Visitors at the Youth Hostel of the Druze village of Peki’in in northern Israel have not been aware until this week of a unique archaeological discovery nearby: a stalactite burial cave from 6,500 years ago, the largest of its kind in Israel, with a wealth of ancient artifacts – decorated catacombs, complete with burial offerings such as jars, ritual vessels, and flint implements.
A festive ceremony that took place at the hostel on Sunday, in the presence of the head of the Peki’in local council Dr. Swed Swed, Israel Antiquities Authority Director Israel Hasson, and CEO of Youth Hostels in Israel (ANA) Uri Dagol, inaugurated a new archaeological exhibition that tells the story of the cave and the people who were buried there. The exhibition represents a partnership between the IAA and the ANA network, which are currently examining the broadening and deepening of their cooperation to include all the youth hostels of the chain in Israel, to make the fascinating treasures of the past accessible to the public.
The new exhibition in Peki’in displays for the first time ritual objects, flint tools, beads, ossuaries (stone coffins), a burial jar originating in the Golan, and more. These reflect the burial customs of the people who inhabited the country 6,500 years ago, their beliefs and their spiritual lives.
It is interesting to note that the findings also attest to the important status of women during that period. The main communities in the Chalcolithic period (in which copper was predominant in metalworking technology, but before it was discovered that adding tin to copper formed bronze) were found mainly in the northern Negev, in the valleys and on the Golan, and burial grounds were found mainly on the coastal plain.
Until the discovery of the Peki’in cave during the expansion of the Peki’in road in 1995, little had been known about the settlements and their burial grounds in the Galilee, particularly in Upper Galilee.
According to the researchers who excavated the cave on behalf of the IAA, Dr. Zvika Gal, Dr. Dina Shalem and Howard Smithline, more than 600 people were buried in the large cave. They surmised that the Galilee during the Chalcolithic period was more significant than had been thought until now.
Recently, DNA tests conducted by Tel Aviv University researchers in the bones of 22 people buried in the cave revealed that they were a mixture of the local population with migrants from today’s Iran and Turkey.