Late last week, a group of spelunking enthusiasts with the Israeli Caving Club were preparing for an upcoming expedition by exploring one of the most well-hidden stalactite caves in Northern Israel, when they came across a hidden cache of ancient gold coins stuck in a small crevasse in the cave wall. The coins, which officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) date from the fourth century B.C. -- making them nearly 2,300 years old -- were minted by Alexander the Great, and depict his own image on one side, and the image of the Olympian God Zeus sitting on his throne on the other.
The three cave aficionados, Reuven Zakai; his 21-year-old son, Hen Zakai; and their friend Lior Halony, also found other treasures in the cave, including the remnants of a cloth pouch that held three rings, four bracelets, five silver earrings -- two of which have never before been seen by archaeologists -- and a small oil lamp made of clay. The IAA believe that the ancient coins and jewellery were put there by locals who hid in the cave during a time of great upset and unrest in the area, following Alexander the Great's death, when the Wars of Diadochi (conflicts arising among Alexander's Generals, after his death, over the rule of his empire) were under way, in the hopes of returning to claim them one day.
"Presumably, the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it."Of the rare, never-before-seen earrings, Eitan Klein, the deputy director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit at Israel Antiquities Authority said "It's the first time archaeologists found them and it's very valuable."
After the cavers reported that they had found the ancient coins and jewellery, Antiquities Authority officials sent out an expedition to further explore the cave, in the hopes of finding even more undiscovered ancient relics among its nooks and crannies. What they found left everyone amazed. Hidden deeper in the cave were even older treasures -- some dating as far back as 6,000 years ago, to the Chalcolithic, or Copper period -- which included pottery and other rare artifacts from the Bronze Age (5,000 years ago), the Biblical Period (3,000 years ago), and more coins, like those already found, from the Hellenistic Period (2,300 years ago).
This find comes only a month after another significant discovery off the coast of the ancient Roman port of Caesarea, where divers discovered a collection of nearly 2,000 gold coins, that are dated to around 1,000 years ago, and come from all around the Mediterranean Sea; there are some coins from Sicily, and others from Fatimid Caliphate, a Shiite Muslim dynasty that once ruled a large part of North Africa, from the Red Sea, to the Atlantic Ocean.
IAA Officials have decided to keep the location of the cave a secret, both to keep the treasures out of the hands of potential looters, but also to keep wanna-be explorers out of the dangerous, hard to negotiate cave.
Amir Ganor, director of the IAA's Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery has openly commended the three spelunkers for reporting the fact that they found the ancient coins to the proper authorities, saying they "exhibited exemplary civic behavior." According to Israel's Law of Antiquities, failure to report the discovery of ancient artifacts, or the removal of said artifacts from the site they were discovered, is punishable by law with a term of imprisonment of two to five years, or a fine of 100,000 pounds.