During May 2005, a salvage excavation was conducted in the Ramot Alon neighborhood of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-4462*; map ref. NIG 21911/63558; OIG 16911/13558). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority and financed by the Shikun ‘Ovdim Construction Company, was directed by I. Zilberbod, with the assistance of T. Kornfeld (surveying and drafting), T. Sagiv (photography) and R. Kool (numismatics).
The site had been previously examined in the Survey of Jerusalem (Survey of Jerusalem, the Northwest Sector, Site 27). The current excavation exposed a burial cave surmounted by a building and a columbarium cave.
Burial Cave (?) (Figs. 1, 2)
The cave was horizontally quarried into bedrock layers on the eastern slope of the hill. It included a rectangular chamber (L15; 3 × 6 m, height c. 2 m) that had niches and recesses hewn in its walls.
The entrance was cut in the center of the eastern side (L1; width 0.5 m, height 0.45 m, depth 1.25 m), facing the slope and four rock-hewn steps (L5; width 0.25 m, height 0.2 m, length c. 0.9 m) led from it.
A recess was hewn in the middle of the western wall, almost to its entire height (L9; height 1.8 m, width 0.9, depth 0.6 m) and two small and nearly identical niches were cut 0.2 m on either side of it, 1.2 m above the floor of the cave (Loci 8, 10; height 0.55 m, width 0.45 m, depth 0.25 m).
Another niche was hewn in this wall c. 0.5 m from the northwestern corner (L11; height 0.6 m, width 0.6 m, depth 0.3 m) and a wide recess was cut in the southwestern corner (L7; height 1.7 m, width 2 m, depth 0.9 m).
A rectangular niche was hewn south of the steps in the eastern wall, c. 1.4 m above the floor (L6; height 0.65 m, width 0.60 m, depth 0.25 m). In the northeastern corner was a small hewn chamber (L4; height 2 m, width 1.7 m, depth 1.3 m) with a stepped niche cut in the middle of its inner wall, c. 1 m above the floor (L14; height 0.90 m, width 0.70 m, depth 0.85 m). A hewn pit (L13) covered with brown soil that contained human bones was discovered in the middle of the floor of the small chamber. This probably indicates that the cave was used for burial. The excavation in the cave was suspended in agreement with the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
A burial cave had previously been found near the present cave (Survey of Jerusalem, The Northwest Sector, Site 30).
The Building (Figs. 3, 4)
A massive rectangular building (6.5 × 9.5 m) was constructed above the cave in a later phase and at the same time the cave was adapted for use as its cellar. In the northwestern corner of the cave’s ceiling, which served as the foundation for the floor of the building, a round aperture (L12; diam. 0.9 m, depth 0.9 m) that connected the two levels was hewn.
The walls of the structure were built of ashlar stones, preserved four courses high. The eastern wall (W2; length 9.5 m, width 1.4 m, preserved height 1.5 m) was constructed adjacent to the cave’s façade, thereby rendering the original entrance to the cave 2 m deep. Potsherds dating to the Ottoman period were discovered on the floor of the building.
Columbarium Cave (Figs. 3, 5, 6)
The cave, exposed in its entirety c. 2 m southeast of the entrance to the burial cave, was hewn slightly elliptical in the soft stratified bedrock (L24; diam. 3.7 m, height 1.8 m). A deep circular shaft (L17; diam. 1.2 m, depth 1.75 m) that was cut in the southeastern side of the ceiling accessed the cave from surface. The entrance was enclosed by walls built of medium-sized fieldstones (W7––preserved length 1.7 m, max. width 0.5 m; W5–– preserved length 2.5 m, max. width 0.55 m; W3––preserved length 1.4 m, max. width 0.5 m). The northern wall (W3) cut the later building near the burial cave.
North of the columbarium, at the elevation of W3, a coin from the time of Antiochus III (223–187 BCE; IAA No. 98101) was found in an occupation level (L26). Fragments of jars and cooking pots, dating to the Early Roman period, were discovered in the columbarium.
This type of columbarium cave is characteristic of the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods and many such examples were exposed at sites around Jerusalem (Survey of Jerusalem, The Northwest Sector, p. 31). The cave is dated to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, based on the finds.