In August 2014, a fourth season of salvage excavations was conducted in the western part of the Beit Safafa neighborhood in Jerusalem (Permit No. A-7187; map ref. 218478–583/628059–118; Fig. 1), prior to the construction of road 4. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, Ltd., was directed by A. Landes-Nagar (field photography), with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), Y. Billig (preliminary inspections and area supervision), E. Marco (area supervision), V. Essman, A. Hajian, M. Cohen and M. Kunin (surveying and drafting), D. Levi (GPS), D. Tanami (metal detection), Y. Nagar (physical anthropology), R. Bar-Natan (pottery), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), A. Ganor (glass restoration), C. Amit (studio photography), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (finds drawing), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), V. Nosikovsky (metallurgical and organic laboratories), Y. Barschak (photo archive) and N. Zak (map and plan). Additional assistance was provided by C. Arbiv, M. Haber, A. Wiegmann, B. Touri and T. Lieberman.
The excavation area is located to the south of Nah
al Refa’im, on the northern slope of a spur that extends westward. A cemetery dating from the Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE) contained 29 rock-hewn graves (L600–L628; Fig. 2) and a terrace wall (W60; length 6 m, width 0.95 m). Similar graves were previously excavated in the vicinity (Fig. 2: A-6704, A-7033; Zissu 1998; Landes-Nagar 2015a
; Landes-Nagar 2015b
; Landes-Nagar 2017
and see background and references therein). Graves 626–628 had been blocked with concrete prior to the current excavation. The graves in the eastern part of the area were damaged some two and a half decades ago by development work in preparation for the construction of Highway 4 and had been covered with layers of construction debris and modern waste over the intervening years. Most of the graves were found sealed with roughly dressed limestone slabs and are not oriented uniformly. Graves 623–625 were not excavated. Three types of grave were discerned (1–3).
Type 1 (max. dimensions 1.1 × 2.4 m, max. depth 1.45 m; Figs. 3, 4) is the commonest of the three. This is a pit grave with a burial cavity hewn in one side. It is characterized by a shelf (max. width 0.45 m) cut along the upper part of one of the longer sides. Stone covering slabs were laid diagonally on this shelf. The burial cavity is hewn in the lower part of the side opposite the shelf.
Type 2 (max. dimensions 0.65 × 2.0 m, depth 1.25 m) is characterized by shelves (width c. 0.12 m) hewn along both long sides of the pit grave. Stone covering slabs were placed on these shelves.
Type 3 (0.55 × 1.90 m, depth 2.4 m). One example of this type was excavated, comprising two pit graves, one on top of the other. The lower grave is a Type 2 pit grave, with covering slabs placed across the shelves and the upper grave is a Type 1 pit grave.
Seventeen of the graves contained primary, anatomically articulated burials: the individuals were interred in a supine position with the legs straight and the arms placed mostly on the lower abdomen. Most of the graves contained a single burial; two contained a pair of individuals. One pair lay beside each other, whereas the other pair lay head to foot. The interred were male and female individuals of all ages, but no infants. Most contained grave goods placed beside the deceased, at their feet or by their head. The grave goods date from the third–fourth centuries CE and include pottery oil lamps (Fig. 5), glass vessels (Fig. 6), metal kohl sticks, a conch shell and a coin dating from the reign of Emperor Maximinus Daia (312 CE; minted in Nicomedia; IAA 144746; Fig. 7). Some of the interred wore jewelry, such as gold earrings (Fig. 8), a necklace of glass beads, glass and metal bracelets, a bronze ring and bone hairpins.
Based on the finds, the cemetery dates from the Late Roman period (the third–fourth centuries CE). The site’s first archaeologists, Zissu and Moyal, believed that the cemetery was used in the late Second Temple period and that it belonged to the Essene sect, based mainly on the graves’ morphological resemblance to those discovered at Qumran and other sites on the shore of the Dead Sea. Pit graves with lateral niches are common in a variety of cultures at different times and have been discovered at various sites around the country, so they cannot be attributed to the Second Temple period and should not be considered a unique burial feature of the Essenes or any local ethnic populations (Avni 2009:52–59; for previous studies, see Landes-Nagar 2017; Nagar 2015). Hundreds of pit graves with lateral niches were found in a cemetery attributed to the Nabateans and dated to the second–third centuries CE at Kh. Qazone, east of the Dead Sea (Politis 1998). Other graves with lateral niches were discovered in Nahal Oded, southwest of the Ramon Crater, where they date from the Early Islamic period (Rosen and Avni 1997). Hewn pit graves of Types 1 and 2 were found at the site of Nahal Hadera (North) in the coastal plain (Gorzalczany 2010). A type of burial in a lateral niche is even common today among Bedouin in the Negev (Avni 2009:54).
The data from the excavations conducted at the site to date show that the cemetery covers an area of about four and a half dunams, and 88 graves have been discovered in it so far. Many cemeteries from the Late Roman period are known in the vicinity of Jerusalem and they include types of burial similar to those discovered at the current site. Graves with a lateral niche have been found in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, for example at Ramat Rahel (Raz, Gadot and Lipschits 2013) and at sites around the Old City, including Karm al-Shaikh (Baramki 1932), Sallah ed-Din Street (Avni and Adawi 2015) and Dominus Flevit (Bagatti and Milik 1958). Comparison of the data from these cemeteries shows that the Late Roman cemetery discovered in the current excavation is one of the largest to be discovered in the Jerusalem region, and the only one so far found in the Nahal Refa’im basin (Nagar 2015). The cemetery may have been used by local settlements, including the nearby settlement at ‘En Ya‘al, where a farmstead has been dated to this period.
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