Ancient cookware and other pottery vessels well over 2,000 years old have been salvaged from the unlikeliest of places: a tiny cave on a sheer cliffside, in which nobody could possibly have lived. The pieces had to be lowered more than 30 meters – very gingerly, in padded bags – by rope.

Credit: Dr. Yinon Shivtiel

The cave was found about six months ago by Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, a speleologist from the Safed Academic College. He has been surveying the Galilee for 20 years, seeking and documenting caves where Jewish rebels hid from the infuriated Roman soldiers during the Great Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE). The shape of the jars and amphorae found in this cliffside hole indicate that the pieces were made, and presumably placed in the cave, centuries before the year 70, when the Romans vanquished the Jews.

Remarkably, the two amphorae were still intact. The archaeologists also found a bowl, other storage jars, two juglets and broken shards. Dr. Danny Syon of the IAA states: 

"As a first impression, the finds seem to date to the Hellenistic period—between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C.E. Considering that cooking and serving vessels were found, it would appear that those who brought them planned to live there for a while." 

Shivtiel is confident that nobody lived in that cave, if only because nobody could. For one thing, it was too small, only about 1x2 meters square, he says. For another, anybody going to the trouble to access it was, according to him, under terrific stress.

"You can't climb into that cave. It's completely impossible. It's 30 meters above the ground and the cliff face up to it is absolutely sheer.  From the top, the cave is under an overhand. Only people in dire straits would drop down a rope to that cave." 

Which begs the questions of what pottery vessels including large amphorae (jars used to store wine and sometimes olive oil), other pottery vessels, and even a cooking pot were doing there.

"My theory is that these people in stress were hiding in other caves in the area. This one served as a sort of storage cave for food." 

Generally the Galilee at the time was populated by Phoenicians, and there were some Jews as well, Shivtiel says. Research in ancient Hellenic and Roman sources might reveal information on what people were experiencing trouble in the Galilee back then. Perhaps this odd refuge can be tied to a known historic event.

I am going to offer an alternative explanation: it all sounds a lot like a prison to me. Like forced or voluntary exile as penance for some kind of crime. Think about it: obviously it would be torture to live in that little cave for a few days or even weeks. You'd need to have food and water on hand, and things to cook them with. You'd be lowered down by rope, accept your food and drink daily as it was lowered down to you, and once your time was up, you would be hoisted back up--if you hadn't slipped and fallen by then, or tossed yourself down. Makes sense to me!