An engraving on a pillar in the newfound cave could be a Zodiac sign dating to around the first century B.C. or the first century A.D., Zertal said in June 2009. In addition to this symbol, archaeologists found 31 Christian crosses, Roman letters, and what looks to be a Roman army pennant etched into the cave's columns.
The crosses, dated to no later than A.D. 600, suggest to Zertal that in later years the chamber may have been used as a hiding place. For example, before Roman Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity in 313, Christians were often persecuted in the empire.
But archaeologist Jodi Magness, who was not involved with the cave's excavation, said the uncertainty of the carvings' dates makes it difficult to say whether Christians took refuge there.
"I would want to see some hard evidence that you can date that Christian presence to before Constantine," said Magness, who holds a senior endowed chair in the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.
"How do we know crosses [were] put on walls before 313?"
Photograph courtesy University of Haifa