Pottery vessels dating back to over 2000 years ago were salvaged over the weekend during a complex rappelling operation from a cave on a cliff along the Lebanon border.

In a coordinated and strenuous effort, with the supervision of the IDF, excavators climbed up ropes into the cave to carry out the excavation. The fragile finds, including two intact wine jars, several storage jars, a bowl, a cooking pot, two juglets and broken shards of several more jars, were successfully lowered 30 meters down on ropes to the base of the cliff in a join operation of Zefat Academic College, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the Israel Cave Research Center and the Israel Cave Explorers Club.

The team carried the finds, protected by a plastic sheet and padded bags, on foot to the cars and they were taken to an Israel Antiquities Authority facility for restoration and research.

2000-year-old pottery vessels. Photo by Yinon Shivtiel

“As a first impression, the finds seem to date to the Hellenistic period—between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE,” said Danny Syon, senior archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who carried out the excavation together with Yinon Shivtiel, senior lecturer in Land of Israel Studies at Zefat Academic College.

“Considering that cooking and serving vessels were found, it would appear that those who brought them planned to live there for a while. We assume that whoever hid here escaped some violent event that occurred in the area. Perhaps by dating the vessels more closely, we shall be able to tie them to a known historic event.”

Shivtiel discovered the cave in 2017 while conducting a survey in Western Galilee to locate caves that served as shelters and hiding places, aided by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

He was surprised to discover a cave high on a sheer cliff, under an overhang, which contained ancient pottery vessels, he said in an IAA press release.

“It is mind boggling how the vessels were carried to the cave, which is extremely difficult to access. Maybe an easier way that once existed disappeared over time,” Syon said.

Danny Syon and Yinon Shivtiel in the cave. Photo by Omri Gester

Due to the proximity of the cave to the Lebanon border, the operation was coordinated with the IDF, which guarded the researchers. The excavation was carried out under a permit from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Shivtiel said: “The salvage of the ancient finds from the cave was the most complex operation I took part in within the framework of the Refuge Caves Survey that I have been conducting for 20 years.”