Archaeological Salvage Excavations at Khirbet Aqabat Al-Qadi, Nablus, Palestine
Loay Abu Alsaud1*, Mohammad Al-Khateeb2 and Amer Qobbaj3
1Assistant Professor of Archaeology. Department of Tourism and Archaeology, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
2Assistant Professor of History, Department of History, An-Najah National University, Palestine
3Assistant Professor of History. Department of History, An-Najah National University, Palestine
Submission: May 03, 2019; Published: May 21, 2019
*Corresponding author: Loay Abu Alsaud, Assistant Professor of Archaeology. Department of Tourism and Archaeology, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
How to cite this article: Loay A, Mohammad A-K, Amer Q. Archaeological Salvage Excavations at Khirbet Aqabat Al-Qadi, Nablus, Palestine. Glob J Arch
& Anthropol. 2019; 9(3): 555763. DOI: 10.19080/GJAA.2019.09.555763
The site at Khirbet Aqabat Al Qadi, where a burial chamber and other building has come to light in 2016, is located two kilometres from the city centre of Nablus on the north-western slope of Mount Ebal. At 600 metres above sea level and overlooking the city. The aim of this study is to describe the architecture and archaeological remains at the site and carry out an overall survey, documenting our results and creating a site map. We compared the sarcophagi found with other examples in the Nablus area to give them historical and archaeological context. The four sarcophagi in the burial chamber and numerous artefacts provided information to conclude that the hamlet was inhabited during Roman period (63 BC-324 AD) and till Byzantine Period (324 AD- 16Hijra/ 638AD).
The site at Khirbet Aqabat Al Qadi, where a burial chamber has come to light, is located two kilometres from the city centre of Nablus on the north-western slope of Mount Ebal. At 600 metres above sea level and overlooking the city, it is at latitude 32 °14’19. 53” N and longitude 35°14’37.10” E. The Burial chamber is on the same side of the city as the previously discovered Eastern and Western mausoleums, one kilometre north of the Western and three to four kilometres north-west of the Eastern (Figures 1&2). The Department of Tourism and Archaeology at An-Najah National University is under an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to explore the site and
document the resulting finds. The fact that there were significant
archaeological remains on the site was first discovered in 2016
when the owner of the land was clearing the site to build a house.
At that time, a brief salvage operation was carried out showing
the importance of the site for archaeological exploration.
We have found to date a large courtyard leading to an
underground burial chamber in which we discovered four
sarcophagi containing human skeletal remains, as well as five
loculi or niche graves hewn in rock. Another cave showing
evidence of inhabitation, containing many artefacts, was also
entered from the courtyard, and we found an olive oil press
inside another cave west of the courtyard and not far from that,
two ritual baths. Further north a third ritual bath was found and
a rainwater pond that supplied water to the bath, and to a water
storage cistern via an underground channel. In addition, we
found a quarry and a building remains on the site.
We aimed to describe the architecture and archaeological
remains at the site and carry out an overall survey, documenting
our results and creating a site map Figures 1 and 3 (1-10). We
compared the sarcophagi found with other examples in the
Nablus area to give them historical and archaeological context.
Necropolises and burial chambers can be found dispersed
across outlying areas of Nablus. The most significant include
our burial chamber at Aqabat Al Qady and the Eastern and
Western mausoleums found at the entrances to the city .
Mausoleums were built along the most important trade routes
in the area, eastward toward the Jordan Valley, westward
toward the Mediterranean, and northward toward Sebastia in
ancient Samaria . In recent years several articles have been
published on the Askar Mausoleum (the Eastern Mausoleum of
Nablus). The most notable among these is that by Damati .
Roman sarcophagi were made of several materials, including
wood, lead and stone - the most valuable were of marble and the
least valuable of limestone. Stone sarcophagi were highly valued
due to their extensive decoration. Less plain stone sarcophagi
survived did as they were not valued in later periods and made reusable
building material . The Askar Mausoleum and funerary
complex, considered the most important in Nablus, is found on
Mount Ebal. Roman tombs evolved in Neapolis in two phases.
The first phase, from the first century BC to the first century
AD, related to the use of loculi, and the second, sarcophagi. The
sarcophagi would be placed in the burial chamber along with the
existing tombs. This practice occurred until the beginning of the
second century AD .
Charles Clermont-Ganneau  was first to publish a
reference to sarcophagi in the region when he mentioned a
small lid at Škem. Later, Louis-Hughes Vincent  was first to
describe fragments from sarcophagi on the slopes of Mount Ebal
in 1919. He thought they were like sarcophagi in Jerusalem.
He described the walls as fine, the frame as distinctive and the
decoration as friezes; he suggested the sarcophagi belonged to
the Jewish community or perhaps the Samaritan, dating them
to the early first century AD. Abel  attributes the mausoleum
to the Jewish-Samaritan population, at the time of Hadrian and
Marcus Aurelius (134-50 AD). However, Avi-Yohah  suggests
the sarcophagi belonged to the Samaritan community. According
to Smith , either the sarcophagi date to between the late first
century BC and the early second century or the Crusader period.
