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Israel uncovers rare Ramses II-era burial cave

September 18, 2022

One archaeologist described the 3,300-year-old chamber as like being "on the set of an Indiana Jones movie." The structure, complete with dozens of intact pottery and bronze artifacts, was found by accident.

A photo of pottery discovered inside an ancient burial chamber in Israel
Images from the burial cave show several pots and vessels dating back to Ramses IIImage: picture alliance/dpa/Israelische Altertumsbehörde

Archaeologists in Israel on Sunday said they discovered an intact burial chamber that dates back to the time of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II.

The country's antiquity authority said the cave, which is filled with dozens of pottery pieces and bronze artifacts, was found by accident at a popular beach at the Palmahim National Park.

A mechanical digger hit the roof of the structure, allowing archaeologists using a ladder to descend into the manmade square cave.

The authority described how the space appeared to have "frozen in time." 

Cave unopened for 3,300 years

Several dozen pieces of intact pottery and bronze artifacts — including arrow and spearheads — were laying in the cave, exactly as they were arranged in the Bronze-Age era burial ceremony.

"These vessels were burial offerings that accompanied the deceased in the belief that they would serve the dead in the afterlife," the authority said.

In a video released by the authority, archaeologists can be seen flashing torches on dozens of pots in a variety of forms and sizes, dating back to the reign of the ancient Egyptian king who died in 1213 B.C.

Archaeologist David Gelman described how "burial caves are rare as it is, and finding one that hasn't been touched since it was first used 3,300 years ago is something you rarely ever find."

Another archaeologist Eli Jannai described the find as "a once-in-a-lifetime discovery" that felt like being "on the set of an Indiana Jones movie."

He told Haaretz newspaper that the chamber appeared to have served as a family tomb.

Skeleton gives clue to deceased

At least one relatively intact skeleton was also found in two rectangular plots in the corner of the cave.

The bodies buried there were not well preserved, so DNA analysis was not possible — but it can be assumed that they were local coastal residents.

"The fact that these people were buried along with weapons, including entire arrows, shows that these people might have been warriors, perhaps they were guards on ships —  which may have been the reason they were able to obtain vessels from all around the area," Gelman said.

The authority said that after the discovery, several artifacts were stolen.

The space has now been resealed and investigations into the theft are underway.

Ramses II controlled Canaan, a territory that roughly encompassed modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The provenance of the pottery vessels — Cyprus, Lebanon, northern Syria, Gaza and Jaffa — is testimony to the "lively trading activity that took place along the coast," Yannai said.

The find is the latest in a raft of discoveries of ancient structures and objects in Israel, including a 2,700-year-old toilet and a Byzantine-era winemaking complex.

mm/aw (AFP, dpa)