The tombs uncovered near Andromeda Hill in Jaffa belong to pagan worshipers buried next to domesticated pigs, according to the latest findings revealed during excavation works at the site.
For the past year, the site has become a political and religious hotspot, with ultra-Orthodox frequently protesting what they claimed was the desecration of Jewish graves.
The demonstrations often deteriorated into physical and verbal violence, with protesters hurling stones at police officers and security forces arresting dozens of rioters.
The excavation site has more than once been the target of vandalism, and a number of Israel Antiquities Authority officials have even received anonymous threats.
The Authority has already stated in the past that the graves most probably do not belong to Jews – but were largely ignored. Now, with the excavation work complete, they can finally base their assertion on findings that "unequivocally prove a Pagan population lived in the area."
'Remains of domesticated swines'
According to Authority officials, the controversial cemetery was uncovered back in 1993. Some 30 graves, most of which were carved out of gravel, were identified and ascribed to the Persian to Byzantine eras.
The discovery of the graves stirred a storm among religious elements, who claimed the excavations violated the respect for the dead.
Ultra-orthodox riot in Jaffa (Archive photo: Yaron Brener)
"Human bones and skulls are rolling like manure in the field, and no one cares," wrote members of United Torah Judaism in a letter sent to then Minister of Religious Services Yakov Margi, demanding that he halts the construction work at the site.
The latest findings, however, seem to refute former claims of the existence of Jewish graves. According to Yossi Levi, the central district archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, many pig bones were identified among the remains.
"These are the remains of domesticated swines, which were placed in the grave in honor of the buried. This tradition was widespread among Pagan populations throughout ancient Israel," he explained.
Now that excavation works have been completed, the remains were transferred to a certified representative at the Ministry of Religious Services, and will be brought to burial at an alternate location.
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