The Excavation Begins
It was January, 1979 when Ron and the boys returned to Jerusalem. Snow was on the ground. He now had to decide how and where to begin. The site he had pointed to was being used as a trash dump and appeared to hold very little promise to the human eye. It was located along this escarpment where the ground met the cliff-face. He had investigated the area adjacent to the escarpment and realized that the ground was raised to a much higher level today, which meant that the rock floor was many, many feet below the present ground level.
In the past, Jerusalem has been destroyed many, many times. And the customary method of rebuilding these ancient cities was to simply build on top of the destruction level. Today, the debris is removed before rebuilding, but not so back then. This is why archaeologists are able to find evidences of many cities which have existed on the same site- they simply excavate through each successive level down to the next until they reach bedrock- which indicates that they have reached the first city to be established on that particular site.
The site Ron was to excavate had a ground level many feet higher than the quarry floor to the south before the city wall. So, he and the boys could do nothing but begin to dig straight down.
The original location that he had pointed to in 1978 contained an extremely large boulder just barely exposed above the surface, and Ron decided to begin digging several yards to the right. It was to be a job of mammoth proportions- Ron, Danny and Ronny, would eventually remove many tons of rock and debris, having to sift through all of it for any artifacts. This was a requirement of the Department of Antiquities which they would always comply with.
The First Discovery
They dug straight down along the cliff face, forming a steep wall with the earth they removed. Almost immediately, Ron noticed a "shelf-like" niche cut into the face of the cliff. Digging down further, he discovered there were 3 of these "niches" cut into the face of the cliff with a smaller one on the right side.
He was convinced that these were cut into the cliff-face to hold "signs" or notices. And because of the location- in the vicinity of the "skull-face", and because there were 3 of these, he believed they were where the notices stating the crime of the crucifixion victim in 3 languages were placed.
Click here to see the "cut outs" in the cliff face
He had studied the available information on Roman crucifixions and had discovered that they used this form of punishment as a deterrent. The well-known quote of Quintillian explains:
"Whenever we crucify criminals, very crowded highways are chosen, so that many shall see it and may be moved by fear of it, because all punishment does not pertain so much to revenge as to example".
Roman crucifixions consisted of 3 basic elements, all perfectly described in the account of the crucifixion of Christ- first, the scourging; then the carrying of the crossbeam by the condemned to the site; and finally the nailing or binding of the condemned to the cross-beam and then attaching this beam onto the upright post and setting it up.
But another element was also involved. In order to be a deterrent, the CRIME of the victim had to be posted in clear sight of the passers-by. For this purpose, they used a titilus, which was a board covered with gypsum, inscribed with black letters. This was usually carried ahead of the victim on the way to the crucifixion, and then posted above the cross in clear sight.
The common conception about Christ's crucifixion was that a single sign written by Pilate was nailed to His cross above His head. This may very well have been- however, in order for the passers-by to be able to read these signs, written in 3 different languages, they would have had to have been quite large- much larger than a hand-written notice on a paper.
Just recently we learned a great deal about the visibility of signs at our new museum. We put up signs that looked very large to us (6 & 8 inch letters) but when we placed them on our building and walked across the street, or even to the end of the parking lot, we discovered that they were very difficult to read. A sign written by Pilate on a piece of paper, nailed to a cross, would have been almost impossible to read even by those standing directly in front of the cross. Add to this the fact that in Jerusalem, 3 different languages were common- Hebrew, Greek and Latin,- and it becomes apparent that the signs above Christ's head were much larger than we have commonly believed.
Click to see Ron in front of the "cut outs"
"Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews"
When Ron read and reread the accounts of these signs at Christ's crucifixion, he discovered that although they had been translated to read "ON the cross", the Greek could just as accurately have been translated "above the cross" or "over the cross".
MAT 27:35 And they crucified him,... 36 And sitting down they watched him there; 37 And set up over his head his accusation written, HIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
JOH 19:17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: 18 Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. 19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
In the above quote from John it states that the "title" was put "on" the cross- the Greek word here translated to read "on" is "epi". In Luke, this following verse also tells about the same "title", but here, the word "epi" is translated to read "over":
LUK 23:38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Click to see the signs Ron had made in the 3 languages and placed in the cut outs.
