Archaeologists in Israel find ancient tunnels from Jewish revolt against Romans

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Archaeologists have uncovered underground chambers and tunnels constructed in northern Israel by Jews, for hiding from the Romans during their revolt in A.D. 66-70.

by Associated Press, Aug 13, 2006

Archaeologists said Monday they have uncovered underground chambers and tunnels constructed in northern Israel by Jews for hiding from the Romans during their revolt in A.D. 66-70.

The Jews laid in supplies and were preparing to hide from the Romans, the experts said. The pits, which are connected to each other by short tunnels, would have served as a concealed subterranean home.

Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the find shows the ancient Jews planned and prepared for the uprising. This is in contrast to the common perception that the revolt began spontaneously.

"It definitely was not spontaneous," said Alexandre. "The Jews of that time certainly did prepare for it, with underground hideaways here and in other sites we have found."

However, the recent discovery of these underground chambers at the Israeli Arab village of Kfar Kana, north of Nazareth, is unique. All other "hiding refuges" found so far are hewn out of rock. But at Kfar Kana, the settlers built the chambers out of housing materials, and they hid them directly under their floors. They made sure their families had access to the chambers from inside their homes.

"This construction was very well camouflaged inside one of the houses," Alexandre said. "There are three pits under this house and one tunnel leading to another pit. There are 11 storage jars in that pit. This was storage for an emergency situation during the second half of the first century CE, which is well-known for the Great Revolt."

Alexandre describes the chambers as "very attractive." Built like igloos, they are wide at the base and small at the top. The tunnels between them are very short, and the ceilings are too low for standing up.

Zeev Weiss, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said, "I think this is a very important find at Kfar Kana. It can give us more information about life in the Galilee in the first century and the preparations Jews were making on the eve of the revolt." Weiss is director of excavations at Sepphoris, which was the largest city in the Galilee at the time of the revolt.

The Jewish revolt against Roman rule ended in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.

The Jews at the Kfar site built their houses over the ruins of a fortified Iron Age city, reusing some of the stones from the original settlement. Then they dug through 1.5 meters (five feet) of debris from the ancient ruins to build their hideaway complex. "It was quite a lot of work," Alexandre said.

The original settlement, which dates from the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., is also a new discovery.

Alexandre attributes current dating of the original city as an Iron Age settlement to pottery remains, which are plentiful at the site. The excavators have also found large quantities of animal bones, a scarab depicting a man surrounded by two crocodiles and a ceramic seal bearing the image of a lion.

The excavation of the city's architecture has uncovered fortified walls which still stand 1.5 meters high in some places. "It's magnificent," said Alexandre. "You can walk among them."