The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) held a press conference in Jerusalem ahead of Pesach (Passover), the holiday celebrating how Jews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and revealed new archaeological finds demonstrating that an Egyptian administrative center existed in the region 3,400 years ago.
"The Israelites left Egypt; however, it seems that even years after their return Egypt did not leave the Israelites and their descendants," said archaeologist Amir Ganor of the IAA regarding the new finds.
The discovery was made by the IAA's Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, which located an underground cave with signs of plundering in the Tel Halif region.
Thieves had started looting 3,000-year-old pottery vessels from the site, but the IAA was able to prevent further damage to the cave and excavate the valuable archaeological artifacts still in the cave.
Most of the artifacts found in the cave dated to the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500 BCE) and the Iron Age (1000 BCE). More than 300 pottery vessels of different types were found in the cave, many of them having survived intact.
Aside from pottery the find included dozens of pieces of jewelry made of bronze, shells and faience, unique vessels fashioned from yellowish alabaster, seals, seal impressions and cosmetic vessels.
"Among the many artifacts that were discovered, most of which are characteristic of the Judahite culture in the south of the country, we found dozens of stone seals, some of which are shaped in the form of a winged beetle (scarabs) and bear carved symbols and images typical of the Egyptian culture which prevailed in the country in the Late Bronze Age," said archaeologist Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
Ganor noted that "some of the seals were fashioned on semi-precious stones that come from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula."
“Most of the scarab seals found in the excavation date to the fifteenth - fourteenth centuries BCE. During this period Canaan was ruled by Egypt," said Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel Museum.
"The names of kings appeared on some of the seals. Among other things, we can identify a sphinx lying opposite the name of the pharaoh Thutmose who reigned from about 1504–1450 BCE. Another scarab seal bears the name of Amenhotep who reigned from about 1386–1349 BCE. Still another scarab depicts Ptah, the principal god of the city of Memphis," Ben-Tor revealed.
Remarking on the Egyptian nature of the find, Ganor said "it is true the Israelites left Egypt but the evidence from the excavation in the cave shows the Egyptians did not leave the Israelites and their descendants. This has been attested to in archaeological excavations where we uncovered evidence from many years after the 'Exodus' which reflects the influence of Egyptian culture on the Judahite residents of the country."
Some of the objects were created in Egypt and brought to Israel by Jews or merchants, according to an examination of them. Yet other objects were crafted in Israel imitating Egyptian techniques and motifs while using indigenous materials.
"During the Late Bronze Age Egypt was an extremely powerful empire and imposed its authority throughout our region. Egyptian authority was not only in manifested in political and military control, but was also a strong cultural influence that contributed to shaping society. Along with an administration of Egyptian officials in Israel, a group of local elite evolved in the country, who adopted many of the Egyptian customs and their artistry," said Dr. Amir Golani of the IAA.
The artifacts have been transferred to IAA laboratories for further treatment and analysis.
Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority; Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority