Skip to main content

Full text of "The Cotton Grotto, an Ancient Quarry in Jerusalem, with a Note on the Stones Used for the Altar"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 




While in Jerusalem, in April, 1891, 1 became interested 
in the great subterranean structure known to travellers 
as the Quarries of Solomon, and to the Arabs as the Cotton 
Grotto. The entrance to this structure is about 100 paces 
east of the Damascus Gate, and some 19 feet below the 
wall K 

I visited this place several times, making such examina- 
tion as was possible by the light from the torches of the 
servants of the American Consul, and of some members 
of the so-called "American Colony," who kindly placed 
their time at my disposal 2 . 

Note was made at the time to the effect that the quarry 
proceeded 1000 feet, and was about 150 feet in depth. 
The depth was obtained by the reading of a carefully 
compensated aneroid barometer, but the length was esti- 

Various measurements have been given at different times. 
Dr. Barclay states that the cavern " varies in width from 
20 to 100 or 200 yards, and extends about 220 yards in 
the direction of the Serai (barracks), terminating in a deep 
pit." In another place he asserts that the quarry from the 
entrance to the termination in a nearly direct line measures 

1 These are the figures given in Baedeker's Palestine and Syria, 1894, 
p. 136. 

s The "American Colony" is a party of religious enthusiasts who have 
given up worldly goods and cares, and await the second advent. They 
visit the Mount of Olives every morning at daybreak. 


250 yards. Still another estimate fixes " the length of the 
quarry to be rather more than a quarter of a mile, and its 
greatest breadth less than half the distance." The latest 
edition of Baedeker describes the quarry as "stretching 
213 yards in a straight line below the level of the City, 
and sloping down considerably on the south" (p. 106). 
From this diversity it may be inferred that a series of 
accurate measurements would not be wholly superfluous. 
Possibly an idea of the size of the quarry may be obtained 
from the statement that it is "sufficiently large to have 
supplied much more stone than is apparent in all the 
ancient buildings of Jerusalem, gigantic though these 
are 1 ." 

The roof is supported by huge pillars. These are, ac- 
cording to Sir William Dawson, in such good condition 
that the quarry might be re-opened at any time with very 
little expense. Bits of pottery were found cemented to the 
rock by the action of water. Two large chambers unlike 
the rest of the quarry, which was comparatively free from 
de'bris, were filled with small stone chippings. The con- 
clusion seemed inevitable that in these places the stone 
had been dressed 2 , giving the clue to the meaning of the 
Biblical passage which is referred to later on. 

It was assumed that if the workmen actually dressed the 
stone here, they must have dropped some tools or other 
objects ; and after picking about among the chippings with 
such rude implements as were at hand, some objects were 
actually found. Dr. Herbert Friedenwald, who was of the 
party, picked up a lamp plainly of Jewish pattern, being 
one of a few recorded, and the only one found in this place, 
as far as is known. 

One foot below the surface of the chippings I found 

1 "By-Paths of Bible Knowledge," VI, Egypt and Syria. Their physical 
features in relation to Bible History, by Sir J. William Dawson. Third edition, 
London, 1892, p. 95. 

a All observers seem to agree on this point. See Geikie, The Holy Land 
and the Bible, vol. II, pp. 16-19, New York, 1888. 


many fragments of pottery. One lot of these fragments 
has been restored at the United States National Museum, 
but with the rest nothing could be done. Some were un- 
glazed and undecorated, on others the glazing and decoration 
was still intact. The greater portion of the fragments dis- 
covered were left with Mr. Baurath Shick, of Jerusalem, in 
the hope that they might be useful to some future investi- 
gator. There is no record of pottery having been found 
there before, nor had Mr. Shick, the chief local archaeologist, 
knowledge of any such finds. One foot below the surface 
of the chambers, charcoal was found, indicating that the 
workmen had lighted a fire. 

The stone from this underground quarry was chosen in 
preference to that of Zion Hill or of the Mount of Olives, 
because it offers " a thick bed of the pure white ' Malake ' 
(stone), compact in quality, and durable, yet easily worked. 
This is a finely granular stone, and under the microscope is 
seen to be composed of grains of fine calcareous sand and 
organic fragments cemented together. It is not, like some 
of the limestones of the region, an actual chalk, composed 
of foraminiferal shells, but is really a fine-grained white 
marble 1 ." There is a trickling spring on the right side, 
but the water is unpleasant to the taste. 

