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"Once-in-a-lifetime" discovery: Ancient burial cave found on beach in Israel "looks like an 'Indiana Jones' film set"

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Israeli archaeologists on Sunday announced the "once-in-a-lifetime" discovery of a burial cave from the time of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II, filled with dozens of pottery pieces and bronze artifacts.

The cave was uncovered on a beach Tuesday, when a mechanical digger working at the Palmahim national park hit its roof, with archaeologists using a ladder to descend into the spacious, man-made square cave.

In a video released by the Israel Antiquities Authority, amazed archaeologists shine flashlights on dozens of pottery vessels in a variety of forms and sizes, dating back to the reign of the ancient Egyptian king who died in 1213 B.C. 

מפקח רשות העתיקות, עוזי רוטשטיין, בשיחה עם מפקחים מחוץ למערת קבורה מימי פרעה רעמסס השני by Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel on YouTube

In a Facebook post, the authority said the burial cave "looks like an 'Indiana Jones' film set."

"The Israel Antiquity Authority archaeologists mobilized to the site, descended a ladder into the astonishing space that appeared to have frozen in time," the authority said in a statement.

Don't miss an extremely rare opportunity to take a look into what looks like an ‘Indiana Jones' film set- a cave floor...

Posted by Israel Antiquities Authority on Sunday, September 18, 2022

Bowls — some of them painted red, some containing bones — chalices, cooking pots, storage jars, lamps and bronze arrowheads or spearheads could be seen in the cave.

The objects were burial offerings to accompany the deceased on their last journey to the afterlife, found untouched since being placed there about 3,300 years ago.

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

"The cave may furnish a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funerary customs," said Eli Yannai, an IAA Bronze Age expert.

It is an "extremely rare ... once-in-a-lifetime discovery," Yannai said, pointing to the extra fortune of the cave having remained sealed until its recent uncovering.

The findings date to the reign of Rameses II, who 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 in an IAA statement.

Another IAA archaeologist, David Gelman, theorized as to the identity of the skeletons in the cave, located in what is today a popular beach in central Israel.

"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," he said.

Regardless of who the inhabitants of the cave were, the find was "incredible," said Gelman.

"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," he said.

"It feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie: just going into the ground and everything is just laying there as it was initially — intact pottery vessels, weapons, vessels made out of bronze, burials just as they were."

The cave has been resealed and is under guard while a plan for its excavation is being formulated, the IAA said.

It noted that "a few items" had been looted from it in the short period of time between its discovery and closure.

The discovery marks the latest in a string of recent archaeological finds in Israel.

Last month, scientists unearthed a lavish 1,200-year-old estate in Israel's desert south, just two months after a rare ancient mosque was unearthed in the same region.

Also in August, archaeologists announced they recently unearthed the titanic tusk of a prehistoric pachyderm near a kibbutz in southern Israel.

Meanwhile, the recent discovery of an ornate Byzantine-era mosaic in Gaza — uncovered just a half mile from the Israeli border — has set off excitement among archaeologists. But it is also drawing calls for better protection of Gaza's antiquities, a fragile collection of sites threatened by a lack of awareness and resources as well as the constant risk of conflict between Israel and local Palestinian militants.

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