Archaeological excavations at Huqoq near the Sea of Galilee, in which students, local residents, and soldiers participated over the past few months, provide a glance at dramatic episodes in the history of the Jewish people: the preparation of shelters in preparation for the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, led by Bar Kokhba in 132–136 CE.

The excavation also revealed that, as part of the preparations for the First Revolt in 66 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132 CE, the residents of Huqoq converted the water cistern (dug in the Second Temple period) into a hiding complex. In addition, at the time of danger, they broke one of the walls of the mikveh and dug a tunnel into other cavities. Several tunnels allowed maneuvering in narrow low spaces underneath the houses. In this underground system—the largest and most impressive discovered at the Galilee—there are about eight hiding cavities, and the connecting tunnels are dug at 90 degrees, to hamper the heavily armed Roman soldiers chasing the rebels. The excavation also yielded hundreds of broken clay and glass dishes, an impressive ring for a precious stone (the stone itself was not found), and other fascinating finds.

Huqoq is known as a Jewish town from the Early Roman period, about 2,000 years ago. The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds mention Rabbi Pinhas and Rabbi Hezekiah, sages from the third and fourth centuries CE, who were based in the area. On the hilltop, near the hiding complex, a synagogue with impressive and unique mosaics, dating to the Byzantine period was discovered. The synagogue was dug in 2011 by an expedition from North Carolina University, headed by Professor Jodi Magness.

The goal of the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavation in Huqoq, funded by The Ministry of Heritage and in collaboration with the Zefat Academic College and KKL-JNF, is to reveal the rich history of the site while involving the youth in its discovery and eventually making the site available to the public. The hiding complex system is one of the important sites that will be developed in the Galilee, revealing to the public the defense methods of the Jewish population at the time of the revolts.

“We turned the excavation in the hiding complex into a community excavation as part of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s vision of connecting the public to its heritage,” says Dr. Einat Ambar-Armon, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Archeological-Educational Center in the Northern Region. “The excavation brings together school students studying the Land of Israel and Archaeology, students from the Zefat Academic College, volunteers from the Israel Cavers Club, local volunteers, and even soldiers from the IDF Samur Unit of underground operations, who utilize their skills for this important goal.”

“The hiding complex provides a glance at a tough period of the Jewish population in Huqoq and in the Galilee in general,” said the excavation directors, Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Yinon Shivtiel of the Zefat Academic College. “However, the story that the site tells is also an optimistic story of an ancient Jewish town that managed to survive historical tribulations.” They add that “it is a story of residents who, even after losing their freedom, and after many hard years of revolts, came out of the hiding complex, and established a thriving village, with one of the most impressive synagogues in the area.”

The discovery of the hiding complex can also contribute to a decades-long debate among researchers on whether the Bar Kokhba Revolt reached the Galilee or remained within the confines of Judea and central Israel. Based on different findings, Berger and Shivtiel date the inner parts of the hiding complex to the days of the outbreak of the Second Revolt and consider that several of the ancient facilities were first in use during the First Revolt. “It is not certain that the complex was used for hiding and escaping during the Second Revolt, but it does appear to have been prepared for this purpose,” they say. “We hope future excavations will bring us closer to the answer.”

According to Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido, “The Israel Antiquities Authority considers the Huqoq site and its various discoveries as part of a flagship project that will draw visitors from all over Israel and the world. Along with our partners in the Ministry of Heritage and KKL-JNF, the site will be made accessible to the public."

KKL-JNF Northern Region Manager Shali Ben-Yishai added, “In light of the finds in the excavation and the great potential of the Huqoq site, KKL-JNF is preparing a detailed program for the development of the site into a unique public spot of archeological tourism in Israel and abroad. The Huqoq site is an example of collaboration between nature, tourism and archaeology, with the participation of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jordan Valley Regional Council.”