Three hikers have discovered a cache of rare coins and silver and bronze objects 2,300 years old in a cave in one of the important discoveries in northern Israel in recent years, according to Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The uncovering of the treasure chest came one month after the discovery of the gold treasure by divers off the coast of Caesarea.
Two weeks ago Reuven Zakai, his son Hen Zakai and their friend Lior Halony, members of the Israeli Caving Club, set out to make preliminary preparations for a visit by the club in one of the largest and well-hidden stalactite caves in the north, the IAA said Monday.
The three lowered themselves down in the ground, into the stalactite cave, wriggled through a narrow passage in front of the cave and wandered and crawled between the different parts of the cave for several hours.
The youngest member of the group, Hen, 21, says he forced his way into one of the narrow niches when he suddenly caught sight of a shining object. He discovered two ancient silver coins, which it later turned out had been minted during the reign of Alexander the Great who conquered the Land of Israel at the beginning of the Hellenistic period (late fourth century BCE).
Several pieces of silver jewelry were found alongside the coins, among them rings, bracelets and earrings, which were apparently concealed in the cave, together inside a cloth pouch some 2,300 years ago.
“The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander, a time when the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander’s heirs following his death,” IAA archaeologists said.
“Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it,” they added.
The hikers realized they found an important archaeological discovery and reported it to inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the IAA, whose officials later entered the cave together with members of the Israeli Caving Club and confirmed the evidence of human habitation in the cave over extended periods.
At this point, they believe they have found artifacts in the cave that first date to the Chalcolithic period c. 6,000 years ago; from the Early Bronze Age c. 5,000 years ago, the Biblical period 3,000 years ago and the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago.
Numerous pottery vessels were also discovered in the cave.In some regions of the cave ancient pottery vessels were found on which stalagmites had developed.Some of the pottery vessels had bonded with the limestone sediments and cannot be separated.
The finds in the cave will allow the researchers – archaeologists and geologists alike – to accurately date both the archaeological finds and the process of stalactite development.
Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery commended the three members of the caving club, saying, “They understood the importance of the archaeological discovery and exhibited exemplary civic behavior by immediately bringing these impressive archaeological finds to the attention of the IAA.After the gold treasure from Caesarea, this is the second time in the past month that citizens have reported significant archeological finds and we welcome this important trend.
“Thanks to these citizens’ awareness, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority will be able to expand the existing archaeological knowledge about the development of society and culture in the Land of Israel in antiquity.”
Two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings (probably made of silver) and a small stone weight. Clara Amit, courtesy of the IAA