Discovered in the Jordan Valley, Israel, as part of an ongoing archaeological survey since 1978, excavators from the University of Haifa have uncovered the largest artificial underground cave ever built in Israel.
Prof. Adam Zertal, lead excavator told The Epoch Times, “We came across an opening in the ground, then came two Bedouins, a father and son, who warned us not to go down, saying there was some kind of curse on the cave and some predators [wolves and hyenas] below.
When entering, they found no wolves or hyenas but a grand expansive underground structure supported by 22 pillars, each decorated with various symbols.
“Anyway, we went down, it was about ten metres deep below the surface and that was the beginning. First we saw the magnificent size of the place.
“There are plenty of crosses, little ones, big ones, mostly late Roman, Byzantine, which mean something, but we have to go on with the research. Then we had some letters, some Roman, some Greek; we had a kind that looked like flags of Roman Legion and then another thing like a zodiac or a sun, very odd, very strange. I can’t decipher exactly what it means but there are other things as well.”
Prof. Zertal believes the three-metre high cave was originally a large quarry during the Roman and Byzantine era and was unique for its times. It was originally four metres high, but earthquake damage since has lowered the ceiling. The floor has been covered by fallen rocks and is yet to be excavated.
“First it was a quarry, a deep quarry. It is the biggest underground cave known so far in Israel; it’s nearly 100 metres long and 40 metres wide. It is supported by very big columns left by the people who quarried it. We need to do more research, but we believe it was used first as a quarry but afterward for many different purposes, very probably as a monastery or as a hiding place for persecuted Christians, but also a place of Roman military; you could hide a 1,000 people easily, it’s a huge place underground.” Prof. Zertal explained.
Recesses in the pillars for oil lamps and holes for tying animals that would have been used for hauling quarried stones out of the cave were also found. Ceramics that were found and the engravings on the pillars date the cave to around 1–600 AD, according to Prof. Zertal.
What baffles archaeologists now is why it was built underground. “All of the quarries that we know are above ground. Digging down under the surface requires extreme efforts in hauling the heavy rocks up to the surface, and in this case, the quarrying was immense. The question is, why?”
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