During April 2012, a trial excavation was conducted on Abarban’el Street in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-6479; map ref. 220493/631420; Fig. 1), in the wake of quarrying evidence discovered prior to construction of a residential building. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by E.D. Kagan, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), V. Pirsky and Y. Shmidov (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography) and S. Itkis (drafting). Thanks are also due to B. Touri who recognized the special nature of the site, S. Weksler-Bdolah, Y. Tsafrir and D. Gil (geology).
The excavation area had been sealed, until recently, beneath an old residential building that was demolished prior to new construction. The area was damaged when the old building was founded and again when the foundations of the new structure were quarried, at which time most of the area was destroyed. Three hewn columns of hard mizzi ahmar (red limestone) were exposed in the area. The quarrying of the columns was incomplete (Figs. 2–4) and they consisted of one large column (1) and two smaller ones (2, 3), whose quarrying had just begun. Due to the difficulty involved in quarrying such hard rock, the columns were hewn along natural grooves in a straight bedrock surface. Remains of the demolished old building’s cement foundation covered the southern end of Column 2.
Column 1, the largest of the three (length 5.7 m, diam. 0.9 m; Fig. 5), was hewn at the end of a bedrock step; on its southwestern side, it was hewn the length of a natural fissure in the bedrock. The stonemasons had begun by quarrying a rectangular block at the end of the step. At the same time, they had cut the cylindrical shape of the column in its northeastern side and along its upper surface. The column becomes slightly wider in its southeastern part, perhaps in an attempt to cut a drum in the column’s bottom. The reason the quarrying of the column was not finished might be due to a crack that caused a fracture in the southeastern end of the column. A hewn line was discerned in the northwestern part of the column (Fig. 6); it might have been an attempt to cut the column into building stones in a later phase. The smaller columns (2, 3) were hewn along two natural fissures; two rectangular blocks were exposed whose quarrying was incomplete (Column 2—length c. 1.5 m to the point where it is covered with cement, width 0.4 m; Column 3—length 2.3 m, width 0.4 m; Fig. 7). The quarrying of these columns was halted in an early stage before the stonemasons commenced cutting their cylindrical shape. Signs of rock-cuttings, possibly the beginning of quarrying another large column, were noted in a natural crack in the bedrock surface southwest of the columns.
The use of building stones and columns hewn from mizzi ahmar characterizes the monumental construction of the Byzantine period in Jerusalem from the sixth century CE. Therefore, the quarrying of the columns should be dated to the end of the Byzantine period. Similar stone columns, whose quarrying was incomplete, had previously been discovered in Jerusalem at the Russian Compound (the Finger of Og) and in Mahanē Yehuda. Suspending the hewing of the columns in a relatively early stage afforded us a rare glimpse into the quarrying process of this architectural element.