In what they refer to as an “exceptional and amazing” discovery, a team of Israeli archaeologists recently unearthed an ancient burial cave within the borders of Palmahim Beach National Park on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.
According to an announcement from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the astonishingly old tomb and the treasures it contains have been dated back to the 13th century BC, nearly 3,300 years ago! During this period the lands of Israel were under the control of Egypt’s 19th dynasty and its legendary pharaoh Ramesses II, or Ramesses the Great.
The Ramesses II era tomb find at Palmahim Beach National Park is nearly 950 km (590 miles) distant from his capital at Thebes (part of modern-day Luxor), and nearly 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the Mediterranean Sea on the Nile River.
The entire floor of the Ramesses II era tomb found in the Israeli beach cave was littered with artifacts dated to the 13th century BC. ( Emil Algam / Israel Antiquities Authority )
Israel’s Beachside Ramesses II Era Tomb, a Beyond-rare Find
The discovery of the Ramesses II era funerary cave came quite by accident. While moving earth for a park development project, a worker driving a mechanical digger inadvertently broke through the roof of the cave, revealing its presence to park personnel and startled onlookers who had no idea such a formation existed.
As intriguing as the discovery of the cave was, the real excitement had yet to begin. That occurred later, when people began to dig through the rubble inside the Israeli cave and found that it was filled with artifacts that looked unimaginably old. Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) experts were rushed to the site, and they eventually identified the objects in the cave as an impressive collection of grave goods from remote antiquity, which had been hidden under the ground for thousands of years.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery!” enthused IAA Bronze Age expert and spokesperson Dr. Eli Yanna, describing the unique nature of this find. “A cave floor laid out with vessels untouched for 3,300 years, since the Late Bronze Age, about the time of the powerful King Ramesses II.”
The design of the various pottery pieces found in the tomb allowed the archaeologists to date the structure to the 13th century BC. At that point in time the lands of modern-day Israel were part of Canaan, a territory that was controlled by Ramesses II , who served from 1279 to 1213 BC as the pharaoh of Egypt’s most powerful New Kingdom dynasty.
While there is not a 100-percent consensus on the issue, Ramesses II is generally credited as being the pharaoh who was so cruel and oppressive to the Israelites in the Bible’s Book of Exodus. In addition to there being no definitive proof that this was the case, it should also be noted that most modern scholars consider the events portrayed in the Book of Exodus (such as the pharaoh enslaving all the Israelites in Egypt and ordering the murder of all newborn Israelite babies) to be largely fictional, based primarily on myth and legend rather than actual events.
An Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist surveying artifacts in the Palmahim Ramesses II era tomb not seen by the human eye for nearly 3,300 years. ( Emil Algam / Israel Antiquities Authority )
A Cave Filled with Unique 3,300-year-old Treasure
The artificially constructed cave (actually a tomb) had been formed into a square and featured a central supporting pillar that had ably supported its now-destroyed ceiling. Inside the spacious tomb/funerary cave the IAA archaeological team found dozens of intact pottery pieces and bronze artifacts arranged ceremonially across the rock floor. It was clear that the items had all been part of a single, uniform display, composed of a collection of goods that belonged to the deceased person for whom the concealed underground tomb was constructed.
The funerary cave’s pottery vessels came in a variety of sizes and shapes. They included different types of bowls, some deep and some shallow, cooking pots, storage jars, small jugs and juglets, and footed chalices. Some of the bowls were painted red, and some contained animal bones. The archaeologists also found several oil-burning lamps, and a many bronze arrowheads or spearheads.
Notably, the pottery vessels in the tomb were imported from multiple locations, including Cyprus, the ports of Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon, Gaza, Jaffa, and northern Syria. Because the site of the burial was found along the Mediterranean coast, it was no surprise to discover that the area had once been a trading hub where merchants could exchange sea-imported goods from all over the region.
Naturally, this meticulously decorated and arranged tomb was designed for a specific occupant, who presumably would have been a person of great status and importance. Since the tomb had remained undiscovered for so long, and consequently had never been visited by tomb raiders or antiquities thieves, the well-preserved skeleton of the that individual was found inside the cave, too, lain out across a pair of rectangular burial plots located in one corner of the cave. It will take more time for these skeletal remains to be analyzed before details about who this person was and how they lived and died can be revealed.
A closeup of a few of the 1300-BC artifacts found in the Israeli beachside cave. ( Emil Algam / Israel Antiquities Authority )
A Time Capsule from a Legendary Era
From the perspective of the Israeli archaeologists, the discovery of this cave is the equivalent of opening a 3,300-year-old time capsule.
“The fact that the cave was sealed, and not looted in later periods, will allow us the employ the modern scientific methods available today, to retrieve much information from the artifacts and from the residues extant on the vessels, for example, organic remains that are not visible to the naked eye,” Dr. Yannai explained. “The cave may furnish a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funerary customs.”
One of the major challenges the archaeologists are facing currently is security. Professional antiquities looters are always ready to spring into action as soon as a promising new archaeological site has been found, and in fact a few of the items originally discovered in the cave have apparently already gone missing. The cave has now been sealed and is being guarded to ensure looting is brought to a halt.
“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 for the ancient history of the land of Israel,” the two individuals responsible for security at the site, IAA Director Eli Eskosido and Israel Nature and Parks Authority Director Raya Shurky, said in a joint statement.
Given the fact that one hidden tomb has already been discovered in Palmahim Beach National Park, it is certainly conceivable that other ancient tombs could be found in the same general area. Further excavations may be launched in the future if archaeologists conclude this is a real possibility.
Top image: What began as an accidental discovery of a natural Israeli cave became a manmade Ramesses II era tomb full of artifacts, bronze and clay, from nearly 3,300 years ago! Source: Emil Algam / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Nathan Falde