During November 2002 a salvage excavation was conducted along the route of a road slated for construction east of Kh. Umm el-‘Umdan (Permit No. A-3752; map ref. NIG 2000/6434; OIG 1500/1434; Fig. 1). The excavation, on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, was directed by A. Onn and S. Wexler-Bdolah, with the assistance of Y. Elisha (pre-excavation survey), A. Hajian (surveying and drafting), A. Kloner (scientific advice), C. Sari, O. Shmueli, Y. Elisha, G. Hillel and E. Yannai.
Three burial complexes, stone quarries, a water cistern and an ancient road, probably associated with the rural settlement at Umm el-‘Umdan, were exposed (HA-ESI 114:64*–68*).
The burial complexes had square rock-hewn courtyards with hewn entrances in one or more of their walls, leading to burial caves. An agreement reached between the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Housing determined that only the courtyards should be excavated and the burial caves documented as best as possible. Upon completion of the fieldwork the tombs were covered with soil.
Burial Complex 1 (Fig. 1, No. 694)
A magnificent family burial complex, dating to the Second Temple period (Figs. 2, 3; the plan was drawn before the end of the excavation; due to disputes with the ultra-religious it could not be completed; therefore, Burial Chamber 4 and other details do not appear on it). The complex included a stepped forecourt (A), leading into an inner courtyard (B), in whose walls two burial chambers (C and D) were hewn. A square hewn installation (F) south of Forecourt A may have been used to collect liquids or for purposes of purity. A set of U-shaped, broad steps was hewn around the northern, eastern and southern sides of the square Forecourt A (Fig. 3). A hewn entry with an arched top (section 2-2) led west from the bottom of Forecourt A to a larger inner courtyard (B) where a rock-hewn bench (average width 0.3–0.5 m, height above floor 0.35 m) extended along its northern side and the northern edge of its eastern side. Entries to the burial chambers were hewn in the western and northern walls of Courtyard B. The square western burial chamber (C) had seven hewn kokhim in its northern, western and southern walls, used for primary burial. Another smaller kokh was opposite the entrance and probably served as a bone repository. An ossuary stood on the floor next to its opening. The northern burial chamber (D) was square. A broad ledge was hewn around the eastern, northern and western sides of the chamber and a standing pit was in its center. Short and wide kokhim, which may have been used for gathering bones, were hewn in the western and northern walls of Chamber D. Although not documented, the chamber was visible from the doorway. The fragments of pottery vessels recovered from Forecourt A and Courtyard B dated to the Hasmonean and Herodian periods, particularly the first century BCE. It seems that the initial and principal use of the burial complex occurred in the Hasmonean period, prior to Herod’s time, when the use of ossuaries became common, or at the very latest, until the beginning of the first century CE. Primary burial was practiced in the kokhim of Chamber C and thereafter, the bones may have been gathered in Chamber D, similar to burial practices in the funerary complexes of the Hasmonean period in Jerusalem, e.g., Jason’s Tomb (L.I. Rahmani. 1964, Jason’s Tomb, ‘Atiqot 4 [HS]:1–31; 1967; IEJ 17:61–100) or the tomb on Shahin Hill (L.I. Rahmani 1958, A Tomb on Shahin Hill, Jerusalem, IEJ 8:101–105). The steps in Forecourt A and its resemblance to the complexes of stepped benches that were discovered in the courtyard of Goliat Tomb in Jericho, the courtyard of Queen Helena tomb in Jerusalem, a burial cave in Khirbet Kafr ‘Aziz in the Hebron highlands and in Burial Complexes 14 and 20 in Bet She‘arim, may reflect the importance of the interred and the possibility that memorial services, mourning or eulogies were conducted there.
The plan of the burial complex, including a forecourt and an inner courtyard along the same straight axis, and two burial chambers accessed via the inner courtyard and perpendicular to each other, is similar in many respects to the plan of Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem. There too courtyards were set along a straight axis, leading to a corridor that accessed perpendicular burial chambers. A pyramid-shaped ‘nefesh’ , built of ashlar stones, was preserved above Jason’s Tomb. The flattened bedrock surface around the tomb in Modi‘in, and especially north and west of the Courtyard B margins, allow us to cautiously suggest that a ‘nefesh’ was built there but did not survive. The large roughly hewn stones inside the tomb’s courtyard prior to the excavation were perhaps the likely remains of a ‘nefesh’. The similar plan of the two burial complexes, their contemporary use in the first century BCE and their similarity in burial practices, enable us to ascribe them to the same type of family tomb. Noteworthy in Jason’s Tomb are the well-preserved elements, mentioned in the description of the second century BCE Tomb of the Maccabees in historical sources (Maccabees I, 13:25–30; Antiquities 13:210–212), including ashlar construction, columns, a pyramid-shaped ‘nefesh’ and paintings of war ships (Rahmani 1964:30). It can be cautiously proposed that Jason’s Tomb was inspired by the magnificent family tombs of the second century BCE and perhaps by the 'Hasmonean tomb' as well. The relative splendor of Burial Complex 1 at Kh. Umm el-‘Umdan and its resemblance to Jason’s Tomb may hint that it was probably also influenced by the same tradition.
Burial Complex 2 (Fig. 1, No. 695)
This cave had an elongated trapezoid courtyard with rounded corners. A hewn doorway that probably led to the burial cave was on its northwestern side (Fig. 4). The doorway’s margin was stepped to fit a blocking-stone, although it was found not sealed with the blocking-stone and the cave was filled with soil. The cave’s interior was not excavated and no datable finds were recovered.
Burial Complex 3 (Fig. 1, No. 696)
This cave had a small stepped, rectangular courtyard. Four steps hewn at the width of the courtyard descended to the burial level. A hewn doorway in the northwestern side of the courtyard was sealed with a rolling stone and probably led to the burial cave (Fig. 5). The cave, which was not excavated, dated to the Late Byzantine period based on fragments of pottery vessels found next to the cave’s doorway.
Stone Quarry (Figs. 6, 7)
Remains of stone quarries were exposed at two sites of soft kirton bedrock on the slope’s surface. A channel (width 0.15–0.20 m) was hewn around each stone block to detach it from bedrock. One stone block remained in situ (0.55 × 0.70 m, 0.4 m high), while all others were negatives of similar dimensions.
An excavation square (4 × 4 m) was opened along the route of an ancient road (width c. 1.2 m). The road bedding consisted of small fieldstones, overlain with a soil layer. The road was flanked by two walls, built of roughly hewn stones and preserved a single course high (Fig. 8). The continuation of the road was visible for several dozen meters both to the east and west, along approximately the same contour line (Fig. 9). In the west, the road reached a settlement that dated to the time of the Second Temple period and which was exposed in the excavations at Kh. Umm el-‘Umdan (HA-ESI 114). The potsherds recovered from the road bedding dated to the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods––when the settlement had flourished. It seems that this was one of the roads, leading from the settlement to the surrounding farmland.
A water cistern with two openings, 1 m apart (western diam. c.1 m; eastern diam. c. 0.8 m), was exposed. The circular openings were hewn in a hard nari layer (c. 0.8 m thick). The cistern was widened while hewn into a soft kirton layer below its ‘neck’. A broken capstone covered the western opening. A shallow rock-hewn channel led to the eastern opening. The cistern contained alluvium fill, devoid of any finds, which was excavated to a depth of 2 m, not reaching bottom.