2,000 year old pottery salvaged from cave on Lebanese border

During operation intact vessels slid 30m down sheer cliff on ropes in nature reserve.

Mordechai Sones,

Dr. Danny Syon (R) and Dr. Yinon Shivtiel hold find
Dr. Danny Syon (R) and Dr. Yinon Shivtiel hold find
צילום: Omri Gester

Large wine jars, a cooking pot, and other pottery vessels over 2,000 years old were salvaged over the weekend in a complex operation from a cave on a cliff in a nature reserve near the northern border. The operation was a joint effort of the Zefat Academic College, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Cave Research Center, and the Israel Cave Explorers Club.

In 2017, Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, a speleologist and senior lecturer in Land of Israel Studies at the Zefat Academic College, conducted a survey in Western Galilee to locate caves that served as shelters and hiding places, aided by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. In the course of the survey he was surprised to discover a cave high on a sheer cliff, under an overhang, that contained ancient pottery vessels.

Last weekend Israel Antiquities Authority senior archaeologist Dr. Danny Syon joined Dr. Yinon Shivtiel to carry out an archaeological excavation of the cave and salvage the vessels so that they can be studied. Salvaging the fragile 2,000 year old finds was made possible by the cooperation of Vladimir Boslov and Boaz Langford of the Israel Cave Research Center of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well as volunteers from the Israel Cave Explorers Club. Due to the proximity of the cave to the Lebanon border, the operation was coordinated with the IDF, which extended generous help. The excavation was carried out under permit from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Discovered vessels
צילום: Yinon Shivtiel

The excavators climbed up ropes into the cave and in a coordinated and strenuous effort in a confined space succeeded in carrying out an archaeological excavation, in the course of which two intact wine amphoras (jars), several storage jars, a bowl, a cooking pot, two juglets, and broken shards of several more jars were dug out. The fragile vessels were wrapped in a protective plastic sheet and lowered in padded bags some 30m over rope slides controlled from below and reached the base of the cliff safely. The team carried the finds on foot to the cars and they were taken to an Israel Antiquities Authority facility for restoration and research.

According to Dr. Danny Syon of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “as a first impression, the finds seem to date to the Hellenistic period - between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. Considering that cooking and serving vessels were found, it would appear that those who brought them planned to live there for a while. We assume that whoever hid here escaped some violent event that occurred in the area. Perhaps by dating the vessels more closely, we shall be able to tie them to a known historic event. It's mind boggling how the vessels were carried to the cave, which is extremely difficult to access. Maybe an easier way that once existed disappeared over time.”

According to Dr. Yinon Shivtiel of the Zefat Academic College, “the salvage of the ancient finds from the cave was the most complex operation I took part in within the framework of the Refuge Caves Survey that I have been conducting for 20 years. The cooperation between the Zefat Academic College, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Cave Research Center again proved to work perfectly.”

Accessing the cave
צילום: Yoav Negev

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