Damati  suggests the Mausoleum belonged to a Samaritan
family living in Askar in the late second to early third centuries AD;
support for this lies in the fact that two sarcophagi are inscribed
with names. Barkay  dates the sarcophagi to the late second to third centuries AD when the Samaritan community prospered
and spread after the Bar Khoba revolt. Of seven coins found
alongside the Samaritan sarcophagi, three date to the Severan
dynasty. Another three belonged to the second half of the fourth
century. Magen , suggested the sarcophagi thought to be
Samaritan would have imitated the Jewish sarcophagi from the
second Jerusalem period. This imitation was a common practice
in Nablus among the Samaritan and pagan populations .
In the western Nablus region, sarcophagi were used during
the Roman period - they were found at Škem in Sebastia and
at other place, in tombs carved into rock, with the lengthwise
front panel decorated with relief ornamental friezes on columns.
Magen  considers they were in imitation of tombs in Jerusalem.
The dating and whether Jewish or Samaritan is unclear, but he
believes the Samaritans did not develop a distinctive model
and the sarcophagi date to the early second century AD . The
finding of materials from later periods in some tombs reinforces
the fact that caves continued to be used for burial until the early
Arab period . Al-Fanni [13,14], suggests the Mausoleum dates
to the second century AD. He refers to the finding of a large
quantity of bones and black Greek painted pottery at the site,
suggesting re-use of the sarcophagi.
This could be possible when considering the intensive
building activity in Nablus at that time, the sarcophagi cannot
be dated to the time of Hadrian and his successors as Able 
believes. Those buried may have been Samaritan, Jewish, or
even pagan, but, without evidence for exact dating, we cannot
make any conclusive assertion. The debate about whether the
sarcophagi are Jewish, or Samaritan may be part of a conflict
that has a role in controlling the history of Palestine, for political,
religious, geostrategic and economic reasons, but mainly due to
the well-organized Zionist movement. More accurate dating,
bearing in mind the scarcity of archaeological information
would need to come from future regional studies of the different
workshops and import systems in place in ancient Palestine.
Regarding similarities in design and decoration between
sarcophagi, a local workshop is indicated, operational during a
relatively short period of time.
The courtyard measures 18 × 10m and provides entry on
the west to the burial chamber and on the north-west to another
cave. The courtyard floor has not been excavated, but it appears
to be embedded rock in some parts and paved flagstones in
others (Figures 3: 5).
The cave, entered from the north-west boundary of the main
courtyard, measures 6 4.5 ×m (Figures 1, 3-4). A large quantity
of debris and earth was found inside, and it contained pottery
shards from jars, cookware and tableware, several oil lamps
and glass bottles and fragments from basalt grinding stones. A
fragment of the base of a small jar contained soil, five carbonized
olive stones and a grape seed (Figures 12).
The burial chamber measures 3 × 2.7m and was hewn
into limestone. The limestone entrance block could be moved
back and forth and was removable. Five niche tombs carved in
rock extend outward from the main chamber where four soft
limestone sarcophagi were found. They were from Mount Ebal
(Figures 1; 3-4; 9).
Sarcophagus 1 (Figure 5), located on the western side of the
burial chamber, lies north south. There are eight carved vine leaf
motifs on the front panel with a vessel in the centre signifying
plenty. The sarcophagus is 2.07m long, 0.56m wide, 0.67m deep
(Figures: 5-8). Sarcophagus 2 (Figure 6), located on the northern
side of the burial chamber, lies east-west. The decoration consists
of three geometric squares on the front panel and one on each
end panels. It is 2.01m long, 0.58m wide, 0.71m deep (Figures 5:
1, 6 & 7). Sarcophagus 3 (Figure 7), located in a central position
in the chamber, lies east-west (Figure 7). The decoration consists
of two geometrical squares on either side of the front panel.
It is 1.82m long, 0.51m wide, and 0.48m deep. Sarcophagus 4
(Figure 8) is located on the southern side of the chamber and
lies east-west. Both longitudinal panels are decorated with three
geometric squares. It is 2.01m long, 0.58m wide and 0.71m deep.
Three ritual baths used for purification before entering a
temple, were found at the site. However, a temple has not been
found (Figures 1:4; 3: 4; 9). Ritual Bath 1 measures 1.5 × 1m and
is located west of the burial chamber and south of Ritual Bath
2. Ritual Bath 2 located west of the burial chamber and north of
Ritual Bath 1 measures 3 × 2m. Ritual Bath 3, also found in the
northern part of the site, one metre from the cistern measures 2
x 1 x 2m and steps lead down to the base. It would have had a lid,
but this was not found (Figures 3: 10 & 10).
Remains of an olive press were found in a large cave west
of the burial chamber. Although the cave contained a quantity
of debris, We couldn’t enter to the cave to describe and to do all
the documentation of the olive press stone. (Figures 2: 6, 3: 6
and 4: 6).
