A family has reportedly discovered an ancient complex of underground stables while they were digging in their garden in the Galilean village of Eilabun, Israel.
The underground caves, which date to the Roman era, about 2,000 years ago, is believed to have been used as storage and to stable horses, based on various signs, including the holes chiseled into the cave walls where the animals could have been tied, and a stone trough used for water or feed.
The entrance to the stables are about three meters below the surface, but archaeologists believe that it would have been at surface level 2,000 years ago when it was in use. Silt and dirt have slowly accumulated over the years, covering the entrance to the caves and concealing them from view for centuries.
The family and the archaeologists found large central chamber, measuring about four by six meters, and at least two meters in height, with a series of smaller rooms branching off it.
The archaeologists, led by Nir Distelfeld, have dated the site to the first century A.D., around the time Jesus is believed to have lived in the area, based on analysis of pottery shards left strewn across the ground.
Eilabun, which is currently a recognized Israeli-Arab local council in Galilee, lies some 11 miles from Nazareth, where New Testament claims Jesus grew up. The Christian faith also holds that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee.
The caves would have been in use in the time of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. During that time, important local families from Eliabun would have spent two weeks each year serving on the Temple Mount.
Distelfeld noted that the site had been looted by thieves before the archaeologists arrived. "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," he told Haaretz.
On Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that two arrests have been made for illegal excavation of the precious site.
The looters left behind the fragments of Roman-era ceramic storage jars, as well as 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," Distefeld remarked.
"At the moment we are working on criminal proceedings. We will look into further excavations there in the future," he added.