Israeli researchers revealed Tuesday mysterious underground rooms with unknown functions carved out of the bedrock near the second Jewish temple, believed to have existed two millennia ago.
The discovery was made when Israeli students from a pre-military college excavated a large, lavish Byzantine-era building beneath the western wall in Jerusalem's Old City about 1,400 years ago.
Like other places inhabited for millennia, parts of Jerusalem contain deep layers of archeology that are the result of societies built on earlier structures, rather than spending resources on removing ruins.
Below the mosaic floor of the Byzantine structure, the student tombs hit rock bottom.
"At first, we were very disappointed to find that we had hit the foundation, which means that material culture and human activity here in Jerusalem have ended," said Barak Monnickendam-Givon, co-director of the excavation of Israel Antiquities Authority.
Upon further investigation, however, the researchers came across a "very big surprise," he said.
"What we found here was a rock system – three rooms, all carved in the bedrock of ancient Jerusalem," and connected by stairs, said Monnickendam-Givon.
He dated the rooms to the early Roman period and noticed the rarity of such structures in Jewish cities.
The find is "about 30 meters from the Temple Mount", where the second Jewish temple stood, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It contains intricate carvings and niches, including the many oil lamps that light would have been used for.
The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, now houses the Haram al-Sharif site, the third holiest site in Islam, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
While researchers haven't yet determined the function of the rooms, Monnickendam-Givon said they could have stored underground food for a building that "didn't survive."
Or they could have been a separate food preparation facility for the city priests or pilgrims and visitors to the temple.
"We find cooking pots that are used to cook daily meals, oil lamps, storage jars in which people (formerly) kept their wheat, barley, or olive oil," he said, noting that "they have no fixed connection to." Temple itself. "
The excavation was part of a larger project to create an underground area where various eras and finds are exhibited as the prayers continue above the ground.
"There is a general plan here that everything that is now in the West Wall Square will be on pillars and we will dig it down," said Monnickendam-Givon.
"There will be a separation between liturgical activity in which people pray and tourists who come here with the archaeological finds," he said.
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