The Jews laid in supplies and were preparing to hide from the Romans during their revolt in A.D. 66-70, the experts said. The pits, which are linked by short tunnels, would have served as a concealed subterranean home.
Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the find shows the ancient Jews planned and prepared for the uprising, contrary to the common perception that the revolt began spontaneously.
"It definitely was not spontaneous," Alexandre said. "The Jews of that time certainly did prepare for it, with underground hideaways here and in other sites we have found."
The underground chambers at the Israeli Arab village of Kfar Kana, north of Nazareth, were built from housing materials common at the time and hidden directly beneath the floors of aboveground homes - giving families direct access to the hideouts. Other refuges found from the time of the revolt are hewn out of rock.
"This construction was very well camouflaged inside one of the houses," Alexandre said. "There are three pits under this house and one tunnel leading to another pit. There are 11 storage jars in that pit."
Built like igloos, the chambers are wide at the base and small at the top. The tunnels between them are short and the ceilings are too low for standing upright.
Zeev Weiss, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, not connected to the discovery, said the find "can give us more information about life in the Galilee in the first century and the preparations Jews were making on the eve of the revolt." Weiss is director of excavations at Sepphoris, which was the largest city in the Galilee at the time of the revolt.
The Jewish revolt against Roman rule ended in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.
The ancient Jews at the Kfar site built their houses over the ruins of a fortified Iron Age city, reusing some of the stones from the original settlement. Then they dug through 5 feet of debris from the ruins to build their hideaway complex. "It was quite a lot of work," Alexandre said.
The original settlement, which dates from the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., is also a new discovery.
Alexandre attributes current dating of the original city as an Iron Age settlement to pottery remains, which are plentiful. The excavators have also found large quantities of animal bones, a scarab depicting a man surrounded by two crocodiles and a ceramic seal bearing the image of a lion.
The excavation of the city's architecture has uncovered fortified walls which still stand 5 feet tall in some places. "It's magnificent," said Alexandre. "You can walk among them."
By Associated Press
May 25, 2006