In October 2011, a salvage excavation and documentation took place in the neighborhood of el-‘Isawiya in Jerusalem (Permit No. A-6357; map ref. 223460–565/633970–95) prior to construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities authority and funded by the Baradian Brothers company, was directed by Z. ‘Adawi (field photography), with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), B. Touri and A. Abbasi (preliminary inspections), as well as A. Hajian and M. Kunin (surveying and drafting).
The excavation took place in two areas (A, B; Fig. 1) on a moderate slope c. 50 m west of the old village nucleus, around which the neighborhood developed. It revealed the remains of three caves hewn in soft limestone, a wall and a cistern. The remains had been looted in the past and no datable material was found. Characteristic of this slope, like others in area, are caves hewn in soft chalk, most of which were used for burial (Kloner 2001:73*–75*, Sites 206–217; ‘Adawi, Barda and Dagan 2013
, and see references therein). Near the site, remains were observed of agricultural terraces that served the inhabitants of the village.
Caves (A, B). Cave A (c. 3.0 × 3.5 m, height 2 m; Figs. 2, 3) has a south-facing opening (width c. 2 m, height c. 2.3 m) set in the southwestern corner of the cave. Three layers of accumulation were found inside the cave: a lower layer of white-yellow quarry debris, used to level the floor of the cave (L102; thickness 0.2 m); a layer of dark gray soil, apparently debris from a tabun (L101; thickness 0.15–0.20 m); and the uppermost layer comprising colluvial soil that contained modern finds (L100; thickness c. 0.1–1.2 m). A probe dug in the floor of the cave did not reveal any datable material.
Cave B (Fig. 4) consisted of two elongated spaces: eastern (L201) and western (L220). The eastern space (c. 2.0–2.5 × 6.5 m; Fig. 5) was hewn on a north–south axis and was linked to the western space, which was hewn on an east–west axis (2.0–3.0 × 6.5–7.0 m; Fig. 6). These spaces seem to have been formed by later quarrying with a sharp chisel, obscuring and damaging the original plan. However, the entry system from the original phase of the cave apparently survived, including a shaft and two steps. The shaft is rectangular and vertical (L204; c. 0.8 × 1.5 m, depth 0.4–0.8 m; Fig. 7) and was hewn in the cave’s roof. At the bottom of the shaft were two in situ cover slabs set on narrow shelves around the margins of the shaft (width 0.1 m). Approximately 0.4 m under the cover slabs was a hewn step (width 0.5 m, height 0.35 m; Fig. 8) that allowed descent into the interior of the cave. Under it were the remains of another step, but it was damaged by the later quarrying. Two other vertical shaft openings were cut into the roof of the cave: one east of Shaft 204 (L205; c. 0.65 × 2.00 m, depth 0. 8 m), and the other to its west (L206; 1.05 × 1.20 m, depth 0.8 m). Shaft 206, which was blocked at the bottom with an accumulation of soil, led to the western interior space (L229; Fig. 9). Another opening (L207; width c. 1.2 m) leading into the cave was set in the southern wall of the eastern space (L201), apparently when the interior of the cave was widened (Fig. 8). Two or three accumulation layers were found inside the cave; in the western space were two layers of quarrying debris (L221—thickness 0.8 m; L201—thickness 0.3–0.5 m), of which the bottom one (L221) was compacted and leveled. In the eastern space were three layers of accumulation: a layer of quarrying debris (L203; thickness 0.7 m), which was left in the cave, apparently intended to level the floor of the cave; a layer of light brown colluvial soil (L202; thickness 0.05–0.10 m); and the uppermost layer, which consisted of colluvial soil containing small fieldstones and modern finds. The alluvium penetrated the cave from the opening breached in the southern wall of the eastern space. No datable finds were found in the cave.
Wall. A stone wall built of four courses (preserved length 5 m; Figs. 2: Section 1–1; 10) was identified within a hewn frame (L210) in a vertical rock cutting to the northwest of the cave. The wall, which was partially uncovered, apparently retained quarrying debris behind it. Perhaps it had originally served as an opening to a structure or a space to its north that did not survive.
Cave (C; 3.5–4.0 × 6.5 m, height 2 m; Fig. 11). Cave C comprised a single space and an opening (width c. 3.5 m, height 1.5–2.3 m) set in its southern wall. The opening is flanked on its east by a stone wall (Fig. 12), most probably a doorpost. Inside the cave were three layers of accumulation: a lower layer of yellow-white quarrying debris (thickness 0.2 m), apparently intended to level the floor of the cave; a layer comprising brown colluvial soil (L301; thickness 0.15–0.20 m; Fig. 13); and the uppermost layer, which was found near the opening and comprised brown-gray colluvial soil (thickness c. 0.4 m) that contained modern finds. Evidence of modern quarrying activity—prominent broad quarrying lines—were was identified in the cave, while no remains of ancient quarrying, with its typical chisel lines, could be identified. Two spaces were discerned west of the opening, which was hewn in the rock wall of the cave (Fig. 14): one (width 1.2–1.5 m, height 0.8 m), which resembles an arcosolium, was apparently part of an arcosolia cave; the other (width c. 1.2 m, height 0.35 m) was apparently hewn by modern quarrying, but its nature remains unclear.
Cistern (Fig. 15). West of Cave C, near one of the buildings of the neighborhood. The upper part and walls of the cistern had been cut in the past, apparently during construction of the nearby building. The cistern, which was apparently pear-shaped (diam. c. 6 m, depth 0.85 m down to the modern fill), bore remnants of plaster.
It seems that Caves B and C were originally used as burial caves and in secondary use were turned into storerooms for the inhabitants of el-‘Isawiya. Cave A was either installed in a later period or no evidence of its ancient use remained following later activity. Many burial caves which were part of the Jerusalem necropolis during the Roman and Byzantine periods have been documented throughout the neighborhood of el-‘Isawiya. The wall was apparently part of the façade of a structure or of another burial cave that extends below the road north of the excavation. The cistern most probably served in the local agricultural activity associated with the nearby agricultural terraces.
‘Adawi Z., Barda L. and Dagan Y. Jerusalem, ‘Issawiya. HA-ESI 125.
Kloner A. 2001. Survey of Jerusalem: The Northeastern Sector (Archaeological Survey of Israel). Jerusalem.