2,000-year-old Jewish bones found in Jericho receive burial in Kfar Adumim

Hundreds of tombs were found in a complex of dozens of burial caves, in which unique inscriptions were found and provided details of the deceased.

May 22, 2019 18:03
2 minute read.
2,000 year-old bones discovered in Jericho

2,000 year-old bones discovered in Jericho. (photo credit: REGAVIM MOVEMENT)


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Hundreds of bones from a massive Jewish burial cave dating from the Second Temple period were reburied on Tuesday in a tomb in Kfar Adumim.

The final resting ground for the remains comes after hundreds of bones were rescued from a Jewish burial cave near Jericho, which had been razed by robbers.

The cave was discovered shortly before Passover by the volunteers of the “Preserving the Eternal” (Shomrim al-Hanetzah) project. The volunteers had trekked near ancient Hasmonean-era palaces in the Jericho area, not long after the cave was exposed with a tractor during illegal agricultural work. The cave’s grottoes were badly damaged, and hundreds of newly severed human bones had been discovered in freshly turned soil.

According to anecdotal evidence from travelers to the site, any ossuaries and sarcophagi from the burial cave had likely been already plundered and stolen.

Haifa University’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology Prof. Rachel Hachlili, who has extensively studied Jewish necropoleis near Jericho, noted during the complex’s initial discovery that these caves are the largest Second Temple-era burial grounds in Israel.

Hundreds of tombs were found in a complex of dozens of burial caves, in which unique inscriptions were found that provided details of the deceased. The burial complex is believed to be associated with a Hasmonean palace.

Following the request of the Regavim movement to the Civil Administration, the staff of the Archaeological Staff Unit and the Religious Affairs Department in the Civil Administration carried out an operation recently to retrieve the remaining bones.

A burial plot for the bones was allocated in Kfar Adumim with the coordination of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Binyamin Regional Council, and the re-burial took place in front of residents, rabbis, senior officials of the Civil Administration and public figures.

The “winter palaces” located near Jericho were part of what scholars call the Hasmonean dream, in creating a luxury complex for the Hasmonean kings with ideal winter climate not far from Jerusalem. To maintain economic flow to afford these complexes, Hasmoneans initiated agricultural projects, which flourished during their time and supported local Jewish communities, according to research on such palaces conducted by the late archaeologist and architect, Ehud Etzer.

While local looting of ancient sites is not particular to Jewish necropoleis near Jericho, the burial complexes are noted for their remarkable size. For example, a survey carried out in the late 1970s on behalf of the Archaeological Staff officer for Judea and Samaria resulted in uncovering a 10-kilometer-long Jewish necropolis west of Jericho. Previous studies of the Jericho complexes found that they were also located outside towns or residential areas, in accordance with Jewish law. Jericho burials were also found to be tombs hewn into a hillside, as opposed to being dug into the ground, according to research published by Hachlili.

Necropoleis of the Jericho area have been integral to understanding how Jewish funerary customs changed over time. However, subsequent looting and damage done to the ancient sites has rendered further investigation difficult.

Ilanit Chernick contributed to this report.

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