Israeli archeologists discover 'once-in-a-lifetime find' of ancient pottery under beach

The burial cave in Israel from the Late Bronze Age, the time of Pharaoh Ramses II – possibly from the story of the Exodus from Egypt - contained dozens of intact objects.

 The vessels from 3,300 years ago discovered at Palmachim Beach. (photo credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA)
The vessels from 3,300 years ago discovered at Palmachim Beach.
(photo credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA)

A team of Israeli archaeologists felt like they had entered a set of an Indiana Jones film, or perhaps Dreamwork's Prince of Egypt, after discovering a burial cave from the time of Pharaoh Ramses II – thought to possibly be the pharaoh from the story of the Exodus from Egypt - containing dozens of intact objects. The cave was uncovered in the Palmachim National Park near one of Israel’s most popular beaches.

Israel Antiquities Authority inspector Uzi Rothstein at the site outside the cave (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA).

The ancient burial cave was discovered by chance during work by the Nature and Parks Authority for the development of the park and after a tractor hit a rock, unexpectedly revealing the cave’s ceiling.

Israel Antiquities Authority official, Dror Citron, was the first to identify the space and descended into the cave which seemed frozen in time. The cave was filled with dozens of whole pottery and bronze vessels just as they were placed during the burial ceremony, about 3,300 years ago.

 A member of the Israel Antiquities Authority team inspects the 3,300-year-old burial cave found under the Palmachim Beach.  (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA) A member of the Israel Antiquities Authority team inspects the 3,300-year-old burial cave found under the Palmachim Beach. (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA)

The vessels were burial offerings, buried with the dead in the belief that they would be used by them in the next world. The cave was carved in the shape of a square, and in the center of its ceiling was a pillar.

There can be miracles when you believe: A once-in-a-lifetime find in Israel

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” explained Dr. Eli Yanai, an IAA expert on the Bronze Age. “It's not every day that you see an Indiana Jones set - a cave with vessels on the floor that haven't been touched in 3,300 years. We are talking about the Late Bronze Age. These are precisely the days of the famous king, Ramses II - the one some identify with the story of the Exodus.”

“It's not every day that you see an Indiana Jones set - a cave with vessels on the floor that haven't been touched in 3,300 years. We are talking about the Late Bronze Age. These are precisely the days of the famous king, Ramses II - the one some identify with the story of the Exodus.”

Dr. Eli Yanai, Israel Antiquities Authority Bronze Age expert

What do the findings in the Israeli cave tell us about ancient history?

Since the cave was intact, Yanai said that it can provide a complete picture of burial customs in the Late Bronze Age. “In the cave, mainly dozens of pottery vessels of various sizes and shapes were left. Among them, there are deep and shallow bowls, some of which are painted red, cooking pots, jugs and clay candles that contained oil for light,” he said.

Israeli archaeologists think that the jugs and other vessels were made on the coasts of Lebanon and Syria, the area of Tyre and Sidon, with pottery that might have come from Cyprus.

 The vessels from 3,300 years ago discovered at Palmachim Beach. (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA) The vessels from 3,300 years ago discovered at Palmachim Beach. (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/IAA)

The findings in the cave date to the 13th century BCE, a period during the 19th Egyptian dynasty and the rule of Ramses II who placed an Egyptian administration over the land. There was free trade during that period across the region and the findings prove that, Yanai said showing that the ancient residents of Yavne along the Palmahim coast were integrated into the trade that was conducted along the Mediterranean shores.

Rumors about the discovery spread like wildlife

The IAA said that since the discovery of the cave and despite attempts to keep a media blackout on it, work leaked out and some people gained access and stole some of the findings. The circumstances are currently under investigation.

“Rumors about the discovery of the cave spread through the scientific world like wildfire, and we received many requests from researchers to join the archaeological dig,” explained Eli Eskosido, IAA director general. “Unfortunately, during the time before the cave was sealed, and despite guarding it, a number of archaeological items were stolen from the cave, and the matter is under investigation.”

“In the coming days, we will formulate the method of carrying out the required research and conservation at the unique site, which is a celebration of the archaeological world and the ancient history of the Land of Israel,” he added.