A team of archaeologists was essentially transported back in time when it entered an untouched 3,300-year-old cave at the Palmachim National Park, just south of Tel Aviv, last week. The vast array of discovered items date to the Late Bronze Age, close to or during the rein of the biblically notorious Ramses II.
Use of the cave dates to a time when the ancient Egyptians, led by Ramesses II (also spelled Ramses and Rameses) — who reigned from about 1279 B.C. to 1213 B.C. — ruled what is now Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement. During the time of Ramesses II, Egypt controlled an empire that stretched from modern-day Sudan to Syria.
Construction workers operating a mechanical digger in Palmahim Beach National Park discovered the cave when the machine unexpectedly penetrated the roof of the cave. Archaeologists with the IAA were then called to the scene. The team descended a ladder into the dark cave that “appeared to have frozen in time,” with carefully laid-out ceramic and bronze goods — artifacts often associated with burial ceremonies, the statement said. Such goods were thought to have helped the deceased in the afterlife.
The archaeologists found dozens of pottery vessels, including deep and shallow bowls, some painted with red, as well as chalices (goblets with wide bases), cooking pots, storage jars, and lamps for lighting, the team said in the statement. “Simply amazing,” said IAA’s Uzi Rothschild repeatedly as “Wow, wow,” is heard in the background. “There are jars inside the jars! Wow!” said another voice. “Unbelievable!” said Rothschild.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime find! It’s not every day that you walk onto an Indiana Jones set — a cave with tools on the floor that haven’t been touched in 3,300 years,” IAA Bronze Age expert Eli Yannai said in a press release.
Some of the cave’s crafts weren’t local. A few of the pottery vessels were manufactured in Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, Eli Yannai, an archaeologist with the IAA, said in the statement. The team plans to analyze any organic remnants on the vessels to learn more about what may have been inside them.
The cave also contained bronze arrowheads that, based on their orientation, were likely in a quiver that has since decomposed.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Yannai said in the statement. “It is extremely rare to come across an ‘Indiana Jones film set’ — a cave floor laid out with vessels untouched for 3,300 years, since the Late Bronze Age, about the time of the powerful King Rameses II.”
He added that because the cave was sealed, much of it was not looted. “The cave may furnish a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funerary customs,” he said.
It’s not clear from the IAA statement if any human remains, or if any inscriptions or artifacts that could possibly identify the individual(s), were found in the cave. The IAA has resealed and guarded the cave since its discovery, but it appears that it was recently looted. An investigation is now underway to find out who the looters were. Unfortunately, some items were stolen before the resealing was completed, according to IAA head Eli Eskozido.
Meanwhile, archaeologists are gearing up to analyze the cave’s unique preservation. “The news of the discovery of the cave spread like wildfire in the academic world, and we have already received requests from many scholars to take part in the planned archaeological excavation,” Eli Eskosido, director-general of the IAA, and Raya Shurky, director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said in the statement.