Burial Cave. A courtyard was hewn in the front of Cave 103 (Fig. 3). A square opening (0.6 × 0.6 m) facing north was hewn in the courtyard’s southern wall, and an arched niche—in its western wall. The opening led to a single rectangular burial chamber (2.4 × 3.5 m; Fig. 4) with a rock-cut standing pit (0.97 × 1.00 m, depth 0.7 m) in its center. The deceased were placed in burial troughs (height 0.8–1.0 m) located south, east and west of the standing pit. Alluvium had accumulated inside the cave. Scattered bones were discovered in the cave (Nagar, below), making it impossible to reconstruct the original positions of the deceased. The cave contained pottery vessels: a jar with a thickened rim (Fig. 5:3), a juglet with a cup-like rim (Fig. 5:5) and a juglet with a slightly oblate body and a discus base (Fig. 5:6), all dating from the Hasmonean period to the Herodian period (late second century BCE – first century BCE); cooking pots with a triangular rim (Fig. 5:2) and a jar with a thickened rim (Fig. 5:4), dating to the first century CE; as well as two whole lamps (Fig. 5:7, 8) dated on the basis of their small dimensions and the cross motif on their nozzle to the Byzantine period (second half of the fourth to the first half of the sixth century CE).
Similar caves were in use until the Early Roman period, and their plan is common in Jerusalem’s agricultural hinterland. The absence of first-century CE ossuaries may indicate that the interment was prior to that period, and that it should be dated to the time of Herod (first century BCE – first century CE; Re’em 2001:6*). On the basis of the ceramic finds, it seems that the cave was used during two phases: an early one, probably during the Herodian period, and a later one—in the Byzantine period.
Pit Graves. Four rectangular graves (L101—0.76 × 1.40 m, depth 0.39 m; L102—0.5 × 0.9 m, depth 0.47 m; L104—0.46 × 0.95 m, depth 0.29 m; L106—0.4 × 0.8 m, depth 0.27 m; Fig. 6) were hewn along a general northeast–southwest axis. Alluvium containing a scant amount of non-diagnostic sherds had accumulated inside the graves. Graves of this type are known from the Second Temple and Byzantine periods. Similar pit graves were discovered in a cemetery exposed on the southeastern slope of Tell el-Ful, and they are dated to the first–third centuries CE (Baruch 2000).
Rock-cuttings. Two shallow rock-cuttings (L100A; length 1.6 and 2.0 m, depth c. 0.25 m) and an additional shallow rock-cutting that has a U-like shape (L100B; 1.95 × 3.00 m, depth 0.3 m; Fig. 7) were discovered around the pit graves. It seems that these are either the remains of small quarries for building stones or of bedrock testing to determine if the rock was suitable for the production of building stones.
Natural Pit. No signs of quarrying or plaster remains were discovered on the bedrock walls of Pit 105 (0.9 × 1.5 m, depth 1.7 m). The pit was filled with modern debris.
Anthropological Finds
Yossi Nagar
Scattered bones, including skulls, some of which are complete, mandibles and postcranial bones were discovered in the burial cave. The bones were examined in the field, after which they were turned over for re-interment. The complete skulls and jaws were documented in detail in order to estimate the age and sex of the deceased, and epigenetic characteristics were recorded. The age estimation of the deceased was based on the extent of dental erosion (Hillson 1993:176–201). The long bones were measured for the vertical diameter of the proximal head of the femur and for the epicondylar width of the distal portion of the humerus.
Age and gender estimations derived from the skulls, he jaws and the long bones were consolidated, thus providing us with a demographic cross-section of the population interred in the cave (Table 1). The skulls discovered in the cave were well-preserved, and it was therefore possible to determine the gender of most of the adults: at least ten males and two females were identified. At least three clear cases of pathologies were discovered among the long bones: a fracture of the right femoral neck, after which the knitting of the fracture caused significant bone growth around the neck of the femur that undoubtedly restricted the movement of the joint (Fig. 8:1); a fractured left tibia that knitted in the middle third of the diaphysis (Fig. 8:2); and considerable swelling and porosity of the diaphysis of the left tibia (Fig. 8:3), indicative of an infectious injury. Since a significant portion of the bones in the cave were not thoroughly examined, it was impossible to conduct a statistical analysis of these pathologic frequencies.
However, all of the skull remains, including ten crania and nineteen well-preserved eye sockets, were examined for detecting porotic hyperostosis in the crania and cribra orbitalia; no damage was found.
The human bones discovered in the cave represent at least sixteen individuals, including fourteen adults and two children. Despite the small sample, it is evident that the demographic cross-section is different than that expected in a normal rural buried population. In the first place, at least ten male adults were identified as compared to only two females. In addition, most of the individuals died after the age of forty, while life expectancy in the Hellenistic and Roman periods was less than forty years (Nagar and Torgë 2003). A similar demographic cross-section was discovered in Byzantine-period monasteries, such as Khan al-Ahmar (Hershkovitz et al. 1993) and Umm Leisun (Seligman forthcoming). The pathologies discovered in the bones, including fractures that healed and an infectious injury, as well as the total absence of porotic hyperostosis in the cribra orbitalia, may indicate the relative resilience of the population to diseases. This phenomena is consistent with its relatively long life span. The human bones that were found in the cave seem to belong to the later burial phase, that of the Byzantine period. The cave may have been used at that time by the residents of a nearby monastery that has yet to be discovered.
Table 1. Age Estimation of the Individuals Interred in the Burial Cave
Age estimation (years)
Unknown age
Number of individuals
1 (30˂y)