The sword in the cave

Publish date 17-11-2023

by Agnese Picco

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) have found four Roman swords and other wooden and leather objects hidden in a difficult-to-access cave in the En Gedi Nature Reserve.
Three of the swords, with blades 60-65 cm long, were still placed in their wooden scabbards, a very rare circumstance as wood deteriorates quickly. Their size compares them to the Roman spatha. The fourth, however, which had the shorter blade (45 cm), has a circular pommel.

Other fragments of wood, leather strings and the metal part of a pilum, a type of Roman javelin, were also found in the same place. All these materials were part of the standard equipment of the Roman army stationed in Judea. According to what was stated by Dr. Eitan Klein in an IAA press release, the isolated location where the discovery occurred "suggests that the weapons were taken as loot from Roman soldiers or from a battlefield, and consciously hidden by Jewish rebels for reuse."

Inside the same cave, 50 years ago, researchers found an ancient Hebrew inscription painted with ink and brush on a stalactite. Since it was not possible to read all the words with the naked eye and the sentences were fragmented, a group of researchers recently decided to go there to photograph the stalactite with multispectral photography which could reveal new elements. One of the scientists, noticing the tip of the pilum and other fragments of wood and leather, alerted colleagues from the IAA Survey Team, who are conducting a systematic archaeological reconnaissance project in the area, reporting the find.
After recovering the swords and objects that were hidden in the same cavity, the researchers carried out archaeological excavations in the entire cave, finding artefacts belonging to the Copper Age (6 thousand years ago) and the Roman period (2 thousand years ago), including a coin from the time of the Bar-Kokhba revolt against Roman rule, perhaps brought into the cave together with the swords.

Agnese Picco
NP October 2023

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