Biblical Archaeology Review 20:6, November/December 1994

Resting Place of the Rich and Famous

By Gideon AvniZvi Greenhut

Plunderers, probably in ancient times, looted the Akeldama tombs described in the previous article. Not a single artifact remained when archaeologists entered those tombs: Only the chambers themselves, with their decorative elements, survived.

In 1989, however, we discovered three cave tombs in Akeldama that had lain undisturbed for nearly 1,500 years and were filled with grave goods.1 Why were these three burial caves not emptied of their contents long ago? The answer is simple: No one knew they existed.

As has often happened in Jerusalem when a road is being built, the phone rang at the Antiquities Authority. The municipality was widening a road in Abu Tor leading to the village of Silwan. We were aware that work was being done in the Akeldama area, so it came as no surprise to learn that bulldozers had uncovered a number of square openings hewn into the rock. At that point all construction stopped and the archaeologists were called in. Upon arriving at the scene, we crawled through the small openings: They led to a large burial complex that was, amazingly, still intact. Inside, our flashlights revealed an abundance of artifacts scattered on the floor—pottery, glass vessels, jewelry, oil lamps, even ossuaries (bone boxes)—indicating the caves had escaped plunderers in ancient and modern times.

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