"Epi", here translated to read "over", certainly could NOT be translated to read "on" here! This same word, "epi", is also translated in other places to read "above"- therefore, the Scriptures do not specifically state that the "title" was nailed onto the physical cross. All it states for sure is that the "title(s)" were placed "over", "above", "about", etc., the cross.
So with this understanding, and the information on Roman crucifixions and the titilus covered in gypsum and written in black ink that the Romans were known to use, he felt his conclusion was at least not to be ruled out. Little did he suspect how it would later be so incredibly confirmed.
When he first found the niches, Ron placed boards in them for demonstration purposes. Digging deeper, and showing that there were no more niches below these, he had signs painted in the 3 languages which they set up and photographed. He believed the much smaller niche was for the ever-present Roman eagle. But again, this wasn't the purpose of this excavation so they continued to dig.
As they continued to dig straight down, the cliff face was on one side, forming a solid wall. But on the other side, the earth wall began to exhibit signs of instability and Ron feared that it would soon collapse, perhaps burying them in the hole. He decided that they should move back along the cliff-face to the original site that he had pointed to. He dreaded it because of the huge boulder he had found just under the surface- but he felt he had no choice.
Click to see Ron in the narrow hole they were digging
Back to the Original Site
Ron had felt justified in beginning the excavation several yards from the original site, because it was in the same general area. And with the discovery of the niches, he was satisfied that it hadn't been a completely wasted effort- but still he had another purpose for this excavation.
As they began to dig around the huge boulder extending out from the original site, he discovered that here was enough room behind it (between it and the cliff-face) to begin their dig. As they began to dig downward, they very soon came upon another item of interest. Carved out of the cliff-face was a hole which extended through a section of protruding rock allowing a rope or similar object to be threaded through it. The great care obviously devoted to chiseling out this object indicated that it had an important use, but they would learn that later.
Click to see the chiseled hole in the cliff face
The first site they had begun excavating was where the cliff-face was relatively vertical like a wall. Here, the cliff-face slanted inward, forming a "roof" over the place they were digging. As they dug down into the earth, they found open areas beneath the surface which contained a large amount of pottery shards, and even a few pieces still intact.
A Grain Storage Bin later Used as a Cistern
They reached bedrock 38 feet below the present ground surface. Carefully removing debris, they found themselves in an approximately 15 foot diameter round chamber carved out of the rock with steps chiseled into the shaft descending from the top in a spiral to the bottom. At some point in time it had been modified and plastered, reused as a cistern. Either of these explanations would explain the presence of the "rope hole" chiseled in the cliff-face (see the above photo)- it was for the rope that held the bucket or jug which was lowered down into the shaft to retrieve grain or water.
Ron chiseled through the plaster and found a large amount of pottery among the dirt and debris used as fill to form the cistern. When he turned these pottery pieces in to Antiquities and they examined them, they informed Ron that some of them date back to the Jebusite time (before David took the city). The latest dated specimens were from the Roman period, which tells us that the grain bin was plastered during Roman times.
Click for a diagram of the underground cistern and Ron's tunnel
As exciting as these discoveries were, again they weren't what Ron was looking for.
Tunneling Along the Cliff-Face
As they descended through the earth and debris, they were able to distinguish the Roman level because of the pottery and coins. Ron decided again that he needed to keep looking- that these things were not the object of his search. They covered up the circular shaft, careful to preserve everything, and began to tunnel under the present ground level along the cliff-face on the Roman level back in the direction of the first site they had begun to excavate. Ron was looking for an entrance into a cave or tunnel in the now underground cliff-face. But his next discovery was so gruesome that it still reflects in his face when he talks about it.
The "Stoning Ground"
The grain shaft/cistern was cut into the solid rock. When Ron began his tunnel back in the direction of the cut-out niches, he found that the rock floor abruptly ended about 3 to 4 feet from the edge of the shaft. Digging a 3 foot shaft straight down, he found a massive amount of fist-sized and larger rocks. As he sorted through them, he found several human bones, in particular some finger bones. He believed he knew what this represented- while it is common to find rocks in an excavation, it is NOT common to find them of this particular size in such a massive pile. It certainly wasn't a tomb- and the disarticulated bones among the large rocks led Ron to only one conclusion- this has been the "stoning ground"
ACT 6:57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And CAST HIM [Stephen] OUT OF THE CITY, AND STONED HIM:
Third Discovery- A First Century Building
When Ron realized what he had found, he quickly climbed back up the shaft he had dug and he and the boys continued their tunnel back in the direction of the first site. Soon, they found the remains of a buried structure. This building was built directly adjacent to the cliff-face and a portion of the back wall extended along the actual face of the cliff. The foundations of the building were still in place.
