Family Accidentally Discovers 2,000-Year-Old Roman Stables in Their Backyard
A family living in Israel was digging in their backyard when they came upon an opening in the ground. They were stunned when they discovered that it led to a complex network of underground caves. Archaeological investigations revealed it was an elaborate construction dating back 2,000 years, which probably served as stables.
Haaretz reported that the underground complex was discovered in a village called Eilabun, located just 11 miles from Nazareth, the ancient city where Jesus was said to have been raised.
Archaeologists suggest that the caves had been dug out by the Romans and probably served for storage and stabling. They came to this conclusion after noticing holes chiseled into the cave walls to which horses could have been tied, and a stone trough used for water or feed.
Interestingly, the caves are about three meters below the surface as archaeology inspector Nir Distelfeld told Haaretz. This made some archaeologists wonder how the horses could have got down there and why the Romans didn’t build a stable with walls above ground. However, Distelfeld has a logical explanation, “It’s three meters underground today, but 2,000 years ago, when in use, it would have been ground level, maybe half a meter lower but obviously the horse wasn’t lowered down,” he tells Haaretz. And adds, “It shows how much dirt and silt accrues over 2,000 years. Otherwise they would indeed have built stables and storage, not cut them into the rock.”
According to Haaretz, ancient Jews would carve caves out of the chalky, rather soft bedrock. The archaeologists discovered a large central chamber about 4x6 meters, which was at least two meters in height. Smaller chambers branched off that main one.
The village of Eilabun, where the underground stables were found (public domain)
Site Severely Damaged from Looters
Thanks to some broken pieces of pottery left behind by thieves who had looted the site exhaustively before its official discovery, experts were able to estimate that the complex dates back around 2,000 years. Thieves had removed and most likely sold everything of value they found there. What’s even worse, they broke and damaged the rock while searching for more places to loot. “The looters weren’t archaeology experts. When they saw a chamber, they started to deepen it, breaking the rock itself, thinking they would find other interesting stuff,” Distelfeld told Haaretz.
Another object the thieves left behind, other than the broken pieces of Roman-era ceramic storage jars, is a basalt rock with a groove down the middle, which had been part of a flour-grinding apparatus. “The thieves may have found other things but they won’t tell us,” a disappointed Distelfeld said.
The entrance to the cave in the Galilean village of Eilabun. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Eilabun’s Interesting Past
The village of Eilabun has a long history. Pottery remains from the Middle Bronze Age, Iron Age II, Persian, early Roman and from the Byzantine era have all been excavated there, while rock-cut sarcophagi have been unearthed to the west of the village.
Elibabun is mentioned as one of the cities associated with one of the twenty-four priestly divisions, the residence of the priestly clan known as Haqoṣ. A stone inscription mentioning the town was discovered in Yemen by orientalist, Walter W. Muller, in 1970, and is considered to have been part of a destroyed synagogue, now turned mosque.
Ultimately, Haaretz reports that soon after the caves’ official discovery by the Israel Antiquities Authority, two thieves were arrested in a joint campaign by the IAA inspectors with police. “At the moment we are working on criminal proceedings. We will look into further excavations there in the future,” Distelfeld told Haaretz, explaining why there are no active excavations at the moment in the area.
Top image: Roman-era stables discovered in the Galilean village of Eilabun, Israel. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority