Four ‘Excellently Preserved’ Ancient Roman Swords Have Been Found in the Judean Desert

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Archaeologists have found four “excellently preserved” Ancient Roman swords in a cave in the Judean Desert, which spans parts of Palestine’s West Bank and Israel.

The 1,900-year-old relics were found in a crevice in a cave near the En Gedi Nature Reserve, located about an hour from Jerusalem and under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Authority, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement on Facebook.

Researchers have previously made discoveries in the hidden cave, perched in inaccessible cliffs north of the reserve, as far back as the 1970s.

“Fifty years ago, a stalactite with a fragmentary ink inscription written in ancient Hebrew script characteristic of the First Temple period, was found,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Archaeologist Asaf Gayer of Ariel University, geologist Boaz Langford of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Israel Antiquities Authority photographer Shai Halevi visited the cave to photograph the inscription, when the new discovery was made.

Researchers are seen removing the swords from the crevice where they were hidden. Photo courtesy of Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

One of the swords is seen inside the cave. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists are seen at work in a remote cave near the ‘En Gedi Nature Reserve. Photo courtesy of Hagay Hamer, Israel Antiquities Authority

The team had hoped to use multispectral photography to decipher additional parts of the inscription not visible to the naked eye.

Gayer spotted a Roman pilum, a shafted weapon, in a deep and narrow crevice on the upper level of the cave, officials said.

“He also found pieces of worked wood in an adjacent niche that turned out to be parts of the swords’ scabbards,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Gayer and Langford returned to the cave with an Israel Antiquities Authority survey team and found the additional four swords “in an almost inaccessible crevice.”

“Three were found with the iron blade inside the wooden scabbards. Leather strips and wooden and metal finds belonging to the weapons were also found in the crevice. The swords had well-fashioned handles made of wood or metal,” officials said.

Those three swords were each about two feet long and identified as Roman spatha swords. The fourth one, with a blade about 18 inches long, was identified as a ring-pommel sword.

Judean rebels hid the weapons for reuse after seizing them from Roman soldiers, said Eitan Klein, one of the directors of the Judean Desert Survey Project.

Conservators Ilia Reznitzky and Lena Kupershmidt are seen handling the swords. Photo courtesy of Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Researchers are seen with swords found in a cave in the Judean Desert. From right to left: Asaf Gayer, Oriya Amichay, Eitan Klein and Amir Ganor. Photo courtesy of Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

The swords were transferred to climate-controlled laboratories for preservation and conservation and, after the swords were found, archaeologists excavated the cave in its entirety. They found more artifacts from Ancient Rome and others dating to the Chalcolithic period that dates back approximately 6,000 years.

At the entrance to the cave, a Bar-Kokhba bronze coin from the time of the second century Bar Kokhba Revolt was found, “possibly pointing to the time when the cave served for concealing the weapons,” the researchers said.

“Finding a single sword is rare, so four? It’s a dream! We rubbed our eyes to believe it,” the researchers said.

“We are just beginning the research on the cave and the weapon cache discovered in it, aiming to try to find out who owned the swords, and where, when, and by whom they were manufactured,” Klein said.

“We will try to pinpoint the historical event that led to the caching of these weapons in the cave and determine whether it was at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 C.E.”

For now, the findings have been published in a preliminary article in the book .

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