During August 2000 and September 2002 two seasons of excavation were conducted in ‘Zedekiah’s Cave’, located beneath the Old City of Jerusalem (Permit Nos. A-3274, A-3732; map ref. NIG 22198–215/63210–20; OIG 17198–215/13210–20). The excavations, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Biblical Archaeological Foundation of Texas, USA (the first season) and the Heath Archaeological Foundation of Australia (the second season), were directed by Y. Zelinger, with the assistance of D. Weiss (area supervision), V. Essman, V. Pirsky and A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), S. al-Amlah (metallurgical survey), A. Ganon (administration), T. Sagiv (photography), A. Berman (numismatics), R. Vinitsky (metallurgical laboratory) and volunteers on behalf of the two foundations.
‘Zedekiah’s Cave’ is a rock-hewn cavern used by past builders of Jerusalem for quarrying masonry stones. Its opening is found at the base of bedrock that served as the foundation for the Old City walls from the Ottoman period and it extends across an area of c. 9,000 sq m, beneath most of the Muslim quarter. The purpose of the excavations––the first ever conducted in the cave––was to attempt dating the periods of its use. Moreover, the cave was measured for the first time using modern surveying equipment and a comprehensive metallurgical survey was performed with the aid of metal detectors. Five areas, mainly situated in the vicinity of the cave’s opening, were opened (Fig. 1).
Area A (2.0 × 5.3 m). The base of a wall, built of large well-dressed stones (0.5 × 0.6 m), was exposed. The wall (length 16.5 m, height c. 10 m) was found covered almost entirely with later debris. Its visible upper part consisted of smaller stones. The pottery vessels at the base of the wall were mostly from the Mamluk period (thirteenth century CE) and it seems that the wall was constructed in this period to block the entrance to the cave’s void. It is known from historical sources that the cave’s opening was blocked during the Ottoman period in fear of an enemy infiltrating the Temple Mount by way of the cave. It appears that the date of the wall’s construction should be set earlier, based on the finds.
Area B (4 × 4; depth 2.5 m) was opened next to the western wall of the cave, in a place where the shallow rock-cutting offered the possibility to inspect the quarrying methods along the lower sections of the walls. Large stones were vertically cut here and detached from the entire height of the wall.
Area C (4 × 4 m, depth 1.5 m) was also opened next to the western wall of the cave. It was farther away from the opening and practically not disturbed by the debris that spilled into the cave. Thus, the ceramic finds at its bottom were the earliest recovered from the excavation, including mainly potsherds from the Roman and Byzantine periods and a few fragments from the Iron Age.
Area D (5 × 5 m) was opened in a hall that extended east of the cave’s opening, next to the spot where the winged cherub relief, which Clermont-Ganneau published in the nineteenth century CE, was found. The excavation in this area aimed to examine Clermont-Ganneau’s contention that the work in the quarry had begun in the Iron Age. The large quantities of debris that had penetrated the cave through its opening contained pottery vessels that mostly dated to the Mamluk period. On the bottom of the cave, at a depth of 4 m, were a few potsherds from the Byzantine period and a single bowl fragment from the Iron Age.
Area E (max. dimensions 4 × 9 m) was opened in a hall that extended west, near the cave’s opening. Despite its proximity to the opening’s disturbed area, a stone-slab floor (3 × 5 m) laid next to a bedrock outcrop was exposed. Several perforated holes were hewn through the upper part of the outcrop. The most ancient ceramic artifacts from this area were found in a probe below the floor, dating to the beginning of the first century BCE. Based on the finds, this was probably the area where the quarried stones were loaded and brought outside the cave, after lifting them with ropes that passed through the perforated holes.
The metallurgical survey exposed 57 coins, of which only 49 could be identified. Most of the coins dated to the Early Islamic period, several coins dated to the Byzantine period and a single coin dated to Year 2 of the revolt (67/68 CE; IAA 95674).