Photo Credit: Yinon Shivtiel, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
Evacuation of the finds from the cave

Large wine jars, a cooking pot and other pottery vessels, more than 2,000 years old, were salvaged over the weekend in a complex operation from a cave on a cliff in a nature reserve near Israel’s northern border.

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

Climbing up to the cave / Photo credit: Yoav Negev, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
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Last weekend, Dr. Danny Syon, senior archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority joined Dr. Yinon Shivtiel to carry out an archaeological excavation of the cave and salvage the vessels so that they can be studied.

The cave excavation / Photo credit: Yinon Shivtiel, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

The salvage of the fragile, 2,000 year old finds was made possible with 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 Lebanese border, the operation was coordinated with the IDF, which generously extended its help. The excavation was carried out under a permit from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The cave excavation / Photo credit: Omri Gester, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavators climbed up ropes into the cave and in a strenuous, coordinated 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 30 yards over rope slides controlled from below, and reached the base of the cliff safely. The team carried the finds on foot to their cars and delivered them to an IAA facility for restoration and research.

Dr Danny Syon (right) and Dr Yinon Shivtiel in the cave / Photo credit: Omri Gaster, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Danny Syon of the IAA, “at 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 there had escaped some violent event that occurred in the area. Perhaps by dating the vessels more closely, we would be able to connect them to a known historic event. It’s mindboggling how the vessels were carried up into the cave, which is extremely difficult to access. Maybe an easier way that once existed has disappeared over time.”

Dr. Yinon Shivtiel of the Tsfat Academic College said, “The salvage of the ancient finds from the cave was the most complex operation I took part in the entire Refuge Caves Survey that I have been conducting for 20 years.”

“The cooperation between the Tsfat Academic College, the IAA, and the Israel Cave Research Center proved once again to work perfectly,” Dr. Shivtiel said.

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