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Cavers find treasure from era of Alexander the Great in Israel

Story highlights

  • Spelunkers in a stalactite cave stumble across silver coins and jewelry
  • Antiquities authority: The treasure might have been hidden during a period of unrest
  • The find leads archaeology officials to artifacts from even older periods

(CNN)Hen Zakai loves exploring darkness. In his spare time, he lowers himself into the underground world of hidden caves to navigate the nooks and crevasses of a very different environment.

Zakai was recently spelunking with his father and a friend, all of whom are members of the Israeli Caving Club, when Zakai spotted a shiny silver object in one of the most well-hidden stalactite caves in northern Israel.
    As Zakai moved in for a closer look, he found two ancient silver coins stashed inside a nook. The coins were meant to be hidden, perhaps to be retrieved at a later date. Instead, they lay in secret for more than 2,000 years in a small hoard that will give archaeologists a valuable insight into ancient Israel.
    "We saw the pictures of some of the items that were found in the cave," says Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit at Israel Antiquities Authority, "and we understood that we are talking about something very, very unique."
    The two silver coins were minted during the reign of Alexander the Great, who conquered the region in the late fourth century B.C. On one side of the coin is an image of Alexander the Great, while on the other side is an image of Zeus sitting on his throne, arm raised as if ready to wield his fearsome lightning bolts. The coins allowed archaeologists to date the find.

    'Hidden in the hope of better days'

    Along with the coins were pieces of silver jewelry, including rings, bracelets and earrings. The whole cache is thought to have been originally contained in a cloth pouch.
    "The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander, a time when the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander's heirs following his death," said the Israel Antiquities Authority.
    "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," the authority said.

    More finds to come?

    A set of earrings stood out among the priceless finds. The silver earrings, which have stayed in remarkably good shape, are intricately detailed.
    "It's the first time archaeologists found them and it's very valuable," Klein said. "We hope that in our continuation of digging in the cave, we will find many other interesting and important findings."
    There are many unexplored crevasses in the cave, according to archaeologists, and perhaps many more priceless caches to discover.
    Last month, divers off the coast of the ancient Roman port of Caesarea discovered a hoard of nearly 2,000 gold coins. The coins are about 1,000 years old and come from all around the Mediterranean Sea. Archaeologists pointed to one coin that is a quarter dinar from Palermo, Sicily, while other coins are from the Fatimid Caliphate, the Shiite Muslim empire that governed large parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

    Even older objects found

    The cavers reported their discovery to the antiquities authority, which sent officials to examine the site over the weekend.
    That expedition found objects from even more ancient periods.
    "At this point they believe they have found artifacts in the cave that first date to the Chalcolithic period c. 6,000 years ago; from the Early Bronze Age c. 5,000 years ago, the Biblical period 3,000 years ago and the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago," the authority said in a statement.
    One of its officials, Amir Ganor, commended the spelunkers for their "exemplary civic behavior" in reporting the find.