A salvage excavation was conducted in December 1996 in a burial cave at Jatt (A-2583*; map ref. NIG 20415/70095; OIG 15415/20095) that was exposed while preparing an area for the construction of a residential house. The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the property owner Mr. S. Shalbi, was directed by M. Masarwa, with the assistance of I. Vatkin (surveying), T. Sagiv (photography), O. Shorr (glass restoration), M. Miles (glass drawings), R.A. Jackson-Tal (glass finds), V. Tzaferis (inscription readings) and also O. Shmueli, K. Sari, O. Masarwa, R. Badhi, I. Jabour, H. Tawil and D. Danino.
The cave was hewn in soft kirton bedrock on the northwestern slope of the hill where the village of Jatt is situated. It is part of the ancient cemetery of Jatt (‘Atiqot 37) and dated to the 1st–4th centuries CE. Three engraved inscriptions were discovered in the cave. Some 50 m to the west of the cave was another burial cave that had been plundered in the past and was not excavated. Its plan and dimensions were similar to those of the cave that was examined.
The cave consisted of an anteroom and a burial chamber, which contained 15 rock-cut loculi (Fig. 1). The anteroom was rectangular (L500; 2.4 × 3.3 m, height 2.6 m) with a vaulted ceiling. In the northern wall was a single, poorly preserved course of ashlar stones (average size 0.3 × 0.5 m). The floor of the anteroom sloped southward and was covered with a layer of soil (thickness 0.4 m) that yielded body fragments of ribbed storage jars and cooking pots and was overlain with stone collapse and alluvium (max. thickness 1 m). A rectangular entrance (0.70 × 0.85 m) was hewn in the southern wall of the anteroom, leading to the burial chamber. The entrance was sealed with a roll stone (diam. 1.1 m) that was uncovered, in situ, inside a recess hewn to match its shape; the stone was moved aside in antiquity by grave robbers, who breached the tomb (Fig. 2). Three steps led down from the entrance to the burial chamber (Fig. 3) that had a rectangular standing pit (L516; 0.7 × 4.5 m, depth 0.3 m) in its center. The pit was filled with gray alluvium, containing body fragments of pottery and glass vessels (below). The 15 loculi (Loci 502–515, 517; 0.5–0.7 × 1.2–1.9 m, height 0.55–0.75 m) were carefully hewn, but their lines were not even. Signs of curved rock cuttings that were probably made with an adze were discerned on the walls of cave. Dressed stones that sealed the loculi were scattered on the floor of the burial chamber; they were dislodged in the past by the grave robbers. The floor was overlain with alluvium, which contained body fragments of cooking pots, jars and a circular lamp, dating to the 2nd–3rd centuries CE. Inside the loculi and on the floor of the chamber several poorly preserved human long bones, skulls and teeth were found.
The glass finds in the cave consisted of 27 items, including one intact bowl (Fig. 4:1), six diagnostic vessel fragments, among them two cups (Fig. 4:2, 3) and two bowls (Fig. 4:4, 5), as well as one bead (Fig. 4:6). All of the vessels are blown and occur in various shades of green; the bead is drawn and has a blue tint to it. The items are covered with silvery, iridescent weathering and lime incrustations. The assemblage of vessels include common, everyday ware. The dates of the finds are not homogeneous: Vessels 1–4 date to the Early Roman period (1st–2nd centuries CE), whereas Vessel 5 and Bead 6 date to the Late Roman period (3rd–4th centuries CE).
Three inscriptions were engraved above the openings to Loculi 508, 511 and 512. The inscription above Loculus 511 is illegible and may not even be one. The two other inscriptions are written in Greek, designating Hebrew and Greek names, probably of those interred in the loculi. The letters are large and some are unclear; they appear to have been engraved, using a simple instrument. The letters and the quality of writing are quite similar to the inscriptions that were engraved on the stone ossuaries in the Jewish burial caves at the end of the Second Temple period (M. Schwabe and B. Lipshitz 1974, Beth She’arim II. The Greek Inscriptions). Based on the mixture of Hebrew and Greek names, the cave may have been used by a Samaritan family.
The inscription above Loculus 508 (Figs. 5–7) consists of five lines, engraved on a smooth, recessed surface; the fifth line is illegible. A name is written in each line. The three first names are of women and they are written in the genitive case. Line 4 has the name of a man, also in the genitive case. It is reasonable to assume that the name in Line 5 is also that of a man. Two of the names—Sarah and Miriam—are Hebrew names, the other two are Greek names.
The inscription above Loculus 512 (Figs. 8, 9) comprises a single line, bearing the Hebrew name Amos, which is not in the genitive case.