2000-year-old Jewish Archaeological Site Discovered Under Arab Suburb of Jerusalem

March 27, 2019

3 min read

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced an impressive discovery: a 2,000-year-old village containing the remains of a wine press and storage jars, a dovecote cut into the walls of a cave, an olive press, a water cistern, burial caves, and mikveh (ritual bath). Archaeologists estimate the village stood during the times of the Hasmoneans who ruled Judea from 140-116 BCE and are the featured as the heroes in the story of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

The ruins were discovered in the Arab village of Sharafat, a suburb of Jerusalem, during the construction of an elementary school.

(Photo IAA)

The most significant feature of the excavation is a burial estate archaeologists described as “extravagant.” The burial estate is composed of a corridor leading to a large courtyard chiseled into the bedrock. The cave includes several chambers with oblong burial niches chiseled into the walls. The IAIA  sealed the cave in order to conform with Jewish law that prohibits disturbing graves

Ya’akov Billig, Director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, stated that the size and care taken in its construction indicate that the estate was used by a wealthy family.

“It seems that this burial estate served a wealthy or prominent family during the Hasmonean period,” Billig said in a statement. “The estate was in use for a few generations as was common in that era”.

The earth which covered the courtyard of the burial estate contained some large building stones, some of which are elaborate architectural elements common during the

(Photo courtesy IAA)

Second Temple period. Most interesting is a Doric capital of a heart-shaped pillar. A few cornice fragments were also found. Such quality craftsmanship of architectural elements is very rare, found mostly in monumental buildings or burial estates in the Jerusalem area, such as the burial estate of the priestly family of Benei Hazir in the Kidron valley and several tombs in the Sanhedriah neighborhood.

(Photo courtesy IAA)

The current excavation has only exposed just a small part of a larger village that existed to its south. The finds seem to indicate that the village was of agricultural nature, and among other things produced wine and olive oil, as well as breeding doves. Doves were an important commodity during the time of the Second Temple and in other periods as well, as meat and eggs were consumed by the people and also used for sacrificial offerings at the Temple. The doves’ droppings were used as fertilizer for agriculture. Columbarium caves, designated installations used for breeding the doves, are a known feature in the Jerusalem area.  

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