In October 2013, a salvage excavation took place in the neighborhood of Ṣur Bahir in Jerusalem (Permit No. A-6920; map ref. 222539–67/627552–77; Fig. 1), prior to construction. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by O. Chalaf (field photography), with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), D. Yeger (inspection and preliminary probes), A. Peretz (field photography), M. Konin (surveying and drafting), O. Rose (plans), B. Dolinka (ceramics), Y. Kupershmidt (metallurgical laboratory) and C. Amit (studio photography).
The excavation was conducted in the northern part of the neighborhood, on the southern bank of Naḥal Darga. It revealed three quarries (1–3), a rock-cut installation, a natural pit and a cave, a field wall and a rock-cut pit with an elongated burial niche in its wall (Figs. 2, 3). Although an antiquities site (Bir el-Makas) was documented here during the Palestine Exploration Fund survey (1880), there is no information on any finds discovered in it. Numerous cisterns and burial caves are known in the area, but to date no excavations had been carried out at the site.
Quarry 1 was very small and visible on the surface before the excavation. Quarry 2 (L10) was larger and comprised several quarrying steps. A rectangular pit cut into its center at a later phase may have been used for burial. Quarry 3 (L11) was L-shaped in plan and very shallow.
A square rock-cut installation (L13; Fig. 4) was uncovered near Quarry 2, to its north. A step in one of its corners may have been an unfinished agricultural installation. A pit dug into the center of the installation at a later phase was probably used for burial.
West of Quarry 3 was a natural pit (L16), and a small cave (L12), apparently also natural, was found to the quarry’s north; signs of rock-cutting could be discerned in the cave’s entrance. Both the pit and the cave yielded a few non-diagnostic potsherds.
A field wall (W15) west of the three quarries was preserved to a height of one course, and below it was a rectangular rock-cut pit (L14; 1.52 × 2.85, depth 2 m; Fig. 5). In the upper part of the pit was a uniform accumulation of white-yellowish soil, and below it, a layer of white-yellowish soil with medium-sized fieldstones (L18). A hewn elongated burial niche(L19) in the southern wall of the pit was closed off with standing slabs (Figs. 6, 7). One individual was interred in the nichein a supine position, head to the west and feet to the east. The bones were removed by a representative of the Ministry of Religious Services and were therefore not examined. A few sherds were found in the grave, including one cooking pot rim (Fig. 8; L19, B108) from the second half of the first century BCE. The grave also yielded an elongated iron object with nails (length c. 0.12 m; Fig. 9), perhaps remains of a coffin. Whereas similar graves, uncovered near the Mamilla neighborhood in Jerusalem, were usually narrower and had several niches cut into their walls (Reich 1993:107), Burial 19 stands out as the rectangular rock-cut pit is particularly wide and contains a single niche.
Pits 10 and 13 in the nearby rock-cuttings may have also served as graves. If so, they represent hewn pit graves (‘shaft tombs’), in which the deceased were laid on the rock-hewn floor. Similar graves were found at Ramat Rahel (Raz, Gadot and Lipschits 2004:247) and perhaps also at Beit Ṣafafa (Nagar 1996:221; Zissu 1996:32).
The excavation was conducted in an area of soft limestone quarries, which were later used as a burial plot. Two types of rock-cut graves were found: hewn pit graves and niche grave in the wall of a pit. Due to the paucity of finds, the graves cannot be dated; however, similar pit graves found at Ramat Raḥel were dated to the end of the Roman and the beginning of the Byzantine periods, and the similar nichegraves at Mamilla were dated to the second century BCE.
Nagar A. 2015. The Cemetery at Beit Safafa, Jerusalem: A Re-examination in Light of the Results of the 2013–2014 Excavations. In E. Baruch and A. Faust eds. New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the Twenty-First Conference. Ramat Gan. Pp. 221–235 (Hebrew).
Raz K., Gadot Y. and Lipschits O. 2013. Was Shaf-Tomb Burial Indeed a Burial Practice of Jewish Common People? A View from Ramat Raḥel. In G.D. Stiebel, O. Peleg-Barkat and D. Ben-Ami, S. Wexler-Bdolah and Y. Gadot eds. New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region. Collected Papers VII. Jerusalem. Pp. 243–256 (Hebrew).
Reich R. 1993. The Cemetery in the Mamilla Area of Jerusalem. Qadmoniot 103–104:103–109 (Hebrew).
Zissu B. 1996. Field Graves at Beit Safafa: Archaeological Evidence of the Essene Community? In A. Faust ed. New Studies on Jerusalem 2 (Proceedings of the Second Conference, Bar-Ilan University). Ramat Gan. Pp. 32–40 (Hebrew).