Coins found at Ein Gedi cave refer to Simon Bar-Kochba
November 20th, 2002
Rare archaeological discoveries were unearthed in Ein Gedi nature reserve last week, in a small cave capable of holding eight men at most. Among them were two papyri that researchers hope will shed new light on the Bar-Kochba revolt against the Romans in 132-135 CE.
One of the papyri is written in Greek; the language of the other has not yet been determined (the most likely choices are Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic). Dr. Amos Frumkin of Hebrew University's Geography Department said that the papyrus written in Greek, which was the international language of the time, was probably a private administrative or economic document belonging to one of the people hiding in the cave, such as a proof of purchase for a field or a document relating to a marriage or divorce.
He said that any such document could shed new light on the revolt, about which very little is known, as it was not documented by any contemporary historian - unlike the first revolt against the Romans a century earlier, which was described in detail in Josephus's "The Jewish Wars."
No bones were found in the cave, leading Frumkin to conclude that the rebels who hid in the cave succeeded in escaping from it. However, he noted, there could be another interpretation: "They could also have been captured."
The cave also contained a metal-tipped staff and 12 wooden arrows, some of which had a distinctive head of a type used by both the Romans and Bar-Kochba's army. "We once found three arrowheads like these in a cave at Nahal Tze'elim and it caused extraordinary excitement. Here we have 12," said Dr. Zvika Tsuk, an archaeologist for the Parks and Nature Authority - which was responsible, together with the Antiquities Authority, for approving the survey that made the discovery.
The survey, led by Frumkin and Professor Hanan Eshel, the head of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Land of Israel Studies, is supposed to encompass all the caves in the cliffs that separate the Judean Desert from the Dead Sea. Stanford University in California has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to finance the project.
The current cave, which was discovered by one of Frumkin's students, Ro'i Porat (the son of former National Religious Party MK Hanan Porat), also contains a sizable amount of pottery and dozens of scraps of woven cloth, the largest of which is 5x10 centimeters.
Frumkin said that most of the cloth scraps were once clothing, and that the weaving is very fine. Some of the cloth was dyed, and the desert dryness enabled the colors to be preserved for almost 2,000 years. "This is a unique phenomenon in the world - that in the Judean Desert it is possible to find organic material from this period that has been so well preserved," Frumkin said.
The findings also included scraps of braided rope that were apparently once part of mats or baskets, wheat and barley husks and hundreds of date and olive pits. "It is clear that people prepared emergency foodstocks for themselves in the cave," Frumkin said. "They apparently prepared them in advance, so that if problems arose, they could hide and not go hungry."
The survey, which began two years ago and has so far covered a 10-kilometer stretch of cliffs, started with aerial photographs of the region. This was followed by a ground survey that discovered some 200 caves. In four of these caves, weapons and coins from the Bar-Kochba era were found.
According to Frumkin, the last discovery of written documents from the Bar-Kochba period was made a decade ago. "There were those who said the desert had been cleaned out, that there were no more documents," he said. "Today it is clear that this is not correct, and that the desert is full of caves that have not yet been investigated."
David Ratner adds:
A recent archaeological dig in Tirat Hacarmel near Haifa, conducted before a new road was paved, uncovered two interesting findings from a different period - an architectural structure that has been preserved almost intact for the last 1,700 years and the gravesite of someone who was evidently an important personage, possibly even someone considered a saint.
Michael Eisenberg, one of the leaders of the dig, said the findings could force a reevaluation of the exact location of the ancient Roman city known to have been situated in the area. This city was abandoned at the end of the Byzantine period for unknown reasons and then resettled during the Crusader era.