The history of this quarry is uncertain, and though there 
is no good ground for doubting the tradition that it was 
used by Solomon, still no evidence on this point has thus 
far been discovered. It was no doubt in existence in the 
time of Herod, and is perhaps referred to by Josephus 
under the name of the Royal Caverns situated on the 
north side of the City 2 . Its first mention in modern times 
is contained in the work of Mujr ed Din, who wrote his 
Tins al Jalil in T496 3 . 

1 Dawson, p. 92. 

2 Wars, IV, 2, cited in the Survey of Western Palestine : Jerusalem. London, 
1884, p. 6. 

3 See von Hammer, Fundgruoen dcs Orients, cited by Edward Robinson, 
Later Biblical Researckes, Boston, 1856, p. 191. Palestine under the Moslems, by 


Robinson states that the quarry was open for a short 
time in the days of Ibrahim Pasha, about 1 844, and rumour 
affirmed, he says, " that his soldiers entered and found water 
within. A year or two since it was again opened, and 
Mr. Weber, a Prussian Consul at Beirut, with the Mussul- 
man whom we visited on Zion, and another, went in and 
followed the passage a long way ; but as they had neither 
lights nor compass they could not be sure of the direction 
nor of the distance. A few days afterwards, when they 
attempted to repeat the visit with lights, they found the 
entrance walled up. The Mutsellim had learned that 
Franks had entered the grotto. This account was after- 
wards confirmed to me at Beirut by Mr. Weber himself." 
The discovery of the quarry in modern times is due to 
Dr. J. T. Barclay, who accidentally found the entrance in 
t 854 1 . The origin of the name, " Cotton Grotto " (magharet 
el Kettan) or rather linen grotto, is uncertain. 

All the signs of quarrying remain, including the niches 
for the lamps necessary for lighting the subterranean 
work -place and the soot from the lamps themselves 2 . 
The method of quarrying was as follows : the rock was 
blocked out with a metal tool 3 all around; it was then 
detached by the insertion of small wooden wedges which 
when swelled with water split the rock apart. The traces 
of all these processes are perfectly plain. It may be useful 
to quote the words of an engineer in describing this 
process 4 : " The methods adopted for the horizontal quarrying 

Guy le Strange, p. 12. Compare also Itineraires de la Terre Sainte. . . . par 
E. Carmoly, Bruxelles, 1847, p. 419 ; H. Sauvaire, Histoire de Jerusalem et 
d'Hebron, Paris, 1876. 

1 The City of the Great King, or Jerusalem as it was, as it is, and as it is to be, 
by J. T. Barclay, M.D., Philadelphia, 1858, pp. 456-468. 

2 See Sir William Dawson, p. 95 

3 See "Chisel Marks in the Cotton Grotto at Jerusalem," by Baurath 
Shick, and " Note " on the same subject, by W. M. Flinders Petrie, 
Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, January, 1892, pp. 24-27. 

1 Quarrying Methods of the Ancients, by W. P. Durfee, M. AM.Soc.M.E. Tlie 
Engineer's Magazine, July, 1894, vol. VII, No. 4, pp. 474-491. 


of the granite blocks of ordinary size was to cut a narrow- 
groove two or three inches deep, parallel with a vertical 
face of rock, at such distance as the width of the desired 
stone required; in the bottom of this groove rectangular 
holes were made, about two inches long, one inch wide, and 
two inches deep ; these were usually placed about four inches 
apart ; dry wooden plugs were then driven tightly into 
these holes, and the spaces between them in the groove first 
mentioned, filled with water; and the expansion of the 
plugs as they absorbed the water split the stone in the lines 
of the holes. No more uniform and simple application 
of sufficient force for the purpose could possibly have been 
desired." Ample evidence exists of the use of this method 
of quarrying in ancient times, and its survival even to 
modern times is attested. That this method was, and is 
still, practised in Egypt is affirmed by Professor Erman, 
the best authority on ancient Egypt, who states that 
"the procedure by which the old Egyptian stonemasons 
extricated the blocks can be distinctly recognized. At 
distances, generally of about six inches, they chiselled holes 
in the rock, in the case of the larger blocks, at any rate, to 
the depth of six inches. Wooden wedges were forcibly 
driven into these holes ; these wedges were made to swell 
by being moistened, and the rock was thus made to split. 
The same process is still much employed at the present 

The use of the expansive power of wedges when soaked 
with water, is not, however, confined in modern times to 
Egypt. It is still employed at Mardin in Asiatic Turkey, 
although gunpowder has been in use there for four centuries. 
The quarries at Mardin, like those in Jerusalem, are under- 
ground, and the dressing of the stone is largely carried on 
within the quarry. Professor George P. Merrill, of the 
United States Natural Museum, has pointed out that this 
process either survived, or was rediscovered, in the last 

