In addition to the hidden tunnels, the ancient settlement also featured a watchtower. And while they found no weapons, the researchers did come across a fragment of an oil lamp with one of the earliest known illustrations of a nine-stemmed menorah.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) researchers dated the settlement to the 1st century A.D. It lasted until 135 A.D. when the Jews launched the Bar Kochba Revolt against the Roman occupiers.
The half-acre site sits on the southernmost border of Judea. Its artifacts and structures suggest that its occupants stayed faithful to the Jewish religion even though they were on the very limit of the kingdom. However, they were also affected by the disturbances that led to the Bar Kochba uprising.
“Signs of a conflagration discovered in some of the structures evince a crisis that the settlement experienced, probably that of the First Jewish Revolt in c. 70 CE,” explained IAA researcher Dr. Daniel Varga and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher Dr. Peter Fabian. (Related: Prepping for SHTF: Top gear you need.)
Researcher Shira Bloch explained that the Beersheba region did not have much in the way of surviving Jewish sites from the Second Temple period. He and his colleagues were excited to find a sizable well-preserved settlement with residents who remained faithful to Judaism.
However, the ancient site may not last for much longer. Beersheba is setting up a new neighborhood near its northern approach.
It so happens that the city's new construction project overlaps the ancient settlement. As of the time of this writing, Beersheba will conserve the watchtower while back-filling the rest of the site.
For their salvage excavation, IAA and BGU researchers received the assistance of volunteers from pre-military academy participants. The dig took place during the short summer season in the Negev.
The initial phase of the dig gave a poor showing for their efforts. However, once they hit the two-meter-depth, they uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts, which provided much information about the people and the purpose of the site.
Bloch also noted that they found no signs of weapons. The settlement was likely civilian instead of military.
The ancient settlement also provided signs of cultural overlap. In addition to the Jewish artifacts, it also contained Nabatean pottery from Arabia and other regions in the Mediterranean, including Greek islands.
Bloch also noted the recovery of around 40 coins that would eventually get cleaned and evaluated. The currency included bronze coins from the time the Romans ruled Judea as a province.
Some of the coins originated in the city of Ashkelon, now a part of Israel. Others were minted in various cities throughout the Roman Empire.
The biggest prize of the salvage excavation was the sherd – a broken piece of ceramic – that bore the illustration of the nine-stemmed menorah. Most people might mistake it as a hanukkiah used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
However, there is no evidence that Jews celebrated Hanukkah during the Second Temple Period. As such, the nine-stemmed menorah in the illustration might predate its use as a hanukkiah.
“We’ve only managed to get to the bottom of one… the rest are a lot larger and appear to be storage rooms, not passages yet," explained Bloch. “But as we dig, they keep getting bigger and bigger.”