While exploring a lavish seven-room cave in the Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park in central Israel, archaeologists recently stumbled upon 1,020 clay seals that had been left hidden and untouched for the past 2,000 years.
According to The Times of Israel, the cave was discovered in what was once the ancient city of Maresha and the clay seals were found completely by chance after archaeologist Dr. Ian Stern and his son were busy photographing the cave complex. The seals, which were found on the floor of the cave, were sitting among large amounts of smashed jars which had also been untouched for thousands of years.
As the cave was quite dark, at first Dr. Stern and his photographer son Asaf didn’t spot the clay seals, but once the lighting for the photography was completely set up, Asaf is reported to have jumped up, exclaiming, “We have something amazing here!”
The 2,000-year-old clay seals were immediately photographed by Asaf Stern and then were carefully rounded up and collected so that they could be analyzed later. A press release that was published noted that many of the impressions of the papyrus are still visible today.
“These unfired bullae sealed the knots of twine binding papyrus scrolls — hundreds of them — that did not survive their 2,000 years in the caves’ moist atmosphere. The imprint of the string and the impression of the papyrus is still visible on many of the bullae.”
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) September 6, 2018
After studying the clay seals found in Israel, it was discovered that 300 of them were once attached to documents that were part of someone’s private archive. According to Dr. Stern, the fact that there were so many of these seals and that they had been so well-preserved is of huge international significance to the archaeological community and “puts Maresha once again on the map,” showing that this region was once a thriving and incredibly cosmopolitan area.
“It really underlines the fact that the city was a major cosmopolitan center; an inland city with indelible ties to the outside world.”
Dr. Donald Ariel, who runs The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Coin Department, analyzed hundreds of the unwashed clay seals and noted that the vast majority of them dated back to the 2nd century BC, with many of the seals holding images of ancient gods and goddesses on them like Aphrodite, Apollo, and Athena. In addition, there were also some that contained erotic themes on them as well as masks.
Hundreds of Hellenistic-period seal impressions discovered at Maresha, Israel. https://t.co/meRqqzA3HI
— The ShrineOHK (@TheShrineOHK) September 7, 2018
Further analysis of the clay seals that were found in the cave in Israel will be conducted over a multi-year period and it is hoped that the origins of the clay will eventually be identified.