From 2000 to 2012, archaeological excavations were conducted in Subterranean Complex 169 at Maresha (License Nos. G-3/2000, G52/2001; Permit Nos. A-3567, A-3941, A-4099, A-4361, A-4687, A-4997, A-5343, A-5574, A-5898, A-6092, A-6380; map ref. 190560/611070). The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Archaeological Seminars Institute, were directed by I. Stern and B. Alpert, with the assisted of S. Shaharit and L. Yaborsky (pottery restoration, registration and organization), J. Filipone and S. Neuman (drafting and drawing), and A. Stern, C. Amit, and Z. Radovan (photography) and participants of the Archaeological Seminars Institute. The excavation enjoyed the cooperation of T. Tsuk (National Parks Authority) and the staff of the Bet Guvrin National Park.
Subterranean Complex 169 is located c. 105 m southwest of the Upper City of Tel Maresha, in what is one of the most unusual and most interesting cluster of complexes in the Maresha area (Fig. 1). The complex was discovered while surveying in the southwest area of Maresha in January 2000, when wet plastic bottles left behind by robbers were found after a small opening (E1) was exposed by recent rains. Based upon the amount of earth removed and the large quantity of garbage behind, it was assumed that the subterranean complex had been repeatedly robbed over several months. By April 2000, the opening to the complex was enlarged by the robbers, and in May, two additional entrances (E2, E3) were opened. The excavation of the complex began in July 2000.
To date, thirteen rooms have been discovered in Subterranean Complex 169 (Fig. 2). Most of the rooms are quite large, but unlike other subterranean complexes at Maresha, no columbaria, oil presses or baths were found, and only one small cistern, located at the northeast end of the complex, was revealed (Room 1). Upon first entering the system, many of the rooms were found to be almost completely filled, while in others the fill was within 1–2 m of the ceiling. The fill varied from large boulders that collapsed from the ceilings and walls to primarily anthropogenic soil. As in other subterranean complexes excavated at Maresha, the finds reflect anthropogenic material that appears to have been dumped in from the surface above. Within the rooms that have openings to the surface, one would have expected the debris to have accumulated in a cone-shape dump, peaking below the entrance. However, the debris in the rooms was relatively level, and in some cases filled the room up to less than 1 m from the ceiling. This level of accumulation was found even in rooms that have no access to the surface. It seems that the debris was deliberately dumped from the rooms with entrances from the surface and then moved to adjacent rooms.
The thirteen rooms in this complex can be tentatively subdivided into four clusters of rooms; each of the clusters seems to have been initially independent and only later connected to the others. Each cluster had its own original entrance, probably leading down from a structure on the surface.
The first cluster includes Rooms 1–5. The original entrance into this cluster was via a rock-cut staircase that led from the surface directly into Room 3 (E3). This entrance was later blocked with large nari stones. The northernmost room, Room 1, was clearly a cistern, and contains another entrance (E2) into the system (Fig. 3). The remains of a staircase and banister are still visible as are the rope-mark impressions in the banister from where vessels were lowered into the cistern. An opening in the ceiling apparently served to channel rainwater from the surface into the cistern. The other rooms belonging to this cluster are of various sizes. Rooms 2–4 appear to have served solely as a source of building blocks for the dwellings on the surface. However, a decorated cultic niche was hewn in one of the walls of Room 2 (Fig. 4). On the western side of Room 5 is a small opening that leads to another room which was not excavated for safety reasons. The southern wall of this cluster is contiguous with Room 6 and at one time they may have been connected. A wall (W1; length 3.5 m, width 0.6 m. height 1.4 m) of chalk blocks was built above a rock-cut wall in order to separate Room 3 from Room 6. The wall showed signs of damage, which probably occurred just prior to the excavation.
The next cluster contains Rooms 6 and 7. These rooms include the remains of five silos. When the floor of these rooms was quarried further down, the silos were destroyed and only their outlines or negatives remained (Fig. 5). Room 6 also contains a series of ten ties carved into some of its walls. They appear to be too narrow to have been used to tether animals but may have been used to hang food or other items.
The next cluster to the west includes Rooms 8 and 9 and an extension to the north of Room 9, which was deemed unstable and hence not excavated. The entrance into this cluster was set on its southern side (E1). The cluster, containing three very large pillars and the negative of a small silo, shows clear evidence of a couple of stages of use. The original Room 9 contained a small silo which continued into Room 8. At a later stage, the floor of the room was lowered, most likely to provide more building stones for structures on the surface, and the silo was destroyed in the process, leaving only the negative. The extension to the north of Room 9 appears to continue in the direction of Subterranean Complex 57 (see Fig. 1; Alpert and Stern 2007; to be referred to in subsequent publications as Subterranean Complex 126) and may even be connected to it. A Greek inscription was found on the northern wall of Room 9: the name IABΔAΔA engraved in large letters (Figs. 6, 7). This name appears on some of the ostraca discovered at Maresha along with other Idumean names, as well as on a list discovered at Memphis. The majority of the ostraca discovered in this complex were found in this room. Its proximity to Subterranean Complex 57 (126) and the structure in Area 800 tentatively identified by A. Kloner as a shrine deserves further investigation.
The fourth cluster contains one very large room (Room 10), subdivided into three quadrants, and three smaller rooms (Rooms 11–13; Fig. 8). The three quadrants in Room 10—the northern (2.45 × 7.20 m), the central (4.6 × 11.4 m) and the southern (2.43 × 9.25 m)—are connected via large openings supported by huge pillars. There are two circular openings in the ceiling of the central quadrant that were probably the initial openings into this room when it was first quarried. There are no openings to the surface in the two side quadrants. The central quadrant in Room 10 contains three silos similar to those in Rooms 6 and 7. Ties similar to those in Room 6 were also found here, although at a lower elevation on the walls. These similarities to Rooms 6 and 7 and the lack of a wall separating the clusters allows for the possibility that these were not separate clusters, but rather extensions of the same cluster. The height of the room, from floor to ceiling (outside the silos) is c. 3 m. This room is unique in Lower Maresha in its plan as a central room in a row of three and in the huge entranceways leading into it. Room 11 contains a complete silo in its eastern wall and a negative of a silo on its western wall. Room 12 is a small room with a series of niches in its eastern wall and a domed ceiling made of chalk blocks. Room 13 (Fig. 9) contains two pillars and has a small, round, unusual opening in its ceiling that leads to a room or a storage area (height c. 1.2 m).
The most fascinating aspect of this excavation is the finds. Over 500 ostraca have been discovered to date; 78% were written in Aramaic and 22% in Greek. They can be tentatively dated to the fourth–second centuries BCE. Another forty inscriptions have been discovered on bone, stone and other materials. Other finds include 187 coins (Ariel and Hoover 2011), 177 stamped amphora handles, over 650 figurine fragments and complete figurines, 342 oil lamps, jewelry, including a gold earring in the shape of a ram’s head, with clear parallels in Ashdod and Cyprus (Fig. 10), and 620 complete ceramic vessels. The analysis of this rich corpus of finds should shed much light on the population of Hellenistic Maresha.
Alpert B. and Stern I. 2007. Maresha, Subterranean Complex 57. AH-ESI 119.
Ariel D.T. and Hoover O.D. 2011. A New Coin of the Mint of Maresha. INJ 6:61–78.