June 30, 2009--
Inside a newly discovered underground chamber
, Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal points to an unseen carving that he suspects may be a Zodiac sign that dates back to the Roman period around the first century A.D.
The largest human-made cave in Israel
, the 1-acre (0.4-hectare) space in the Jordan Valley is thought to have begun as a quarry. In subsequent centuries it may have served as a monastery and a hideout for persecuted Christians or the Roman army, Zertal said.
Archaeologists working in the valley found the cave this past March when they came across a hole in a rock face. When they entered the chamber, the researchers found a huge hall lined with 22 thick pillars--giving the "impression of a palace," said Zertal, of the University of Haifa.
"We didn't have much lightit was complete darkness," he said. But "even with the torches, we saw how glorious it looks."
Photograph by Menahem Kahana, AFP, Getty Images