Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Beit Guvrin-Maresha

SPELUNCER'S PARADISE REVISITED:The land of a thousand caves. The 480 caves of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, Israel’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, are very cool – in more ways than one. (Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c). Excerpts:
Tsvika Tsuk, chief archeologist of the Israel National Parks Authority, took ISRAEL21c through Beit Guvrin’s well-known Bell Cave complex — 70 connected bell-shaped quarry caves — on a hot summer day. The spectacular complex is as cool to see as to feel; the temperature goes down dramatically as you descend inside.

Tsuk confides that the Bell Cave is responsible for his choice of profession. In 1972, while hiking here with army buddies, he came across the remains of an ancient ossuary (human bone box). He eventually turned his find over to the Antiquities Authority, where it’s kept in storage with others like it.

The experience led Tsuk to Prof. Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University, who helped excavate Beit Guvrin-Maresha in the 1980s and 1990s and still is producing reports on the 480 caves. And it also inspired Tsuk to pursue a doctorate in archeology.


The national park is replete with 85 columbarium caves, once used for raising doves and still inhabited by many pigeons. We visited the main Columbarium, the most impressive of the Tel Maresha caves, dug in the third century BCE. Some 2,000 nesting niches are carved into the Columbarium, reflecting the ancient premium put on their meat, eggs, dung and value as sacrificial offerings.

Also of note are the Sidonian burial caves from the Hellenistic period (third to second centuries BCE); the Maze Cave consisting of about 30 interconnected caves; the Bathtub Cave that served as an ancient bidet; the reconstructed agricultural site with olive and grape presses and a wheat-threshing floor; a partially reconstructed Hellenist villa; a Crusader fortress; a Roman amphitheater for gladiator fights; and the Polish Cave, a small cistern and dovecote where visiting Polish soldiers carved an inscription in 1943.
Background here and links.