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‘Once-in-a-Lifetime Discovery’: Israeli Archeologists Reveal 3,300 Year-Old Burial Cave Off Mediterranean Coastline

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The Israel Antiquities Authority team first enter the cave. Film: Uzi Rotstein, Israel Antiquities Authority

A 3,300 year-old intact burial cave was discovered south of Tel Aviv along the coast off the Mediterranean Sea, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Sunday.

The cave, dating back to the period of Rameses II, regarded by some scholars as the Pharaoh of the biblical exodus from Egypt, was discovered in the Palmahim Beach National Park as a mechanical digger broke through its roof during development works by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

As Israeli archeologists walked down a ladder into the site, they saw what they described as a cave “frozen in time,” featuring several dozens of intact pottery and bronze artifacts as they would have been arranged in a burial ceremony, about 3,300 years ago. During that period, vessels were presented as burial offerings for the deceased in the belief that they would serve the person in the afterlife. The burial cave chamber was hewn into a bedrock in the form of a square with a central pillar supporting its ceiling.

In the burial chamber, the archeologists found deep and shallow bowls, some red-painted, footed chalices, cooking pots, storage jars and oil lamps for lighting. The archeologists believe that some of the storage jars were produced along the coast of Syria and Lebanon. Smaller vessels, mainly jugs and juglets, used to store and trade small amounts of expensive commodities, originated from Tyre, Sidon, and other ports along the Lebanese coast, whilst other pottery vessels came from Cyprus.

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“This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” exclaimed Eli Yannai, a Bronze Age expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “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.”

Yannai pointed out that that as the cave was sealed, and not looted in later periods, archeologists will be able to use modern scientific methods, to retrieve more insight from the artifacts and from the residues extant on the vessels, for example, organic remains that are not visible to the naked eye.

Among the finds in the cave, which date back to the thirteenth century BCE, the archeologists also discovered bronze arrowheads and spear tips.

“In this period, in the long reign of the Nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty Pharaoh Rameses II, the Egyptian Empire controlled Canaan, and the Egyptian administration provided secure conditions for extensive international trade,” Yannai said.

Since the burial cave was discovered, one looter or more entered the site, and stole some vessels, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

“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,” said Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Raya Shurky, the Director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. “Unfortunately, despite the guard set up, a few items were looted from the cave before it was sealed up, an issue that is now being investigated.”

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