found nearby (Fig. 5). The unusual dimensions of Loculi A4 and A5 raise the possibility that they were used to store ossuaries. However, in the wake of the antiquities robbery, no such finds were discovered in the cave. In the ceiling of Loculus A6, also hewn in the southern wall of the cave, was a rock-cut elliptical opening (diam. c. 0.4 m) through which nearby Cave B could be reached, by way of Loculus B1, located on a higher level (Fig. 6).
Cave B. A narrow rock-hewn entrance (width 0.7 m) led to the cave from the common courtyard. The entrance to the cave was not exposed in the excavation; nevertheless, it was possible to discern that the cave was sealed by means of a square plug-shaped stone. The main burial chamber was square (1.9 × 2.0 m) with a standing pit (length 1.1 m, width 1.1 m, depth 0.7 m) hewn in its center. A loculus (B1; length 1.7 m, width 0.4 m, height 0.5 m) was hewn in the chamber’s southeastern wall and a shorter loculus (B2; length 0.7 m, width 0.45 m) was located nearby. A small elliptical niche containing human bones that served as a repository was hewn in the southwestern wall of that loculus. The niche was blocked with rubble and plaster construction. Based on its dimensions, it seems that Loculus B1 was also used for gathering bones or an ossuary was placed in it. Three loculi (B3–B5) containing undecorated ossuary fragments were hewn in the southwestern side of the burial chamber. On a shelf hewn in front of Loculus B3 were an intact ossuary and two ossuary lids that were placed there by the antiquities robbers (Figs. 7, 8). Next to the ceiling between Loculi B4 and B5 was a hewn shallow niche used for gathering bones. Another loculus (B6) was hewn in the northwestern side of the burial chamber. Two short loculi (B7, B8, length c. 0.7 m) that were probably used for placing ossuaries or as bone repositories were hewn in the walls of the standing pit. Loculus B8, installed in the northwestern wall of the standing pit, was connected via a tunnel to a loculus (C1; Fig. 9) in Cave C. The alluvium that filled Cave B contained fragments of piriform jugs (not drawn) that dated the burial in the cave to the first century CE. An earring and a bronze ring were also discovered in the cave.
Cave C. The entrance to the cave, delimited by a square rock-hewn frame, was sealed by a plug-like roll-stone, found in situ (Fig. 10). A large step (tread 0.3 m, height 0.4 m, length 0.6 m) led from the cave entrance to a square central burial chamber (1.75 × 1.75 m) that had two loculi (C1 and C2) hewn its southwestern wall and another loculus (C3), in its northwestern wall. An opening breached in the northeastern wall (in the past, possibly by the antiquities robbers) led toward a rock-cut rectangular space (C4, width 2.6 m) whose northern part was blocked by alluvium and ashlar construction. Lying on the pavement of the burial chamber were stone slabs, used to close the loculi, and two ossuaries decorated with compass-made rosette patterns (Figs. 11, 12). A rectangular shaft (Fig. 13; width 0.55 m, length 0.8 m, depth c. 1 m) reached by a step was hewn in the floor near the southern corner of the burial chamber. In the narrow southeastern wall of the shaft was a rock-cut opening (width 0.35 m, height 0.8 m) from which steps led to a rectangular chamber (C5; width 1.6 m, length 1.9 m, height 1.6 m), most of which extended beneath the pavement of the common courtyard (D). An intact undecorated ossuary was found on the floor of the chamber (Fig. 14; its broken lid was discovered nearby). Apparently, the room was used for storing ossuaries, and it is possible that the two ossuaries found in the central burial chamber had been removed by the robbers.
The burial-cave complex has common architectural features, such as a shared courtyard, a framed doorway, a central burial chamber, loculi
and niches used as bone repositories, plug-shaped roll-stones and closing slabs, characteristic of the burial caves used by Jews in the late Second Temple period. The ossuaries are indicative of primary burial in the loculi
and secondary burial in ossuaries (Kloner and Zissu 2003
). These, alongside the piriform jugs, date the use of the caves to the first century CE—the end of the Second Temple period. This complex is part of Jerusalem’s necropolis from the end of the Second Temple period.