In January 2019, a salvage excavation took place in the Dar el-Consul in the Old City of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-8181; map ref. 221986–2000/631793–804; Fig. 1), following the discovery of antiquities during inspection. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Franciscan Custodia de Terra Sancta, was directed by D. Gellman, with the assistance of A. Wiegmann (field photography and digital documentation), V. Essman and D. Porotsky (surveying and drafting), I. Lidsky-Reznikov (pottery drawing), C. Amit (photography of finds), L. Kupershmidt (metallurgy laboratory and photography of metal finds), L. Sandberg (numismatics), I. Ktalav (archeomulokology), T. Winter (glass), C. Hersch (drawing of glass vessels), Z. Turgeman-Yaffe (archaeozoology) and Y. Nagar (physical anthropology).
The excavation revealed a rock-cut burial cave from the late Iron Age, which was damaged by later disturbances, and remains of a built room with five construction phases (A–E) dating from the Abbasid to the Mamluk periods.
The cave (3.5 × 4.0 m; Fig. 3) contained three rock-cut burial shelves (L17––1.0 × 2.9 m; L23––1.00 × 2.65 m; L24––0.90–1.30 × 3.35 m), surrounding a standing pit (L15); a bone repository (L16; Fig. 4) was hewn under the northern shelf. The three shelves were bounded by a small, raised railing (max. width 0.25 m, max. height 0.1 m). Near the southeastern corner of the Shelf 17, the southernmost shelf, was a rounded rock protrusion (Fig. 5), apparently a headrest. This protrusion may not have survived in its entirety, and may have had originally a horseshoe shape, as in other burial caves from the Iron Age (Mazar 1976:5). The standing pit and the bone repository were damaged when a later cistern was hewn (below).The cave’s ceiling was arched and low. The cave was accessed via three descending steps (L9; length 0.50–1.05 m, width 0.25–0.45 m, height 0.2–0.4 m), which were cut into the eastern wall, one outside the opening and two inside the cave. The cave had been disturbed a number of times. The eastern wall had been broken through north of the opening, near the northern shelf. As a result, stones and soil were swept into the cave (L12; Fig. 6), which covered part of the northern shelf. A wall was built on most of the western shelf; it was constructed of large and medium-sized stones, some fieldstones and some ashlars (W18; Fig. 7) bonded with strong gray mortar. The wall continued north through another opening in the northwestern corner of the cave; as the wall was not dismantled, it is unclear whether this was a natural or rock-cut opening. In the space between this wall and the western wall of the cave was a thick layer of brown, loose soil (L22), which contained a few sherds from the Iron Age II (below).
A small, round hewn opening (L25) in the cave ceiling, near the entrance, was blocked with a large basalt millstone (Fig. 8). Around the opening was a layer of bonding material that continued in a strip across the cave’s ceiling, apparently to seal a crack, until the point where it met W18, which was built on the western burial shelf (Fig. 9). The bonding material sealing the crack seems to be identical to that coating the stones of the wall. In other burial caves dated to the Iron Age (on the dating of this cave, see below), a similar opening was made in the ceiling (Barkay and Kloner 1986:34); the opening may have been made when the cave was hewn, with only the plaster added later.
Near the southwestern corner of the cave was a small opening in the ceiling and the wall of the cave; it was found blocked with stones coated with mortar similar to that of W18, and therefore it is unclear whether the opening was natural or hewn. A large rock-cut cistern, which was not documented, extends under most of the area of the cave and of the nearby Islamic-period room. The quarrying of the cistern damaged mainly the standing pit and the bone repository. The upper part of the cistern wall was lined with medium-sized stones, and it was coated with a thick layer of plaster. It seems that the layer of loose soil (L22) excavated near the western wall of the cave was scattered throughout the cave between the time when the cave went out of use and the time when the cistern was hewn. Then, when the cistern was quarried, the soil was collected and thrown into the small space behind the wall.
Human bones. On the northern burial shelf, a thin layer of packed soil was found, apparently undisturbed. The layer contained human phalanges with late epiphyseal fusion, as well as a lower molar, in the shape and condition typical of an individual 20–30 years old. A similar layer of thin, packed soil was found on the southern burial shelf, and it contained an upper molar, whose shape and condition were typical of an individual 15–25 years old.
Finds. The loose soil (L22) between W18 and the western wall of the cave yielded fragments of a bowl from the Iron Age (Fig. 10:1), and the soil packed against the wall of the western burial shelf (L13) contained a few fragments of a jug from the Iron Age (Fig. 10:2). In the debris above the cistern wall, above the place where the standing pit had been (L10), were fragments of an in-curved basin (Fig. 10:5) from the Early Islamic period (eighth–tenth centuries CE). Among the stones swept into the cave was an almost complete votive juglet (Figs. 10:6; 11), resembling in form and raw material those of Early Islamic-period vessels. Fragments of lamps from the Early Islamic period (eighth–tenth centuries CE) were found among the stones of W18 (Fig. 12) and in Soil 22 behind it (Fig. 13), along with a flat glass base, apparently of a bottle (Winter, below). Also among the stones swept into the cave was a fragment of an octagonal, ring-like object (Fig. 14) and a roller made of hard limestone (Fig. 15).
Dating. The damage to the cave caused by several late disturbances made it difficult to determine which finds were associated with the use of the cave for burial and which came from later disturbances. The cave was therefore dated based on its plan, which features typical characteristics of late First Temple-period burial caves: broad burial shelves, railings at the shelf edges, ‘pillows’ as headrests for the deceased and a bone repository (Barkay, Mazar and Kloner 1975:74–76; Kloner 1984). If indeed the loose soil exposed between W18 and the western wall of the cave originated on the surface of the cave after it went out of use, then the earliest potsherd in this soil can date end of use of the cave for burial in the late First Temple period.
