Photo Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
The IAA’s Uri Berger in the hiding complex.

Archaeological excavations at Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee, in which students, local residents, and soldiers have participated over the past few months, provide a glance at a dramatic episode in the history of the Jewish people: the preparation of shelters ahead of the Revolt of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, 132–136 CE.

The excavation revealed that, as part of the preparations for the First Revolt of 66 CE, and the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 CE, the residents of Huqoq converted the water cistern that had been dug during the Second Temple period into a hiding complex. In times of danger, they also broke one of the walls of the local mikvah and dug a tunnel into other cavities.

An aerial view of the Huqoq site. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Several tunnels allowed maneuvering in narrow and low spaces underneath local houses. In this underground system—the largest of its kind discovered in the Galilee—there are about eight hiding cavities, and the connecting tunnels were dug at 90 degrees, to hamper the heavily armed Roman soldiers chasing the rebels. The excavation also yielded hundreds of broken clay and glass dishes, a ring whose precious stone was not found, and other fascinating finds.

Huqoq was a Jewish town starting in the Hellenistic era (332 BCE). The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmudim mention Rabbi Pinhas and Rabbi Hezekiah, sages from the third and fourth centuries CE, who lived in the area. A synagogue adorned with unique mosaics dating to the Byzantine period was discovered on the hilltop, near the hiding complex. The synagogue was excavated starting in 2011 by an expedition from North Carolina University, headed by Professor Jodi Magness.

Professor Yinon Shivtiel at the hiding complex. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The goal of the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavation in Huqoq, funded by The Ministry of Heritage and in collaboration with the Tsfat Academic College and KKL-JNF, is to reveal the rich history of the site while involving the youth in its discovery and eventually making the site available to the public. The hiding complex is one of the important sites that will be developed in Galilee, revealing to the public the defense methods of the Jewish population at the time of the revolts.

“We turned the excavation in the hiding complex into a community excavation as part of the IAA’s vision of connecting the public to its heritage,” says Dr. Einat Ambar-Armon, director of the IAA Archeological-Educational Center in the Northern Region. “The excavation brings together school students studying the Land of Israel and Archaeology, students from the Tsfat Academic College, volunteers from the Israel Cavers Club, local volunteers, and even soldiers from the IDF Samur Unit of underground operations, who utilize their skills in here.”

Israeli teens work at the excavation. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The hiding complex provides a glance at a tough period of the Jewish population in Huqoq and in the Galilee in general,” say the excavation directors, Uri Berger of the IAA and Prof. Yinon Shivtiel of the Tsfat Academic College. “However, the story that the site tells is also an optimistic story of an ancient Jewish town that managed to survive historical tribulations.”

They add that “it is a story of residents who, even after losing their freedom, and after many hard years of revolts, came out of the hiding complex and established a thriving village, with one of the most remarkable synagogues in the area.”

The great hiding cave that may have been used in the Bar Kokhba Revolt. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The discovery of the hiding complex may contribute to a decades-long debate among researchers on whether the Bar Kokhba Revolt reached the Galilee or remained within the confines of Judea and central Israel. Based on different findings, Berger and Shivtiel date the inner parts of the hiding complex to the days of the outbreak of the Second Revolt and, consider the possibility that several of the ancient facilities were first in use during the First Revolt.

“It is not certain that the complex was used for hiding and escaping during the Second Revolt, but it does appear to have been prepared for this purpose,” they say. “We hope future excavations will bring us closer to the answer.”

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