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Rare Discovery of 3,500-Year-Old Objects

Archaeologists have discovered a rare treasure of ancient vessels intact in a natural hollow in bedrock in the Lower Galilee, southeast of Haifa.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/7/2010, 11:07 AM / Last Update: 6/7/2010, 11:33 AM

Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists have discovered a rare treasure of intact ancient vessels in a natural hollow in bedrock in the Lower Galilee, southeast of Haifa. The bedrock was exposed in Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavations prior to the installation of a northern gas pipeline by the Israel Natural Gas Lines Company.

The area has revealed several archaeological finds, but the latest discovery was surprising because the 3,500-year-old cultic vessels were found intact. The vessels were used in pagan rituals before the People of Israel reached the Holy Land from Egypt.

“Again and again, every time the excavators thought they reached the bottom of the cavity, a new and fascinating layer of complete vessels was discovered beneath the one that was previously dismantled,” the IAA announced.

The pagan residents then living in what is now Israel would descend into the rock-hollow by way of two broad, hewn steps. Inside the cavity, archeologists found whole vessels that were piled one atop of the other, along with several broken vessels.

Among the finds that were recovered were a cultic vessel that was used for burning incense, a sculpted face of a woman that was part of a cultic cup used in dedicating a libation to a god, and goblets and bowls with high bases and tableware that was intended for eating and drinking.

Other vessels that were found had been brought from Mycenae in Greece, including a storage vessel for precious oils – evidence of the ancient trade relations that existed with Greece.

Archaeologists Uzi Ad and Dr. Edwin van den Brink, the excavation directors said that the discovery is extremely rare.  In most excavations fragments of pottery vessels are found, whereas the latest find allowed the unbroken vessels to be removed from the rock-hollow intact.

Each object was removed with the greatest of care, was drawn and documented and revealed beneath it a wealth of other finds. The vessels are numbered and their precise location in the heap is recorded for future research. According to the archaeologists, it is obvious that considerable time and thought were invested in the placement of the vessels in the rock-hollow, as evidence by the different kinds of vessels that were buried separately.

Van den Brink and Ad have various theories regarding the purpose of the rock-hollow. “In this period, before the Bible, the children of Israel were still in Egypt or the desert, and it would appear that the vessels were used in a pagan cult that worshipped idols. During this period it was customary that each city had a temple of its own where special cultic vessels were used.”

One of the theories is that the vessels were buried in order to protect them from the impending destruction during a battle with a conquering force at the end of the Canaanite period.

Another possibility is that the cultic vessels that were employed in the rituals practiced in the temple were buried after they were no longer used. Since these artifacts were part of the ritual ceremonies a special place was allocated for them and unlike other vessels they were not discarded as trash.