The burial cave (Fig. 1), oriented east–west, was hewn on the northern slope of the spur. The cave consisted of an anteroom that opened to the southwest and led to the central chamber, in whose sides loculi were hewn. The cave was intentionally breached with heavy mechanical equipment, which caused severe damage: the anteroom, part of the chamber’s ceiling and a loculus in the south of the chamber were destroyed. After the cave was breached an illicit dig was undertaken inside and almost all of its contents were looted. The illicit dig was detected before the robbers managed to remove a stone sarcophagus with a lid, a closing stone of a loculus and the cave’s rolling stone. Upon completing the examination and documentation of the cave, the sarcophagus, lid and the rolling stone were transferred to the plaza in front of the secretary’s office at Moshav Zur Natan.
The anteroom, whose ceiling was removed and walls were damaged, was rectangular (1.7×3.2 m) and only its floor level could be discerned (Fig. 2).Along its eastern side, a track (length 1.6 m, width 0.35 m) for the moving of the round rolling stone (diam. 1.3 m) was hewn. The stone was found lying in front of the anteroom, on the soil debris that the robbers had removed from the cave. The entrance to the cave (presumed width 0.8 m), which was also damaged, opened into an elliptical burial chamber (length 4.5 m, width 2.7 m).On the walls of the cave, which was hewn in chalky rock that tended to crumble, plaster surfaces that covered natural cracks in the bedrock could be discerned. A total of nine loculi (length 2.3 m, width 0.6 m), three in each side were hewn in the northern, southern and eastern sides of the chamber. All the loculi were plundered and no evidence of the artifacts they originally contained had remained (Fig. 3). Lying on the floor of the burial chamber was a sealing stone that belonged to one of the loculi. A decorated stone sarcophagus and a matching stone lid alongside it were standing in the middle of the chamber. Although the sarcophagus had been broken into and its contents looted, it is obvious that it remained in situ. It is possible that the sarcophagus was placed in the center of the chamber during a relatively late phase in the use of the cave, probably after all of the loculi had been filled.
The sarcophagus (0.64×1.68 m, height 0.67 m without lid; width of sides 8 cm; Fig. 4) is carved out of indigenous limestone. A rectangular panel (0.4×1.1 m, thickness 1–2 cm) was fashioned in relief by dressing the edges around it, along one of the long sides. A pillow-like hump, fashioned on the bottom of the sarcophagus next to one of the short sides, was probably a head-rest for the deceased. A gable-shaped limestone lid (height 0.4 m) fit the sarcophagus exactly and its four corners are adorned with prominently shaped horn-like acroteria. Two triangular handles (length of base 0.25 m) were fashioned in relief on the two narrow sides of the lid. Sarcophagi of this kind, which are frequently referred to as ‘Samaritan coffins’, were discovered at Tell Balata, in the region of ‘Ar‘ara and in the vicinity of Netanya; they are usually dated to the last third of the first and the second centuries CE.
A similar cave with ten hewn loculi had been discovered at Zur Natan in the past. It also included a round rolling stone and two sarcophagi, which were designed and decorated identically to the one discovered in the plundered cave; the former cave included glass vessels that dated to the first–second centuries CE (Cave 42-4; Ayalon, Qidron and Sharvit. 1988-1989: 105–106). Similar loculi caves with artifacts, which are attributed to the first and the beginning of the second centuries CE, were discovered in the Ramat Ephraim quarter of Netanya, in Khirbat Mugharat Abu-Samaha and in Maghar Abu-Sharif, in the western part of Emeq Hefer (R. Reich 1982. Archaeological Sites within the Precincts of the City of Netanya. In O. Shmueli and M. Bror [eds.] Sefer Netanya. Tel Aviv. Pp. 101–114 [Hebrew]).
The use of circular rolling stones that were rolled within a hewn track is also known from numerous tombs in the vicinity of the site and from the Sharon and Judean regions, i.e., in the Ramat Ephraim quarter of Netanya (Tomb 13), the Tomb of the Kings, the tomb of Herod’s dynasty and at Horbat Midras, most of which are dated to the first and beginning of the second centuries CE (Kloner A. 1980. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Ph.D. diss. The Hebrew University. Jerusalem, p. 215). It therefore seems that the plundered burial cave should be dated to the first–second centuries CE.