Room A is square (2.2 × 2.2 m). A rock-cut kokh (0.8 × 1.0 m), meant to hold a single ossuary, is located 1.7 m below the ceiling in the middle of the western wall. The kokh was hewn exactly in the center of the room, opposite the entrance to the complex (Fig. 1: Section 2–2) and it seems that the quarrymen of the complex assigned it significant importance. One of the ossuaries described below probably stood in this kokh. The complex was meticulously hewn and the quarrymen were careful to maintain right angles and uniform dimensions; it is obvious that this magnificent burial complex belonged to an affluent family. Due to the considerable amount of debris in the room, its height is unknown. Entrances to three other rooms were hewn in the northern and southern walls of the room.
Room B (1.7 × 1.7 m). A short rock-hewn corridor (length 0.4 m) leads from Room A to Room B. Arcosolia and benches (0.6 × 1.8 m) for placing the deceased were hewn in the western and southern walls; the end of each bench is hewn in the shape of a raised headrest (0.4 × 0.6 m, height 0.1 m). The headrests on the benches are adjacent to each other. The walls of the room were carefully fashioned, including right angles and a straight ceiling. The room was filled with debris to the height of the burial benches; hence, the floor was not documented.
Room C (1.5 × 1.7 m). A short corridor (length 0.5 m) leads from room A to Room C. The opening to the corridor is located in the northern side of Room A, next to its northwestern corner. Arcosolia and benches (0.6 × 1.8 m) with rock-cut and adjacent headrests at their ends are hewn in the western and northern walls. A narrow hewn railing (0.1 m) separates the benches from the rest of the room. The walls were meticulously hewn and right angles were maintained. The eastern side of the northern bench is damaged and missing. A breach was discerned in the eastern side of the room and large amounts of debris, which probably originated from the nearby Room D, penetrated into the room through it.
Room D was damaged and filled with alluvium, probably during the modern construction work conducted north of the burial complex. It seems that the entrance to the chamber was hewn in the northern wall of Room A, next to its northeastern corner. The large amount of accumulated debris hampered any attempt to enter the chamber and therefore its exact plan is unknown (Fig. 1: Section 3–3).
The Finds. Potsherds and ossuary fragments were found in the piles of debris that the antiquities robbers removed from Rooms B and C and deposited in Room A. The pottery included body fragments of cooking pots characteristic of the first century BCE–first century CE. The stone thin-walled ossuary fragments were decorated with rosettes. Some of the fragments were decorated with incising done with a compass and painted red and yellow; similar fragments are known from numerous tombs in Greater Jerusalem (Kloner A. 1980. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Ph.D. diss. The Hebrew University. Jerusalem, pp. 250–251).
A large ossuary (length 0.66 m, width 0.3 m, height 0.37 m, wall thickness 3 cm; Figs. 3, 4) with four short legs (width 7 cm, height 1.5 cm) was found in Room A. Only the long side was decorated with a rectangular incised geometric pattern (21.5 × 52.0 cm). On the upper part of the sides is a narrow ledge rim that protrudes c. 1 cm out from the side of the ossuary. The ossuary is a thin-walled type (wall thickness 1.5 cm).
Two decorated ossuaries, plundered from the cave, were returned by the robbers and are described below.
Ossuary 1 (0.34 × 0.82 cm, height 0.4 m, wall thickness 2 cm; Fig. 5)stands on four rectilinear narrow feet (width 9 cm, thickness and height 2 cm). The lid is smooth, its base is rectangular and it has a gable shape (0.29 × 0.77 m, height 9.5 cm). Elongated depressions are cut in the lid’s triangular sides to facilitate the process of removing and replacing it. A groove that matches the dimensions of the lid is marked on the inner lip of the ossuary.