The room was built on the bedrock, which revealed hewing marks and rock-cut detachment channels (L50). Above the bedrock was a soil fill (L45, L46) mixed with a few sherds, including a cooking pot from the Early Roman period (Fig. 10:3) and a rilled-rim basin (Fig. 10:4) from the Late Roman period.
Phase A. Two walls (W3, W4), which abut the opening of the burial cave on the east, were ascribed to this phase. They were built of medium and small stones bonded with hard gray mortar; some of the stones exhibited horizontal chisel marks. The two walls were built on the bedrock, where it was purposely deepened, probably concurrently with the quarrying out of the burial cave, leaving it lower than the area were the rock-cuttings were discovered (L50). Between the stones of W4 were fragments of black-glazed sherds. Such sherds first appeared in the Abbasid period, and thus date the wall’s construction to this period at the earliest. The construction technique of the two wall suggests that they were contemporaneous.
Phase B. A layer of collapsed building stones was found on the bedrock (L8) between Walls 3 and 4 (L6; not on plan). Among the collapsed stones was a fragment of a decorated architectural element (Fig. 16) and two fragments of a round artifact made of hard limestone (Fig. 17)—possibly a weight or a pivot stone. Two shards belonging to glass vessels, one typical of the twelfth century CE and the other to the Mamluk period, were also found among the collapsed stones (see Fig. 22:2, 3; Winter, below).
An east–west oriented channel (L44), the remains of a wall (W51) and a small part of mosaic floor (L47) were unearthed south of the two walls. Although their precise context is unclear, they were sealed under the floor of Phase C, and hence belong to one of the two earlier phases. Channel 44 (exposed length 2.7 m, max. width 0.57 m, max. depth 0.4 m) was mostly rock-cut; parts of its walls were built of small stones, and it was covered with large, flat stones. No cover stones survived on the eastern part of the channel, causing it to fill with soil. In this soil was a bronze coin of An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf, from 1174/5 CE (IAA 174197), providing a date for when the channel went out of use. No finds were discovered that could date the construction of the channel. The northern wall of the channel was set over rock-cuttings in the bedrock, indicating that the channel post-dates the rock-cuttings. Wall 51 was built of fieldstones near the eastern end of the channel and parallel to its wall, but it was not part of it. Mosaic Floor 47 comprised of simple white tesserae, which were set on a plaster bedding (L48), which in turn was set on the bedrock. The relationship between this floor and Channel 44 is unclear.
Phase C. A thin, white plaster floor (L42; not on plan), which sealed all the remains from the previous periods, contained sherds from the Mamluk period. These included a glazed bowl (Fig. 18:1), a glazed frying pan (Fig. 18:3) and a glazed cooking pot (Fig. 18:4). Above the floor was a thin layer of soil, above which was another floor (L41; not on plan). It is possible that the two floors are two phases of the same floor, which were laid within a short period of time. No finds that could rule out this hypothesis were discovered in the meager soil fill between the two floors. The upper floor abutted two walls (W2 [not on plan], W36), which were built of ashlars, some of which were narrow. At the western end of these walls the upper courses protrude slightly from the face of the wall, possibly to serve as springers of an arch.
Phase D saw the construction of additional walls (W33, W35, W37–W39). The entrance to the room was set between Walls 38 and 39; it may have served also as a passage to another room that lies beyond the excavated area. All the walls were built of large and medium-sized rectangular dressed stones. The walls were built above Floor 41 of Phase C, and therefore it is clear that they are later in date. Adjacent to Walls 2 and 33 was another wall (W52 [not on plan]; length 1.2 m); it was connected to another wall (W55), which turned north and continued beyond the excavation area. In the fill between these walls (L54; not on plan) were a few animal bones along with a bronze coin of al-Ashraf Sha‘aban II, from 1363–1377 CE (IAA 174198), a bronze pin (Fig. 21) and a fragment of a glass bottle typical of the twelfth century CE (see Fig. 22:1; Winter, below).
Phase E. A wall (W34; Fig. 19) was built of medium and small stones above Walls 2 and 33. Wall 34 apparently cut a vault that was dismantled during inspection work prior to the excavation. Between the wall’s stones were fragments of a handmade bowl dating from the Mamluk period (Fig. 18:2).
The excavation yielded fragments of two bottles (Fig. 22:1, 2) and a double base, apparently belonging to a stemmed vessel (Fig. 22:3), as well as a flat base, apparently of a bottle (L22) and several body fragments (not illus.). The finds are typical of the Middle Ages, predominantly the twelfth–thirteenth centuries CE.
One of the bottles (Fig. 22:1) was made of yellowish glass containing numerous bubbles. On the upper part of its long neck is an exterior horizontal hollow fold, and its spherical body features an interior horizontal hollow fold. A bottle fragment with an exterior hollow fold on its neck, as well as a body fragment of a bottle with an interior hollow fold, were found in an excavation at the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, in an assemblage dated to the twelfth century CE (L3654; Brosh 2012:401–402, Pl. 15.1: G11, G27).
The other bottle (Fig. 22:2) was made of purple glass and has a flaring shelf rim. The design of the vessel and its color are characteristic of the Crusader period. A bottle with a similar rim was found in the same assemblage in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, dated to the twelfth century CE (L3654; Brosh 2012:401, Pl. 15.1: G16).
The double base (Fig. 22:3) was made of two glass blobs, and it was discovered in the same location as Bottle 2. Bases of this type generally supported stemmed vessels, and are characteristic of the Crusader, Ayyubid and early Mamluk periods. Similar bases, dated to the Mamluk period, were uncovered in various excavations in the Jewish Quarter (Katsnelson 2009: Fig. 5:5; Brosh 2012:417, Pl. 15:3, G41, G45).
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