Click to see photograph of the ancient building foundation
As Ron studied the best preserved sections, he discovered a hewn stone extending out horizontally from the wall against the cliff face- his first impression was that it was an altar. It displayed smooth wear on its top.
Click to see the "altar-like" stone extending out from the cliff face.
It was below and in front of this "altar stone" that Ron noticed a very unusual large rock. When he examined the rock closer, he saw that it was covered in travertine- travertine is formed when underground acified water seeps through preexisting limestone and dissolves calcium carbonate; as this water containing calcium carbonate flows over objects and begins to evaporate or lose it's carbon dioxide, this dissolved limestone is redeposited in the form of stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone, etc. In this case, it was redeposited in the form of a coating over the rock which can be clearly seen, when examining the rock in person, in the layering of the coating.
Click to see the unusual large rock below the altar-like stone.
Ron thought this rock was much too symmetrical to be a natural-shaped rock, so he decided to pick it up and examine it more closely. When he lifted it, he discovered that it was covering a squarish hole chiseled into the bedrock.
The Hole that Held the Cross?
As should be expected, there was a great deal of dirt and debris everywhere. As he examined this hole and cleared away the dirt around it, he discovered that it had a large crack extending out from it.
As they removed more dirt and debris, he discovered a platform-like shelf of bedrock which extended out about 8 feet from the face of the cliff, and this squarish hole was chiseled in this "shelf".There were no more holes in the platform-like shelf, so he began digging into the packed earth in front of and level with the "platform".
It was about 4 feet before he came to the lower level of bedrock, and here he uncovered 3 more squarish holes chiseled in the rock in front of this "platform". His measurements showed that the elevated "platform" with the squarish hole and crack were located 14 feet directly below the 3 cut-out niches in the face of the cliff, now above ground level.
Click for diagram
His earlier conclusion that the cut-out niches were for the signs stating the crucifixion victim's crime in the 3 languages of Jerusalem was now supported by the fact that he had found more square holes, all about 12 to 13 inches square, cut into the bedrock- holes he firmly believed once held crosses. The one elevated above the rest (on the shelf-like platform of bedrock), he believed, held Christ's.
The building structure that remained intact showed that a building covered the entire site. He concluded, based on the evidence they'd found, that a Christian church had been built over the place of the crucifixion of Christ- the stone wall extended along the cliff-face directly behind the cross-hole that was on the "platform-like" shelf of bedrock. It appeared that this was the place where the "featured" criminal-victim was crucified, being elevated several feet above those crucified around him.
The "altar stone" was set in the stone wall, extending out horizontally almost directly above the elevated cross-hole with the crack.
The "Crack" in the Cross-Hole
The crack in the cross-hole on the elevated "platform" appeared to Ron to have been caused by an earthquake- it displayed no evidence of being chiseled.
As he removed debris from the cross-hole, he finally reached the bottom and measured it- it extended 23 inches into the solid bedrock, while the crack appeared to extend much deeper. But at this time, he didn't attempt to clear it out nor did he measure it. It would be over a year later before he would learn that the crack extended about 20 feet into the bedrock.
"Dating" the Remains of the Building
He found coins during the course of the excavation which helped to narrow the date of the building. He found a Roman coin with Emperor Tiberius who was Emperor from 14 to 37 AD, which was the earliest dated coin they found. The latest coins were from about 135 AD, but no later. This is consistent with the known history of Jerusalem and placed the date of the building between the time of the crucifixion and 135 AD.
But further information indicates that it was most likely built after 70 AD. Prior to 70 AD, (when the city and the temple were completely destroyed by the Roman general, Titus), Jerusalem was still under Roman rule and the crucifixion grounds would have remained in use. Josephus tells how Titus, during his siege of Jerusalem, had as many as 500 people a day crucified (Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter XI, para. 1).
The Ark of the Covenant
by Mary Nell Wyatt
Originally published in Ron Wyatt's newsletter in Fall of 1996
The Discoveries of Ron Wyatt