(photo credit: Courtesy Haifa University)
The largest cave ever found in Israel has been uncovered near the West Bank city of Jericho etched with Christian symbols, an Israeli archeologist said Sunday.
The immense cave, which spans more than four dunams and is buried 10 meters beneath the desert, was dug about 2,000 years ago, Haifa University archaeologist Prof. Adam Zertal said.
The site, which is located 4 km north of the ancient city of Jericho, was used as a large quarry in the Roman era and was probably used as a monastery and a hiding place for hundreds of years, he said.
The cave's main hall is supported by 22 pillars, on which are engraved 31 crosses, a zodiac-like symbol, roman numerals and a Roman legion's pennant, indicating that it was used by the Roman Army.
The site was found three months ago as part of a three-decade old Haifa University archeological survey which maps out the area.
"We saw a hole, not a big one and wanted to enter," Zertal recounted.
His team was not deterred by the warnings of two Bedouin passers-by who urged the archeologists not to enter the cave since it had "bad omens witches and animals."
The site was indeed littered with animal bones, he said.
"We saw a real underground palace we never thought we would find."
No excavation has been carried out in the area yet, Zertal said, noting that the state-run Israel Antiquities Authority does not carry out digs in the West Bank.
He said that in the future the site could prove to be a "fantastic" tourism site.