Photo Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
Removing the swords from the crevice where they were hidden.

An astounding discovery has been made in the Judean Desert: a cache of four Roman swords, perfectly preserved for over 1,900 years, along with a shafted weapon, was unearthed in a hidden crevice within a cave situated in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. These remarkable weapons are believed to have been concealed by Judean rebels after they had been seized as spoils from the Roman army. The researchers express their amazement, stating, “Finding even a single sword is a rare occurrence, so discovering four was nothing short of a dream come true.”

The sword stashed away in a hidden spot in the cave. / Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

A press conference was held Wednesday morning to unveil these rare artifacts and to launch the new book New Studies in the Archaeology of the Judean Desert: Collected Papers, which is dedicated to the fresh archaeological discoveries made by the Judean Desert Survey Project.


The weapons were found inside a secluded cave tucked away in a remote and inaccessible area north of Ein Gedi, inside the Judean Desert Nature Reserve, under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Authority. Remarkably, some fifty years ago, this same cave had yielded a stalactite with a fragmentary ink inscription in ancient Hebrew script from the First Temple period.

The cave near Ein Gedi where the swords were found. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority 

Recently, a team consisting of Dr. Asaf Gayer from the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Ariel University, geologist Boaz Langford from the Institute of Earth Sciences and the Cave Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Shai Halevi, a photographer from the Israel Antiquities Authority, visited the cave. Their objective was to photograph the Paleo-Hebrew inscription on the stalactite using multispectral photography to potentially reveal hidden parts of the inscription that were not visible to the naked eye. During their exploration of the upper level of the cave, Asaf Gayer stumbled upon a remarkably well-preserved Roman javelin, concealed in a deep and narrow crevice. In an adjacent niche, pieces of worked wood were discovered, ultimately identified as components of the swords’ scabbards.

Removing the swords from the cave. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority 

The researchers promptly reported their discovery to the IAA Archaeological Survey Team, which has been conducting a systematic scientific project to explore the caves of the Judean Desert. Over the past six years, this project, initiated by the IAA in collaboration with the Ministry of Heritage and the Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, has investigated hundreds of caves and conducted 24 archaeological excavations in selected caves, to safeguard these archaeological treasures from looters.

At work in the cave.. / Matan Toledano, Israel Antiquities Authority

Asaf Gayer and Boaz Langford conducted a thorough survey of all the rock crevices. To their astonishment, they discovered the four Roman swords concealed in an almost inaccessible crevice on the upper level of the cave. These swords were exceptionally well-preserved, with three of them still sheathed in their wooden scabbards, and leather strips, wooden pieces, and metal artifacts related to the weapons were also found in the crevice. These swords boasted finely crafted handles made of wood or metal. Three of the swords had blade lengths of 60–65 cm, identifying them as Roman spatha swords, while the fourth, with a shorter 45 cm blade, was identified as a ring-pommel sword. The swords were carefully extracted from the rock crevice and transported to climate-controlled labs at the IAA for preservation and conservation. Initial examination confirmed that these swords were standard weaponry used by Roman soldiers stationed in Judea during the Roman era.

At work in the cave. / Oriya Amichai, Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Eitan Klein, one of the directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project, remarked, “The concealment of these swords and the pilum in deep crevices within this isolated cave north of Ein Gedi suggests that these weapons were likely acquired as booty from Roman soldiers or the battlefield. The Judean rebels purposefully hid them, perhaps to avoid detection by Roman authorities. Our research is just beginning, and we aim to unravel the mystery of who owned these swords, as well as the circumstances surrounding their manufacture and the historical events that led to their concealment in the cave, possibly during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE.”

Israel Antiquity Authority researchers examining the swords. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

An archaeological excavation was conducted inside the cave by the IAA after the discovery of the swords, led by Eitan Klein, Oriya Amichay, Hagay Hamer, and Amir Ganor. The cave was meticulously excavated, revealing artifacts from both the Chalcolithic period (approximately 6,000 years ago) and the Roman period (approximately 2,000 years ago). A Bar-Kokhba bronze coin from the time of the Revolt was found near the cave entrance, potentially indicating the period when the cave was used for concealing the weapons.

Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Escozido and preserver Lena Kuperschmidt remove the cover from the swords at a press conference at the National Library of Israel. / Israel Antiquities Authority


Amir Ganor, Director of the Antiquities Looting Prevention Unit at the IAA and one of the Directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project, reflected on the significance of this discovery: “The Judean Desert continues to amaze us. After six years of surveys and excavations, during which we systematically recorded over 800 caves along a 170 km cliff line, we continue to unearth new treasures. Unfortunately, we encountered many caves that had been looted since 1947. It is chilling to think of the historical knowledge that would have been lost had the looters reached these amazing artifacts before the archaeologists. This time, thanks to the national project initiated by the IAA, we managed to beat the looters and preserve these fascinating finds for the benefit of the public and researchers worldwide.”

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