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Friday, June 26, 2009

Discovery of giant underground quarry in Jordan Valley may rock

Discovery of giant underground quarry in Jordan Valley may rock
archaeological thinking
By Ran Shapira


A spectacular underground quarry has recently been discovered in the
Jordan Valley north of Jericho, which archaeologists believe may have
marked a biblical site sacred to ancient Christians.


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.


Zertal said scholars wondered why people would dig a quarry
underground considering the effort needed to just to pull the stones
out of the ground.


A possible answer may be in the famous Madaba Map of ancient
Palestine, found in Jordan. In it, a place named Galgala is marked and
an accompanying Greek word meaning "12 stones." The map also depicts a
church near the site. Archaeologists say they have found two ancient
churches near the cave.


According to Zertal, scholars had always assumed that "12 stones"
refered to the biblical story of the 12 stones the Israelites set up
at Gilgal after they crossed the Jordan. However, the discovery of the
quarried cave may mean the reference was to a quarry established where
the Byzantines identified Gilgal. Zertal explains that in antiquity
sanctuaries were built out of stones from sacred places.


If the Byzantines identified the site as biblical Gilgal, it would
have been considered sacred and quarrying would have remained
underground to preserve it.

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