During July–August 2010, a salvage excavation was conducted along the fringes of Khirbat Sabiha, in the East Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-5846; map ref. 221703–26/627962–84), prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Bonē Ha-Tihon Company, Ltd., was directed by A. Golani, with the assistance of Y. Ohayon and E. Bachar (administration), A. Hajian (surveying), Skyview Company (aerial photography), A. Eirikh-Rose (antiquities inspection), I. Berin (drafting), and C. Amit (studio photography).
The excavation (c. 900 sq m; Fig. 1) was located on a steep slope, facing south. Remains of the Low-Level Aqueduct, which conveyed water to Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, and a magnificent ashlar-built tomb that probably dated to the same period, were discovered c. 50 m north of the excavation. Antiquities exposed in nearby excavations included ritual baths (miqwe’ot
), hiding refuges and a columbarium from the Roman period and an olive press from Iron Age II (Permit No. A-5900), as well as a rock-hewn winepress, a large cave that were used in the Roman period and ceramic finds from Iron Age II (HA-ESI 123
The excavation area was covered with pine trees, planted to prevent soil erosion and cut down for the purpose of development. A large terrace wall, built of medium and large fieldstones and oriented east–west, was visible before the start of the excavation, as were two openings of a large cistern that was documented in the Jerusalem survey (Survey of Jerusalem, the Southern Sector, Site 72). Stone quarries, a cistern and a burial cave were exposed in the current excavation.
Natural bedrock surfaces devoid of any finds were exposed in the western part of the excavation; a quarry was revealed in its center, eastern and southern parts (Figs. 2, 3). Negatives of different size building stones that had been cut from bedrock were visible in the quarry, as well as severance channels that pointed to the manner in which the stones were detached (Fig. 4). In addition, a large amount of chipped dressing debris was found on top of the bedrock, indicating that the stones were dressed in the quarry itself (Fig. 5).
No datable finds were discovered in the quarrying debris or on the floor of the quarry. A few potsherds and several coins, which ranged in date from Iron Age II to the modern era, were discovered by chance. The stones from the quarry were likely used for building the tomb located north of the excavation or for structures discovered to the east.
A cistern (5.9 × 10.6 m, min. depth 7 m; Fig. 2: Section 1-1) was found in the southeast of the excavation. The cistern had two openings: a small northern one (0.4 × 0.5 m) and a larger one in the south (1.1 × 2.2 m). Several shallow rock-hewn channels led to the southern opening, which conveyed run-off into the cistern. The cistern’s interior was not filled prior to the excavation and stone fences were visible in it indicating it was used by shepherds. A thick layer of gray hydraulic plaster was visible on the sides of the cistern. The cistern’s stone ceiling was removed before commencing the excavation inside, because of safety considerations. The accumulation of alluvium and debris that filled the cistern was removed with the aid of mechanical equipment, yet the bottom of the cistern was not reached. The cistern’s large dimensions may indicate that it was also filled with water from the nearby aqueduct and not just rainwater. The cistern most likely stored water that was used in the ritual baths that were exposed east of the excavation. Potsherds from the Roman and Byzantine periods were found in the fill inside the cistern.
A rectangular rock-cutting was discovered in the northeastern part of the excavation, near the southern side of the retaining wall. Three dressed stone slabs, carefully set in place next to each other were exposed on the bottom of the rock-cutting (Fig. 6); two intact clay lamps from the Byzantine period (sixth–seventh centuries CE; Fig. 7) were found on the slabs. North of the slabs, below the terrace, was a hewn entrance (0.6 × 0.8 m) to a burial cave, which the slabs were probably meant to block. The cave was not excavated; however, a tiny camera was inserted into it and based on the photographs, approximate measurements of its dimensions were made and a schematic plan was drawn (Fig. 8). The interior of the cave was square (1.6 × 1.6 m), with arcosolia on three of its sides (0.65 × 1.30 m). At least two clay lamps and a glass bottle were visible on the floor of the chamber. Bones in primary burial were identified inside the arcosolia.