The square pond for collecting rainwater, hewn into
limestone, measures 3 × 3m and is 0.5m deep. The water from
the pond passed through a cleansing filter created in the rock
and then along an underground stone channel to the cistern
(Figures 1: 8; 3: 8).
Building remains appeared at nine different locations during
salvage excavations- three in the north and six in the east. We
have not determined their exact nature, as funding issues
prevented further examination (Figure 1: 11-17).
Three amphorae were found in the burial chamber; two
in the western corner were whole, and the third was broken.
They share long, conical bodies curving inward at long, narrow
cylindrical necks. The entire body and neck are horizontally
ribbed. They have long handles on either side. A very small
hole is found in the centre of each neck; these holes, made after
manufacture, suggest adaptation: they were probably originally
produced for wine, but later used for vinegar with holes to
prevent fermentation. We found five olive stones and a grape
seed in the broken base of Jar 1. Their stoppers would have been
of stone or mud. One carved hard white limestone stopper was
found nearby. Some scholars suggest this stopper type was used
from the mid-fifth to mid-sixth centuries AD (Figure 11: 1-3).
A carved hard limestone funerary marker was found outside
the burial chamber: an upper pyramid sits on a cylindrical base.
Symbolizing the soul of the deceased, pyramids were also found
on funerary markers in Jericho [15,16] (Figures 15).
Twenty-three Samaritan type oil lamps were found, made
with moulds - except one of carved white limestone. Two were
from the burial chamber, sixteen from the cave and five on
open ground. Samaritans, Christians and Pagans in Palestine
and Jordan used Samaritan lamps from the late Roman to the
early Islamic periods . Examples were found in Nablus and
Apollonia-Arsuf [18,19]. We identified four types: A-D
a. Type A: rounded body, a wide short nozzle and concave
sides; with ladder, geometric and floral motifs, they usually
have a star-shaped handle and a double ring base. They date
to the late third to fifth centuries AD .
b. Type B: a more elongated body than Type A, a long
narrow nozzle and a groove between the filling hole and the
wick. Geometric circles, semi-circles, triangles, ladders, lines
and dots - as well as palm branch motif form the decoration.
They have different-shaped handles, knobs and tongueshaped
and ring bases .
c. Type C: similar to Islamic lamps with an elongated
body, a nozzle a groove and large filling hole; decorated with
palm branches, dots, lines, seven-branch candlesticks and
geometric designs they date to the sixth-seventh centuries
AD  .
d. Type D: carved from smooth white limestone: ovalshaped,
tapering toward one end,
The building of burial chambers and artificial caves for
different purposes began in Neolithic times in Palestine, when
the architectural model was created such as Tell El-Sultan. Semihabitational
forms appeared during the Iron Age, and later,
Hellenistic and classical cultures influenced design and rituals.
During the Bronze Age, Neolithic architecture declined, and the
number of caves used as dwellings decreased . However,
Iron Age underground construction became more generalised
with large underground storage and water supply systems. An
example is the 700m of tunnelling under the old Jesusalem .
Funerary construction of artificial caves became widespread and
their functional use continued until the beginning of Christianity,
shown in the Sacred Sepulchre in Jerusalem .
In this period most of the remains in the artificial burial
caves belong to the same family. The remains of libations, ritual
fires and food and drink offerings are also found with the human
remains [23,24]. In general, from the seventh-sixth centuries
BC we see large burial chambers of wealthy families excavated
in rock. A staircase led down from the square metre entrance
to a chamber with niches radiating outward . In the fifth
century, we see Hellenistic influences and in the beginning of the
third century, the accumulation of human remains led to using
ossuaries and there is an increase in finds of household items
that would continue through most of the Roman era. Numerous
caves find, now believed to have been for funerary rituals rather
than inhabitation, result from the Roman war in Palestina
During the first century AD with the advent of Christianity,
the use of ancient burial chambers as community meeting places
for rituals increased [27,28]. In the Byzantine era (fourth -
fifth centuries AD), major underground projects, as in the case
of caves at Tefen, show complex constructions for family use
[29-35]. The entrance design was anti-looting and the tombs
extended outward from a central space [36-40].
Khirbet Aqabet Al-Qadi is an important Samaritan site in
the Nablus area. Two caves showing evidence of residential use,
structural remains and many artefacts were found. Functional
elements included an olive press, a rainwater system, ritual
baths, and a burial chamber. The olive press, large amphorae,
and olive stones and a grape seed, indicate a rural settlement
with an agricultural economy based on olive cultivation for
cooking and lighting oil and viticulture for wine and vinegar. The
four sarcophagi in the burial chamber and numerous artefacts
provided information to conclude that the hamlet was inhabited
from the Roman period (63 BC-324 AD) to the Byzantine Period
(324 AD-16 Hijra/638 AD). The depiction of a vase and grapevine
leaves on Sarcophagus 1, and nearby amphorae signify large
scale production and export of wine.