2,000 year old Vessels Salvaged from a Cave near the Lebanese Border

Last weekend, archaeologists climbed to a small cave where several intact vessels dating to the Hellenistic period were salvaged and lowered over 30 meters to safety.

    For 20 years Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, a specialist and senior lecturer on Land of Israel Studies at the Zefat Academic College, has been conducting a survey to locate caves once used as shelters and hiding places. In 2017 Shivtiel spotted a cave high on the face of a sheer cliff near the Lebanese border. Aided by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Shivtiel was surprised to discover that the cave contained multiple ancient vessels, several of which were completely intact.

    Last weekend Dr. Danny Syon, senior archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), joined Dr. Shivtiel to conduct a complex salvage expedition and reclaim the abandoned vessels. Despite the numerous challenges posed in such an excavation, and with the help of Vladimir Boslov and Boaz Langford of the Israel Cave Research Center of the Hebrew University as well as volunteers from the Israel Cave Explorers Club, the excavation was a success!

 D. Syon (at right) and Y. Shivtiel in the cave. Photo, Omri Gester.

D. Syon (at right) and Y. Shivtiel in the cave. Photo, Omri Gester.

    To reach the cave the team climbed nearly 100ft up the face of the cliff on ropes. Once inside, and with only about 3m by 1.5m of space, the team located and excavated two intact wine amphora, several storage jars, a bowl, a cooking pot, two juglets, and multiple broken pot sherds belonging to several other jars. Meanwhile below, because of the cave’s proximity to the Lebanese boarder, soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force stood guard.

    One by one, the ancient ceramics were wrapped in protective plastic, placed in padded bags, and lowered 100ft back down the face of the cliff. From there they were carried to the vehicles nearby and transported to an IAA facility for restoration and research.

 Lowering the finds. Photo, Yinon Shivtiel.

Lowering the finds. Photo, Yinon Shivtiel.

    The great mystery surrounding this discovery is how the cave’s inhabitants were able to bring the vessels into the cave in the first place. The entrance is tucked under an overhang and extremely difficult to enter with free hands, let alone carrying a full storage jar. Dr. Danny Syon of the IAA speculates, “Maybe an easier way that once existed disappeared over time.”

 In the cave. Photo, Omri Gester.

In the cave. Photo, Omri Gester.

    At any rate, the presence of cooking and serving vessels indicate that whoever brought the supplies into the cave intended to stay for a while. Dr. Syon states, “We assume that whoever hid here escaped some violent event that occurred in the area” and while his first analysis places the vessels somewhere in the Hellenistic period, between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE, he continues, “Perhaps by dating the vessels more closely, we shall be able to tie them to a know[n] historic event.”

The salvage of the ancient finds from the cave was the most complex operation I took part in within the framework of the Refuge Caves Survey that I have been conducting for 20 years. The cooperation between the Zefat Academic College, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Cave Research Center again proved to work perfectly.
— Dr. Yinon Shivtiel

Title Photo Credit: Yoav Negev

Video Credit: Doron Hirschberg.

Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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