The cave (Fig. 1) was hewn in soft limestone bedrock and its ceiling had previously been breached by mechanical equipment. The cave was found plundered and filled with debris and alluvium (L10); it was devoid of any osteological or archaeological finds. Segments of plaster on floors and walls, whose chronology and nature could not be ascertained, were discerned in the trench created above the cave’s ceiling. The area surrounding the cave was not excavated, hence courtyard in front of the entrance was not found.

 

The entrance door to the cave was not traced. The doorway had been redesigned in the modern era, with stone doorjambs and a lintel that were set in place using modern bonding materials (Fig. 2). Built steps visible beneath the debris descended from the entrance to a central chamber (3.5 × 3.8 m, height 2.5 m) whose walls were coated with plaster, decorated with painted bands and yellowish brown stripes that formed a kind of a metope pattern. Many sections of the plaster were defaced with scribbled Arabic and Armenian graffiti from the twentieth century.

 

Five small burial chambers were hewn in the walls of the main chamber (two small chambers in the northern wall were concealed by debris, but appear on Macalister’s plan). The burial chambers were square and plain, with no funerary installations (Table 1). A rectilinear stone threshold (Fig. 3) was installed in the doorway of each small chamber, forming a sort of entrance step into the room. These stones were decorated with Greek letters in red paint, some of which were done in mirror writing (Fig. 4). Two other letters were recorded by Macalister in the small chambers located in the northern wall. Remains of bonding material used to secure the blocking stones in place were visible along the edges of the entrances to the small chambers. On the floor of the cave were well-dressed ashlars (average dimensions 0.4 × 0.6 m) that sealed the entrances to the small chambers and were apparently removed when the tomb was looted (Fig. 5). These stones had the remains of iron rings that intended to facilitate the moving of the blocking stones when opening the small chambers. According to Macalister’s report, these stones were marked with Greek letters that corresponded to those on the thresholds in the doorways. It therefore seems that the letters were meant to match the blocking stone with the entrance and they were not an abbreviation of the deceased name.

 

The chronology of the cave is unclear. Kloner suggested that it was last used in the Byzantine period, based on the remains found in its vicinity. The Greek letters seem to support this theory, even though the method of burial was unknown in the Byzantine tradition. Conversely, the members of the Armenian patriarchate, in whose domain the site is located, believe that the church fathers were interred in this crypt as of the late Middle Ages (thirteenth century CE).

 

Table 1. Dimensions of the small burial chambers (meters)

Chamber No. Length Width Height
I 2.0 2.1 1.1
II 1.9 1.5 0.8
III 2.0 2.0 1.2