Photo Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
An IAA archeologist inspecting vessels that were exposed in the Rameses II cave uncovered in Palmahim National Park.

An exceptional discovery from the time of Rameses II, the Pharaoh associated with the Biblical Exodus from Egypt, was discovered last Wednesday when a mechanical digger penetrated the roof of a cave in the Palmahim Beach National Park, a 35-minute drive south of Tel Aviv, in the course of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority development works. Dror Sitron, Israel Antiquities Authority inspector, was the first to discover the cave.

The IAA archaeologists lowered a ladder into the vast underground space that appeared to have frozen in time: a square cave hewn in the rock with a central supporting pillar. Several dozens of intact pottery and bronze artifacts were laid out in the cave, exactly the way they had been arranged at the burial ceremony, some 3,300 years ago. The vessels were burial offerings that accompanied the deceased to the afterlife.

An IAA archeologist climbing down into the Rameses II cave uncovered in Palmahim National Park. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
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Dr. Eli Yannai, Israel Antiquities Authority Bronze Age expert, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery! It is extremely rare to come across such an Indiana Jones set—a cave floor laid out with vessels untouched for 3,300 years, since the Late Bronze Age, about the time of the powerful King Rameses II.”

“The fact that the cave was sealed, and not looted in later periods, will allow us to use modern scientific methods to retrieve much information from the artifacts and the residues in the vessels, such as organic remains that are not visible to the naked eye. The cave may offer a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funeral customs. It contains tens of pottery vessels of different forms and sizes, including deep and shallow bowls, some red-painted; footed chalices; cooking pots; storage jars; and lamps,” he added.

Vessels that were exposed in the Rameses II cave uncovered in Palmahim National Park. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Yannai speculated that some of the jars were manufactured along the coast of Syria and Lebanon. Smaller vessels, mainly jugs and juglets, which were used to store smaller quantities of expensive commodities, were probably imported from Tyre, Sidon, and other ports along the Phoenician coast, while other pottery vessels were likely imported from Cyprus.

Bronze arrowheads or spearheads were also found in the cave, and judging by the way they had been laid out, they were probably assembled in a quiver made of organic material that did not survive the passage of time.

Vessels that were exposed in the Rameses II cave uncovered in Palmahim National Park. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The finds in the cave date to the thirteenth century BCE (Late Bronze Age IIB),” said Dr. Yannai. “In this period, during the long reign of the Nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty of the Pharaoh Rameses II, the Egyptian Empire controlled Canaan, and the Egyptian administration provided secure conditions for extensive international trade. These economic and social processes are reflected in the burial cave that contains pottery vessels imported from Cyprus and from Ugarit on the northern Syrian coast, as well as from nearby coastal towns, including Jaffa, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Tel Ajjul, clearly showing that the population of Yavneh-Yam (Palmahim Beach) played an integral role in the lively trade along the coast.”

Vessels that were exposed in the Rameses II cave uncovered in Palmahim National Park. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Once it had been discovered, the burial cave was disturbed by looters who stole some vessels. The case is under investigation.

According to Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Raya Shurky, Director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, “the discovery in the Palmahim National Park is unique and astonishing. The news of the discovery of the cave spread like wildfire in the academic world, and we have already received requests from many scholars to take part in the planned archaeological excavation. Unfortunately, despite the guard that had been posted there, a few items were looted from the cave before it was sealed up, an issue that is now being investigated. Within a few days, we will formulate a plan to carry out the research and the protection of this unique site, which is a feast for the archaeological world and scholars of the ancient history of the land of Israel.”

The Palmahim Beach National Park. / Shlomi Amran, Israel Nature and Parks Authority
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David writes news at JewishPress.com.