Khirbat Kharuf

Shahar Batz

A burial cave, columbarium and water cistern that were breached during an antiquities robbery were recorded in January 2001 at Khirbat Kharuf (map ref. NIG 1979/6128; OIG 1479/1128). The documentation, on behalf of the Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria, was conducted by S. Batz, assisted by P. Portnov and P. Gertopsky (surveying and drafting) and Y. Bar-Ashi (find drawing).

The burial cave, columbarium and water cistern were hewn in a dome on the southern fringes of Khirbat Kharuf. The columbarium and water cistern were adjacent to each other and c. 50 m from the burial cave, which is dated to the Early Roman period. The Survey of Western Palestine documented the following antiquities at the ruin: burial caves, columbarium caves, a hiding refuge from the time of Bar-Kokhba, remains of ashlar buildings and a church, ossuaries fragments and marble elements, including a fragment of a sigma table that belonged to the church. Ceramic finds from the Hellenistic until the Mamluk periods were collected as well (SWP III:356).


The Burial Cave (Fig. 1) was carefully hewn into the soft chalk bedrock. It consisted of a covered courtyard, square anteroom and burial chamber that were aligned southwest–northeast, one behind the other. A rock-cut water cistern with a staircase was discovered in the southern side of the courtyard (4.2 

× 4.6 m). The cistern postdated the courtyard and it seems to have been connected to the cave. An entrance (0.5 × 0.6 m) was cut in the anteroom (2.7 × 2.8 m), enclosed with a recessed dressed frame (width 0.1 m). A step (height 0.3 m) descended from the entrance to the burial chamber (3.3 × 3.6 m, height 1.8 m), which had a square standing pit (2 × 2 m) carved in its center. Twelve arcosolia (0.55–0.70 × 1.80–1.90 m, depth 0.85–1.00 m) were hewn in three of the chamber’s walls, four in each wall.


The accumulations inside the cave contained a few potsherds and some fragments of ossuaries decorated with geometric patterns (Fig. 2:1, 2) that dated to the 1st century BCE–1st century CE. A fragment of plaster, bearing a schematic etching of a rowboat (Fig. 2:3) was also recovered from the cave. Etchings of sailing vessels are known in other burial caves, such as Jason’s Cave in Jerusalem (see ‘Atiqot 4[HS]:8–10). The cave is dated to the Early Roman period. Numerous sites with similar burial caves from this period are familiar in the Judean Shephelah (HA–ESI 110:78*–79*).


The Columbarium and the Water Cistern

(Fig. 3). The columbarium was bell-shaped and mostly collapsed (diam. 8 m, presumed height 6 m). During its quarrying a square pillar (1 × 1 m) was left in the center to support the ceiling. A row of cells was located on each side of the pillar’s upper part. Similar pillars were revealed in other columbaria complexes in the Judean Shephelah (HA–ESI 110:78*–79*). The columbarium’s southern wall was well preserved and four rows of cells, c. 5.5 m above the presumed floor level, were observed in its upper part. Two decorative strips were chiseled into bedrock, one below the rows of cells and the other above the second row of cells. Decoration of red-painted dots was discerned around the openings of several cells.


The water cistern was hewn just to the west of the columbarium. It was bell-shaped (max. width c. 7 m, depth c. 10 m), with an upper opening (length 2 m). Notches caused by the friction of ropes while drawing water from the cistern were discerned around the walls of the opening.

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