Archaeologists in Israel have discovered an “exceptional” cave that ancient humans sealed up 3,300 years ago, containing grave goods and possibly human burials, just yards from a beach south of Tel Aviv.
The use of the cave dates back to a time when the ancient Egyptians, led by Ramesses II (also spelled Ramses and Rameses) — who ruled from about 1279 BC to 1213 BC — ruled what is now Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement. During the time of Ramesses II, Egypt controlled an empire stretching from modern-day Sudan to Syria.
Construction workers operating a mechanical excavator in Palmahim Beach National Park discovered the cave when the machine unexpectedly entered the cave’s roof. Archaeologists with the IAA were then called to the scene. The team descended a ladder into the dark cave that “appeared to have been frozen in time,” containing carefully laid out ceramic and bronze goods — artifacts often associated with burial ceremonies, the statement said. Such goods were thought to have aided the deceased in the afterlife.
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The archaeologists found dozens of earthenware jars, including deep and shallow bowls, some painted red, as well as chalices (wide-base cups), cooking pots, storage jars and lamps for lighting, the team said in the statement.
Some of the crafts in the cave were not local. Some of the pottery vessels were manufactured in Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, Eli Yannai, an archaeologist with the IAA, said in the statement. The team plans to analyze any organic remains on the ships to learn more about what may have been inside.
The cave also contained bronze arrowheads which, based on their orientation, were likely contained in a quiver that has since decomposed.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Yannai said in the statement. “It is extremely rare to come across an ‘Indiana Jones film set’ – a cave floor constructed with ships that have remained untouched for 3,300 years, since the late Bronze Age, around the time of the mighty King Rameses II.”
He added that because the cave was sealed, much of it was not looted. “The cave can provide a complete picture of late Bronze Age burial customs,” he said.
It is not clear from the IAA statement whether any human remains were found in the cave, or whether any inscriptions or artifacts were found that could potentially identify the person(s). The IAA has resealed and guarded the cave since its discovery, but it appears to have been looted recently. An investigation is now underway to find out who the looters were, the statement said.
Meanwhile, archaeologists gear up to analyze the cave’s unique preservation. “News of the cave’s discovery spread like wildfire in academia, and we have already received requests from many scholars to participate in the planned archaeological dig,” Eli Eskosido, director general of the IAA, and Raya Shurky, director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in the statement.
Originally published on Live Science.