In 2013, a hewn burial cave was documented on the lower reaches of Mount of Olives, above the eastern bank of the Kidron Valley, after a gang of looters was apprehended digging it (Permit No. A-8577). The documentation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was carried out by G. Goldenberg, I. Hadad and E. Klein (drafting and photography) of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
The burial cave, located c. 500 m north of the Church of Gethsemane, is part of a complex of burial caves surveyed in the past (Kloner 2001:111*). This cave was not surveyed at the time due to its poor state of preservation following damage by heavy equipment that had removed most of the roof and the cave’s western part. The northern doorpost survived at the entrance, along with a burial chamber with two or three loculi and a bone repository hewn in its walls and a standing pit in its center (Fig. 1). A complete ossuary lid, fragments of another ossuary lid and pottery sherds found in the cave date its use during the first century CE.
The opening leading into the cave was surrounded by a triple-recessed frame. It opened onto the central burial chamber (I; 2.18 × 2.50 m, height 1.1 m); only part of the hewn standing pit (length 1.4 m, depth 0.8 m) in the center of the chamber survived. A loculus (1; 0.4 × 1.5 m, height 0.7 m) with a convex ceiling and an opening surrounded by a frame for a sealing slab was hewn in the northeastern wall of the chamber, near its northern corner. Near it was a carved triangular niche for placing an oil lamp (Fig. 2). In the southeast corner of the chamber was another hewn loculus (3; 0.55 × 1.67 m, height 0.6 m); the floor in the inner part the loculus was lowered to a depth of 0.5 m. From this loculus the looters had removed a gabled ossuary lid (0.14 × 0.50 m; Fig. 3) with a carved hand grip at each end. What seemed as a small loculus (4; 0.4 × 0.7, height 0.55 m; Fig. 4) was hewn near Loculus 3. It was found empty, and its use is unclear: it was either an incomplete loculus or a bone repository. In the eastern corner of the cave was a hewn cupmark (2; diam. 0.4 m, depth 0.3 m; Fig. 5) which was used as a repository and contained numerous human bones. In addition to the ossuary lid taken out of Loculus 3 and fragments of another ossuary, pottery sherds of a piriform bottle and the fragment of the wick hole of a knife-pared lamp (Fig. 6) were found in the standing pit.
The cave’s plan and the finds indicate that it was used for burial during the first century CE (Kloner and Zissu 2003:139–146; Barag and Hershkovitz 1994:44–46; Hachlili and Killebrew 1999:121). This cave is part of a belt of burial caves that surrounded Jerusalem during the Second Temple-period. Its simple plan and lack of decorations and the simple ossuary lids indicate that the deceased did not belong to a high-status family of the time.
Barag D. and Hershkovitz M. 1994. Lamps. In Masada IV: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963–1965; Final Reports. Jerusalem. Pp. 1–147.
Hachlili R. and Killebrew A. 1999. Jericho: The Jewish Cemetery of the Second Temple Period (IAA Reports 7). Jerusalem.
Kloner A. 2001. Survey of Jerusalem: The Northeastern Sector (Archaeological Survey of Israel).Jerusalem.
Kloner A. and Zissu B. 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Jerusalem (Hebrew).