1 Life in Ancient Egypt, described by Adolf Erman, translated by H. M. 
Ferard. Maemillan, 1894, p. 471. 


century in New England 1 . Dr. Daniel G. Brinton informs 
me that the quarries of Westchester County, Pennsylvania, 
which have been in existence for about 140 years, are 
worked by the same method. Quarrying by fire is em- 
ployed in India and Peru, and the use of the expansive 
fprce of the wooden wedge was common in Mexico and 

Professor Graetz sums up what is known from Biblical 
sources of the quarrying work done for the Temple in these 
words: " Eighty thousand of these unhappy beings worked 
in the stone quarries day and night by the light of lamps. 
They were under the direction of a man from Biblos 
(Giblem), who understood the art of hewing heavy blocks 
from rocks, and of giving the edges the necessary shape for 
dove-tailiDg. Twenty thousand slaves removed the heavy 
blocks from the mouth of the quarry, and carried them to 
the buildiDg site 2 ." 

The Biblical statement is as follows : " And the king 
commanded, and they hewed out (brought away) great 
stones, costly stones, to lay the foundation of the house 
with wrought stone ; and Solomon's builders and Hiram's 
builders and the Gebalites did fashion them, and prepared 
the timber and the stones to build the house 3 ." 

The only place in which the word quarry actually occurs 
in the Old Testament is 1 Kings vi. 7 : " And the house, 
when it was in building, was built of stone made ready 
at the quarry : and there was neither hammer nor axe 
nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in 
building 4 ." 

It is true that the Authorized Version renders Dv^pB in 
Judges iii. 19 and 26 by quarries, but this is altered in the 
Revised Version, and the former rendering is no doubt 

1 Stones for Buildings and Decoration, p. 325. 

2 History of the Jews, by Professor H. Graetz, vol. I (Philadelphia, The 
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1891). 

3 1 Kings v. 17 and 18 ; cf. also 1 Chron. xxii. 2 and 15. 

4 The Hebrew word translated quarry is SEO. 


incorrect ; the term apparently means either stone images 
(its usual use) or localities where there was an especial 
cult of such images 1 . 

The passage in Kings, just cited, is fully explained by the 
situation of the quarry and the undoubted fact that the 
stones were quarried underground. The sound of the tool 
could certainly not be heard on the Temple Hill from the 
underground chambers at the Damascus Gate, and probably 
not in any part of the City. 

It might seem at first sight that the underground quarry- 
ing by wedges or fire would offer an explanation of the 
statement concerning the stones to be used for the altar. 
In Exod. xx. 25 (R. V.), we read, " And if thou make me 
an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones : 
for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it." 

Further considerations, however, show that this is not 
possible, and indicate that the stones referred to must 
have been boulders. This view is amply confirmed by an 
historical account in the Talmud, kindly pointed out by 
Mr. S. Schechter, of Cambridge. 

In tract Midoth 36 a, it is stated that the stones for the 
altar were from the valley of Beth-Kerem, that they dug 
down to the virgin soil (or unbroken ground), and that they 
were perfect stones not touched by iron. 

The Beth-Kerem (house of the vineyard) mentioned here 
does not seem to have been identified by the geographers. 
One naturally thinks of the passage in Jer. vi. 1, "Raise 
up a signal on Beth-hakerem" (cf. also Neh. iii. 14). 
This place is usually identified with the so-called Frank 
mountain near Jerusalem, but it is more likely that it is the 
same as the modern Am Karem (spring of the vineyard). 
On the ridge above Ain Karem are cairns which may have 
been used as beacons of old. One is 40 feet high and 

1 The authority of the Targum is, however, in favour of quarries ; still 
as it refers to a place in the neighbourhood of Gilgal, it is not especially 
significant in the present connexion. The verb bos in a number of 
Targumic passages means to quarry. 


130 feet in diameter, with a flat top measuring 40 feet 
across \ 

The late Professor Robertson Smith fully demonstrated 
the significance of cairns in connexion with the altar among 
Syrian tribes 2 , while in America some of the North Coast 
Indians set up cairns in place of the ordinary totem-posts. 

Cybus Adlek. 

1 Quarterly Statement Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881, p. 271 ; Palestine, by 
Rev. Archibald Henderson, Edinburgh, 1893, p. 190. 

2 Fundamental Institutes 0/ Semitic Religions, pp. 183 and 185 ff.