Israeli Spelunkers Spy Treasure in Secret Galilee Cave

Members of the local caving club discovered a cache of silver and bronze, a month after divers found the largest-ever collection of gold coins in Israel.

Clara Amit / IAA

A month after divers discovered the largest cache of gold coins in Israel’s history on the Caesarea coast, three members of the Israel Caving Club found a cache of silver and bronze in a cave in the Galilee. The treasure has been dated to the Hellenistic period, approximately 2,300 years ago.

Reuven Zakai, his son Chen and their friend Lior Holoni, members of the club, discovered the items while they were scouting a stalactite cave in the Galilee, whose location was being kept secret, for a future club outing. They descended into the cave by rope and spent several hours inside.

Chen Zakai says that when he crawled into one of the narrow areas there, he saw something glittering which turned out to be two ancient coins. The coins were later found to date to the time of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E. The Zakais and Holoni reported their discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Further excavation turned up coins, bracelets and earrings made of silver that had been concealed in a pouch made of fabric. The artifacts were dated to the time of the Wars of the Diadochi over succession, following Alexander’s death, which destabilized the political situation of the Land of Israel.

“It is likely that these valuable objects were hidden in the cave by inhabitants of the area who fled there during the period of governmental instability that followed the death of Alexander the Great, when wars broke out among his Diadochi heirs in the Land of Israel,” said Amir Ganor, the head of the IAA's Robbery Prevention Unit.

“We can assume that the cache was buried there in the hope that better times would come, but today we know that whoever put it there never came back to retrieve it,” he noted.

The archaeologists who examined the cave found that it contained artifacts from a human settlement beginning during the Chalcolithic era, roughly 6,000 years ago, and the Early Bronze Age, approximately 5,000 years ago. Among the finds were ceramic vessels on which stalagmites had developed over time.

Joint examination by archaeologists and geologists will likely shed more light on the development of the stalagmites’ and the exact dating of the vessels and other finds.

IAA officials praised the Zakais and Chen, who displayed good citizenship by handing the artifacts over to the authority. The IAA has also decided to keep the exact location of the cave a secret not only for fear of robbery, but also because it contains pits and caverns that are dangerous for inexperienced explorers.