Electrician Stops Car on Northern Israeli Road, Finds 4,500-year-old Dagger and Burial Vessels

The items had been in a burial cave dating to the middle Bronze Age

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The storage vessels and the blade found by Arraba, from the Copper Age
The storage vessels and the blade found by Arraba, from the Copper AgeCredit: Nir Distelfeld, IAA
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

A dagger blade and a cache of storage vessels about 4,500 years old were serendipitously found by an electrician named Ahmad Nasser Yassin last weekend while driving along a dirt road in the hills above his village, Arraba, in the western Galilee.

The items had been in a burial cave dating to the middle Bronze Age, and most had been destroyed, presumably unwittingly, during roadworks in the area about a year ago. However, as Yassin was driving to fix the power in one of the village's houses, his eye was caught by something sticking out of the crumbling rocky hillside by the road.

"It looked like a handle. But I was thinking about the job and continued to drive on, maybe ten or 20 meters," Yassin told Haaretz. But as he went on, it dawned on him that he might have seen something significant.

Feeling compelled to stop and check, he reversed.

Indeed, at closer perusal, it still looked like a handle. A very old one. He cleared some of the dirt and realized he had found a cache of vessels and the dagger too.

Realizing he had found something precious from antiquity, Yassin tried to phone the Israel Antiquities Authority, but to no avail. Unfortunately on Friday, Israeli government offices are closed: they work Sunday to Thursday.

Though bereft of archaeological training, Yassin knows a thing or two about excavation procedures, and decided that for the sake of posterity, he had to undertake the risk, he explains. Calling his son to help, the two men gingerly removed five ancient clay vessels and a blade, which he thought was bronze. They took the artifacts back home for protection.

"I continued to try to call the IAA, to find somebody connected with them," he says. Finally on Shabbat afternoon he tracked down an official – and the Israel Antiquities Authority called back Sunday morning.

The Authority lauded Yassin's good citizenship in reporting the discovery to the authorities, rather than trying to sell the items on the black antiquities market.

"There's no doubt that there had been a burial cave there," Nir Distelfeld of the IAA tells Haaretz.

As for the blade, they can't say yet whether it's copper or bronze - that will take further testing. The transition from soft copper to tougher bronze was a process, not a turning point, and about 4,500 years ago most weapons were still made of copper, Distelfeld explains. In any case, the blade had been attached with nails, still there, to a handle, probably wood, which is long gone.

It was not rare for the people of antiquity to inter their dead with weapons, Distelfeld points out.

As for the pottery vessels, their shape is typical of the period, he says, and they were interred with the dead. Some were storage vessels may have held foodstuffs or other offerings, and one was the Bronze Age equivalent of a gravy boat.

It is not rare at all in Israel for antiquities to be revealed by infrastructure and road works. In 2017, one of the discoveries made thusly was a cache of glass liquor bottles left by the British in Palestine during World War I.

The Galilee and northern Israel in general have no shortage of sites from the Bronze Age (and all other ages of antiquity). Among the more exciting recent archaeological discoveries there were monumental carved dolmens from the late Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago.

One has a capstone weighing about 50 tons. No less intriguing are the utterly mysterious stone circle at Rujm el-Hiri in the Golan, the so-called "Circle of Giants," which was discovered in 1968, and the giant, a perfectly circular pile of rocks in the middle of the Sea of Galilee that seems to be about 6,000 years old. What it might be however is anybody's guess.

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