Reports are emerging of an underground quarry, decorated with Christian and legionary symbols as well as crosses that date to the fourth century. It seems to have been in use from the beginning of the first century. The most detailed report is Reuters:
The 4,000-square-meter (yard) cavern, buried 10 meters beneath the desert near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, was dug about 2,000 years ago and was in use for about half a millennium, archaeologist Adam Zertal said.
The cave's main hall, about three meters tall, is supported by some 20 stone pillars and has a variety of symbols etched into the walls, including crosses dating back to about AD 350 and Roman legionary emblems.
Zertal said his team from Haifa University first discovered the site three months ago while they were putting together a detailed archaeological map of the area.
"We saw a hole in the ground ... and went down and discovered this giant cavern, originally a quarry, built uniquely with hall after hall," Zertal told Reuters.
The team believes the stones were used in buildings and churches in the region, but Zertal said further research was necessary.
The site may eventually be turned into one of the largest underground tourist sites in the Holy Land, he said.
The large cave was discovered by Prof. Adam Zertal and a team from the University of Haifa which has been conducting a survey of the region since 1978. "When we reached the entrance to the cave, two Bedouin approached us and warned us not to go in, because it was cursed and inhabited by wolves and hyenas," Zertal said yesterday from the site.
They entered anyway, discovering a ceiling supported by 22 gigantic columns on which various symbols were carved, including 31 crosses, a possible wheel of the Zodiac and a Roman legionary symbol. The columns also had niches for the placement of oil lamps and holes that apparently served as hitching posts.
Zertal says their working theory is that the site is Galgala, biblical Gilgal, mentioned on the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map. The cave, buried 10 meters underground, is about 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4 meters high, is the largest artificial cave so far discovered in Israel.
Potsherds found in the cave and the carvings on the columns led Zertal to date the first quarrying of the cave to around the beginning of the Common Era. It was used mainly as a quarry for 400 to 500 years," but other finds give the impression it was used for other purposes, perhaps a monastery or even a hiding place," Zertal said.