The Ketef Hinnom excavation identified seven burial caves used during the late Iron Age and early Persian period (seventh–fifth centuries B.C.E.). Although the ceilings of the caves had collapsed from later quarrying and destruction, the remaining walls and features preserved the layout of an extensive necropolis that served the funerary needs of generations of ancient Jerusalem’s wealthiest families.

The most elaborate of the burial caves was Cave 24, which consisted of five rock-hewn burial chambers located around a central room (see drawing). The tomb complex was entered from a forecourt through a small rectangular opening in the rock face, followed by steps that led down to the central room (the entrance to Cave 34 is shown immediately above). The walls of each adjoining chamber were lined with raised stone benches upon which the deceased were initially placed, along with burial gifts and offerings. The benches were sometimes outfitted with carved stone headrests, a common feature of Judahite tombs from this period. The headrests found in Chamber 25 of Cave 24, the largest of the cave’s burial rooms, indicate that nine individuals could be interred in the room at any one time (see photo).

When more space was needed for the next generation, the bones on the burial benches and the burial goods were transferred to repositories carved out beneath the benches (see reconstruction drawing of Chamber 25 and its repository).