The burial cave was hewn in hard limestone bedrock on the slope of a spur, alongside a road that runs through Nahal Darga from Jerusalem to Beit Sahur and Bethlehem, and onward, to the Judean Desert. The cave was plundered in the past and partially destroyed when the residential building was enlarged. No datable finds were discovered in the cave, but judging by its plan it should probably be attributed to the end of the Second Temple period. Upon completion of the documentation, the cave was sealed with a concrete wall. The cave consisted of a square forecourt and two burial chambers (A, B; Fig. 2, Section 3–3) hewn on two levels, one above the other. The cave was carelessly hewn. The quarrying inside it was done using a broad or serrated sledgehammer and a sharp chisel.
The Courtyard. A square courtyard (2.75 × 2.90 m, max. depth c. 3 m) whose northern, southern and eastern walls were preserved, fronted the cave; most of the western wall was destroyed. A square opening (0.55 × 0.60, depth 0.4 m) hewn in the eastern side of the courtyard was surrounded by a carved sunken frame that was intended to accommodate a closing stone; the opening led to the burial chambers. The closing stone was discovered lying on the ground near the opening. In the upper part of the courtyard’s southern wall, c. 1.3 m above the ground, was a hewn opening, blocked by stones (Fig. 2: Section 3–3; not excavated). This opening may lead to another burial chamber.
Burial Chamber A. A step (height 0.45 m) leads down from the opening to a square burial chamber (c. 2.3 × 2.5 m) with a flattened vaulted ceiling that slopes gently to the east. A square standing pit (1.7 × 1.7 m, depth c. 0.25 m) was hewn in the center of the chamber and narrow shelves (width c. 0.25 m) were carved around it. Four arched loculi (1–4) were hewn in the sides of the cave, two in the southern wall (1–0.8 × 1.6 m, height 0.75 m; 2–0.5 × 2.2 m, height 0.9 m; Fig. 3), one in the northern wall (3–0.5 × 2.1 m, height 0.75 m) and one in the eastern wall (4–0.70 × 2.15 m, height 0.65 m; Fig. 4). Square frames (depth c. 0.1 m) in which closing slabs were inserted were carved around the arched openings of the loculi. The preserved remains of clay used to seal the closing slabs were discovered in some of the loculus openings. All the loculi were discovered open with their closing slabs lying alongside them on the cave floor. A small niche (c. 0.10 × 0.15 m; Fig. 5) for an oil lamp was hewn above the opening of Loculus 4; traces of soot were discerned around it. The accumulated soil in the burial chamber contained several human bones and a few non-diagnostic pottery sherds.
Burial Chamber B was hewn at some point in time beneath Loculus 4. The opening of the burial chamber was cut in the eastern wall of a pit that was hewn in the standing pit of Chamber A. This opening was also arched and enclosed within a carved square frame (see Fig. 4). The burial chamber was square (2 × 2 m, at least 1.2 m) and its ceiling resembled a flattened vault. Three vaulted burial loculi (5–7) were hewn in the sides of the chamber, one in each of the northern, southern and eastern walls (5–– 0.55 × 1.90 m, height 0.7 m; 6––0.7 × 1.3 m, height 0.7 m; 7–– 0.60 × 2.05 m, height 0.75 m). A small square pit (0.4 × 0.4 m, depth 0.3 m) was hewn at the end of Loculus 7, in its floor; around the opening of the pit was a shallow frame, carved to accommodate a closing stone. This pit may have been used for burying precious funerary offerings.
Hebrew letters painted dark blue were engraved on either side of the opening of Loculus 7 (average size of letter c. 0.1 × 0.1 m; Fig. 2: Section 2–2). To the right of the opening was the letter ק (Fig. 6) and to the left of the opening were the letters טנ (Fig. 7). The letters were carved in a surface that had been smoothed by using a broad sledgehammer. Engraved letters next to the openings of burial niches are characteristic of the Second Temple period.
The combination of letters completes the name Katan
, probably the name or nickname of the deceased. The name Katan
is known in the onomastikon
of Jewish names of the Second Temple period and even later, and it was apparently used as a nickname for a person of small stature or for a young person. The name Katana
appears in Greek letters on an ossuary from the time of the Second Temple, which apparently came from Al-Jib in Binyamin (Rahmani 1994
: No. 552), and in several funerary inscriptions from Bet Sheʽarim (Mazar 1958
:137; Avigad 1971: Nos. 10, 11; Schwabe and Lipshitz 1974: No. 28). The use of blue
pigment to paint
the letters apparently reflects the affluence of the deceased interred in the chamber, since blue was one of the most precious colors in the Roman period. To date, only several instances of the use of blue pigment have been discovered in the country, for example in frescoes in the complex of Herod’s tomb at Herodian and in an epitaph engraved on an ossuary in Jerusalem (Baruch, Levi and Reich 2011
). The Roman historians Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder, both of whom lived at the time of the burial cave documented at Umm Tuba, mention the use of blue pigment. According to them, blue pigment was extremely expensive because it was rare and mined in a faraway place, and therefore it was used only by wealthy people. Pliny notes for example that an indicom
shade of blue pigment cost 20 dinars per pound (327.45 g) and an armonium
shade was 75 dinars per pound (Baruch, Levi and Reich 2011
:103–104, and bibliography cited therein).
The plan of the burial cave is characteristic of Jewish burial caves during the Second Temple period. The blue pigment used to paint the inscription is an indication that the individual buried in the cave, whose name or nickname was mentioned in the inscription, was a wealthy person. The cave was probably used by one of the families who lived in the area. The remains of a settlement dating to the Second Temple period, including remains of a building and a pottery workshop, as well as numerous columbaria (Kagan and Eirikh-Rose 2012
; Permit No. A-5529), were discovered in recent excavations at Umm T
uba, and therefore the cave could have been used by a family who resided at Umm T
uba during the Second Temple period.