Stirring remains of a Jewish village from the Hasmonean period, approximately 2000 years old, are currently being uncovered in a salvage excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Sharafat neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, ahead of a construction project of an elementary school.
The excavation, funded by the Moriah Jerusalem development corporation on behalf of the Jerusalem municipality, has yielded remains of a large wine-press containing fragments of many storage jars, a large cave where burial urns were stored and displayed, a rock-cut birdhouse, an olive press, a large ritual bath, (second one to be discovered in the area), a water cistern, rock quarries and installations.
The most significant feature of the excavation is an extravagant burial estate, which included a corridor leading to a large courtyard chiseled into the bedrock. The courtyard had an encompassing bench, with the entrance to the burial cave from its façade. The cave included several chambers, each with oblong burial niches chiseled into the walls. The cave was sealed, in keeping with Jewish laws of respecting the dead.
Ya’akov Billig, Director of the excavations on behalf of the IAA, stated: “It seems that this burial estate served a wealthy or prominent family during the Hasmonean period. 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 constituted elaborate architectural elements common during the 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, and it is found mostly in monumental buildings or burial estates in the Jerusalem area, such as the burial estate of the priestly family of Benei Hezir in the Kidron valley and several tombs in the Sanhedriah neighborhood of western Jerusalem.
The current excavation has only exposed a small part of a larger village that existed to its south. However, despite the limited excavation, the finds seem to indicate that the village was agricultural, and among other things produced wine and olive oil, and bred doves. Doves were an important commodity during the time of the Second Temple, since they were used as sacrificial offerings. The doves’ meat and eggs were common food at the time, and their droppings were used as fertilizer.