During July 2002, a salvage excavation was conducted along the route of Highway 1, next to the intersection of the Prophets, Engineering Corps and Ben Shadad Streets (Permit No. A-3728; map ref. NIG 22164–9/63237–97; OIG 17164–9/13237–97), due to infrastructure work. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Moriya Company, was directed by A. Re’em, with the assistance of A. Hajian (surveying), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), N. Zak (drafting), A. de Vincenz (ceramics), N. Katsnelson and Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass finds), O. Shorr (glass restoration) and C. Hersch (pottery and glass drawings).
Previous excavations in the area revealed a complex of monasteries, churches and hostels that dated to the Byzantine period: an Armenian monastery and crypt (Fig. 1; Area D-S; ESI 13:80–82) west of the excavation area; a monastery (Area D-N; ESI 13:82–83) to the north; a monastery that included a hostel with a chapel and tombs (Area A; ESI 10:130–133); rooms and tombs arranged around a courtyard (Area C; ESI 13:78–79); and a Byzantine tomb decorated with frescoes (Area E; ‘Atiqot 29:71*–75* [Hebrew]).
A rock-hewn burial cave, which was apparently a crypt that dated to the end of the Byzantine period (end of the sixth century–beginning of the seventh century CE), was exposed in the current excavation.
A narrow strip (1.0 × 5.5 m; Figs. 2, 3) was opened, revealing a stone pavement (L200; 0.6 × 1.0 m, thickness 0.1 m; Fig. 4) that was partly laid directly on bedrock and partly on fill that consisted of quarrying debris and soil (L260). The northern part of the pavement abutted a robber trench (L100; width c. 1.3 m; Fig. 5). The excavation of the pavement’s foundation and the robber trench did not yield any datable finds.
A stone-built staircase descended from the level of the pavement to a narrow antechamber (L250; 0.7 × 1.5 m, height 1.8 m; Fig. 6) whose walls were built of fieldstones and founded on bedrock; the pavement’s flagstones constituted the antechamber’s ceiling. An entrance in the southern part of the western wall had two crosses engraved above it (0.6 × 0.7 m; Fig. 7). A hewn step led to the interior of a cave (3 × 3 m, height 1.1 m) that was carelessly hewn in hard limestone bedrock. Fieldstones and mortar repairs were discerned in the cave’s ceiling.
Some of the poorly preserved bones on the floor of the cave (L300) were articulated, attesting to primary burial. The deceased, aligned east–west, were laid next to each other with their heads in the west. The remains of at least ten individuals were discerned, including eight adults and two children. Two females and at least three males were positively identified among the adults. One of the males was 40–50 years of age and the children were 2–4 and 5–8 years of age.
Scattered on the floor of the cave (L300) and in the antechamber (L250) were fragments of pottery vessels, characteristic of the second half of the sixth century–beginning of the seventh century CE, which included a plain type of a Fine Byzantine Ware cup (Fig. 8:1), basins with ledge rims (Fig. 8:2, 3), a jug base (Fig. 8:4), a bag-shaped jar from the north of the country (Fig. 8:5) and a large intact lamp (Fig. 8:6).
Glass vessels and glass fragments (Figs. 9, 10) were collected near the entrance to the cave and beneath a pile of fieldstones (L310). These included bottles with a squat spherical body and a funnel-like neck (Fig. 9:1–4), bottles with a spherical body and a cylindrical neck (Fig. 9:5–8) and a juglet (Fig. 9:9). The bottles with the funnel-like neck are similar to each other and were apparently produced in the same workshop. The vessels were free and mold-blown; a pontil scar was identified only on the juglet. The glass assemblage is dated to the end of the Byzantine period (end of the sixth–beginning of the seventh centuries CE). A similar assemblage was discovered in a nearby crypt that belonged to the same architectural complex (Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, p. 295).
The cave is incorporated in a building that was part of a complex of monasteries, chapels and crypts; therefore, it seems that this was no ordinary burial cave but rather a crypt. That notwithstanding, the outline of the cave is different than that of its neighboring crypts, which had an arched ceiling and burial troughs. The cave contained numerous interments, including children, which may attest to an additional use that it fulfilled. The ceramic and glass artifacts recovered from the cave, as well as its proximity to a complex of buildings that is dated with certainty, sets the time of its use to the end of the Byzantine period (end of the sixth–beginning of the seventh centuries CE).