In January 2014, a salvage excavation was conducted in a burial cave at the ʽEn Prat Nature Reserve (Permit No. 2-3-2014; map ref. 229565/637810; Fig. 1), after an antiquities robbery occurred in the area. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria and financed by the Nature and Parks Authority and the Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria, was directed by E. Freiman (field photography), with the assistance of P. Portnov (surveying and drafting), A. Harel (illustrations), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology) and inspectors of the Nature and Parks Authority (excavation).
The excavation was carried out on the southern bank of Nahal Prat, c. 0.5 km west of the confluence of Wadi en-Namer and Nahal Prat, where inspectors of the Nature and Parks Authority identified a burial cave that was not mentioned in previous surveys. The excavation was conducted outside the cave, in the soil debris adjacent to the cave opening and inside the cave.
The cave was rock-hewn (Fig. 2). A drainage channel (L3; width 1 m, depth c. 0.5 m; Fig. 3) hewn at the front of the cave was meant to prevent rainwater from flowing into the cave and inundating it. The entrance to the cave was designed as a double opening (Fig. 3): a rectangular niche (width c. 1.25 m, height 1.5 m, depth 1.2 m) with a smaller arched opening cut in its rear wall (width c. 0.35 m, height 0.7 m, depth 0.3 m), inside a shallow rectangular niche (width 0.7 m, height 0.8 m, depth 12.5 cm). A rectangular groove (depth c. 8 cm) was hewn in the bedrock floor, c. 0.25 m in front of the large rectangular niche. The groove served to secure a rod that supported the sealing stone in the opening of the cave. The cave’s interior (L2) was only partially hewn. The sides of the cave opening were dressed and shaped as a square, but the interior of the cave was practically unworked, except for a natural fissure that extended the width of the cave and was enlarged. Numerous fragments of various sizes belonging to a single ossuary were found inside the cave and in the debris outside; were it not for a fragment of a corner, the ossuary would not have been identified. Other finds included non-diagnostic pottery sherds, very poorly preserved pieces of copper and bone fragments in a poor state of preservation.
The osteological finds were examined upon their removal from the cave, and were immediately reburied near the cave. Four individuals were identified: two adults—a male 25–40 years of age and a female 20–40 years of age; and two young individuals—a child 2–4 years old and a perinatal, probably an unborn, suggesting that the mother died prior to giving birth.
The material finds and the design of the tomb’s façade indicate that the burial cave is probably from the Second Temple period, possibly predating the Hasmonean period (cf. Mazar 1982
; Re’em 2008
; Barda 2011
; Barda and ‘Adawi 2012
). No other burial caves of this style have been discovered in the region, and the nearest contemporary settlement is situated c. 3.5 km to the north (H
orbat ʽAlamit). The presence of the deceased individuals may indicate that during the Second Temple period, a family settled near the sources of water located at ʽEn Prat, c. 800 m west of the burial cave. The remains of buildings from this period may not have survived due to the settlement of monks in the area, followed by the construction of Faran Monastery, c. 1 km up the wadi to the west of the burial cave during the Byzantine period. It is also possible that the remains were destroyed or covered over when a pumping installation was constructed under British Mandate, to gather the spring water along the wadi, from the monastery to the burial cave.
Barda L. and ʽAdawi Z. 2012. Jerusalem, Shuʽfat, Survey. HA-ESI 124
Mazar A. 1982. A Burial Cave on French Hill. ‘Atiqot 8 (HS):41–45 (Hebrew; English summary, p. 5*).