Israeli archaeologists announced on Sunday a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II-era tomb filled with dozens of pottery and bronze artifacts.
The cave was discovered on the beach on Tuesday when a mechanical excavator working in Palmahim National Park hit its roof and archaeologists used a ladder to access the spacious man-made square.
In a video released by the Israel Antiquities Authority, stunned archaeologists flash their flashlights at dozens of pottery pieces of various shapes and sizes dating back to the reign of an ancient Egyptian king who died in 1213 BC.
Bowls – some painted red, some containing bones – chalices, cooking pots, storage jars, lamps and bronze arrows or spearheads can be seen in the caves.
The objects were funerary objects that accompanied the deceased on their final journey to the afterlife, and have remained untouched since they were placed there some 3,300 years ago.
At least one relatively intact skeleton was also found in two rectangular plots in the corners of the cave.
Eli Yannai, an IAA Bronze Age expert, said: “This cave may provide a complete picture of the funeral practices of the Late Bronze Age.”
It was an “extremely rare…once-in-a-lifetime find,” Yannai said, noting that the cave’s additional wealth had remained sealed until recently when it was discovered.
The findings date back to the reign of Ramses II, who controlled Canaan, an area that roughly includes modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In a statement from the IAA, Yannai said the pottery’s provenance – Cyprus, Lebanon, northern Syria, Gaza and Jaffa – attests to “active trade activity taking place along the coast”.
Another IAA archaeologist, David Gelman, reasoned about the identity of the bones in the cave, which is located on a popular beach in what is today central Israel.
“These men were buried along with weapons including whole arrows, which suggests that these men may have been fighters, maybe they were guards on ships – which may be why they were able to obtain ships from all over the region,” he said.
Gehrman said the discovery was “incredible” regardless of the cave’s inhabitants.
“Still, graves are rare, and finding a cave that hasn’t been touched since it was first used 3,300 years ago is something you rarely find,” he said.
“It felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie: just got into the ground and everything lay there like it started – complete pottery, weapons, utensils made of bronze, burials, just like they were.”
The IAA said the cave had been resealed and protected, while plans for excavation were being developed.
It noted that “some items” had been looted in the short time between discovery and closure.