The ossuary is decorated on three sides; one long side is blank, without decoration, probably an indication that the ossuary was up against the wall in the single kokh of Room A. The decoration on the front of the ossuary is done with a compass and delicate incising within a rectangular frame, composed of a contiguous sequence of squares with pairs of intersecting lines in them. Three rosettes inside two concentric circles, made with a compass (diam. 0.18 m), fill the space within the frame. Two columns, separating the three rosettes, are composed of parallel lines, with two semicircles at their ends. The middle rosette consists of twelve petals emanating from one central point. The two outer rosettes are identical and composed of six decorated petals emanating from a central point and six half leaves between them. Remnants of red paint were preserved.
The two short sides are adorned with the same frame that adorns the long side; a different pattern appears in the center of each side. One side has a large rosette (diam. 0.17 m) in the center, which is composed of petals inside two incised circles. The center of the other side has five circles (diam. 8 cm) with six-petal rosettes inside them. The rosette leaves are arranged with two leaves on the bottom, two at the top and one each in the center; a similar arrangement can be reconstructed for the single rosette on the other short side. Traces of red paint were discerned on the sides.
Ossuary 2 has a trapezoid shape (base 0.18 × 0.50 m, upper frame 0.23 × 0.59 m, height 0.23 m, wall thickness 1.5 cm, Fig. 6) and stands on four small feet (height 0.5 cm). The ossuary is decorated on one long side only. The decoration was incised and red painted. It consisted of a peripheral frame with a zigzag pattern inside it. Three double framed circles (max. diam. 0.15 m), each containing a six-petal rosette, appear in the center. Between the upper parts of the three circles are two double-lined arches. Short zigzag patterns are seen in the corners of the side. The three remaining sides were left undecorated; however, broad chisel marks (thickness c. 3 cm) are clearly visible.
The documented cave is a family burial complex, probably of an affluent standing. The rock-cutting in the complex was meticulously executed, with right angles that were carefully maintained, a symmetric plan and attention to detail. A single burial kokh was installed in the front of the central room, along the axis with the main entrance; it was meant to accept a single ossuary, probably of an important member or the head of the family. Arcosolia were quarried with great precision, which is characteristic of the rock-cutting in the Second Temple period (A. Kloner and B. Zissu, 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, Jerusalem, p. 36). The cave was partially looted and its contents were plundered; hence, it is unclear if any skeletons were lying on the bench in primary burial. Several human bones were discerned scattered between the piles of debris that the robbers left in Room A. The headrests at the ends of the benches probably indicate the continuation of a Jewish burial tradition that has its roots in the Iron Age (Barkay G. 1994. Burial Caves and Burial Practices in Judah in the Iron Age. In Singer I., ed., Graves and Burial Practices in Israel in the Ancient Period, Jerusalem [Hebrew], p. 150).
Kloner and Zissu have proposed in recent years that ossuaries were placed on the arcosolia and not the deceased cadavers. One of their reasons entails the presence of kokhim together with the arcosolia in the same cave. The claim that using the kokhim solved the problem of stench in the cave and therefore, the ossuaries were placed in the arcosoliaand the corpses were inserted in the kokhim, which were sealed with roll stones to prevent the spreading of smell (A. Kloner and B. Zissu 2003:39). Kokhim for primary burials were not discovered in the complex, yet numerous ossuary fragments were found. The headrests were probably hewn for the purpose of using them in primary burial on top of the benches in the arcosolia (Fig. 7). To thwart the stench, the narrow entrance to the burial chamber was sealed, thus preventing the noxious odors from spreading to the anteroom of the complex, Room A.
The plan of the cave, together with the pottery finds and ossuary fragments, as well as the ossuaries that were removed from the cave and returned, allow us to date the use of the cave to the end of the first century BCE and the first century CE. Burial complexes with similar plans and artifacts had been exposed in Jerusalem in the past. The use of arcosolia is known in c. 120
burial complexes and only in half of them were kokhim also used for primary burial. The current complex represents continuity of funerary traditions from the First Temple period in Jerusalem into the Second Temple period, presumably by the same population. No burial complexes have so far been exposed in this region of the villageand this magnificent cave adds important information to the inventory ofcemeteries of the Jewish populationand their distribution in Jerusalem from the end of the first century BCE and the first century CE.