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Cave of the Treasure *

עץ שיטה סלילנית על קצה קניון מוקף בדשא (סוף ינואר 2008) Photo: blacklion

Nahal Mishmar (נחל משמר) or Wadi Mahras (مَحْرَس) is a small seasonal stream in the Judean Desert. A hoard of rare Chalcolithic artifacts was discovered in a cave near the stream bed which was dubbed the “Cave of the Treasure.”

ערוץ נחל משמר
משתמש:Assafn 

The Chalcolithic “copper” “stone” or Copper Age is an archaeological period which researchers usually regard as between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age).

In Nahal Mishmar in the Israeli Judean Desert: a view from the red-marked trail into the creek that contains the blue-marked trail.
Photo: Tamuz 

Geography

The valley or wadi of Nahal Mishmar begins in the Hebron hills, running east towards the Dead Sea from altitude of approximately 270 m above sea level, falling more than 300 meters into the Jordan Rift Valley, emptying into the Dead Sea 430 meters below sea level, between Ein Gedi and Masada, south of Nahal Hever and north of Nahal Tze’elim. The length of Nahal Mishmar is over 12 kilometres.

Ein Mishmar

Ein Mishmar at the base of the high waterfall.

עין משמר
משתמש:Assafn 

Archaeology – Nahal Mishmar Hoard

In 1961, Israeli archaeologist Pessah Bar-Adon discovered a hoard of Chalcolithic artifacts in a cave on the northern side of Nahal Mishmar, known since as the Cave of the Treasure. Prominent finds from the hoard are currently on display in the archaeology wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


Public Domain פסח בר אדון, הארכאולוג וההרפתקן
Photo of discovery of Nahal Mishmar Hoard. Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Photo: Chamberi

The Nahal Mishmar Hoard consisted of :

  • 442 decorated objects made of copper and bronze (429 of them)
  • ivory and stone, including 240 mace heads
  • about 100 scepters
  • 5 crowns
  • powder horns
  • tools
  • weapons

Much of the hoard is on display in a glass case in one of the prehistory galleries at the Israel Museum.

Club weapon heads
Photo: Hanay

The objects in the Nahal Mishmar hoard appear to have been hurriedly collected. It has been suggested that the hoard was the sacred treasure belonging to a shrine at Ein Gedi, some 12 kilometers away.

Replica of bronze sceptre from the Nahal Mishmar Hoard. Displayed at the Hecht Museum in Haifa
Photo: Oren Rozen
Nahal Mishmar Hoard
Photo: Hanay
Nahal Mishmar Hoard
Photo: Hanay

The items in the hoard belong to the Ghassulian culture and the Nahal Mishmar hoard is the only hoard of this culture. Ghassulian refers to a culture and an archaeological stage dating to the Middle and Late Chalcolithic Period in the Southern Levant (c. 4400 – c. 3500 BC) in the eastern Jordan Valley near the northern edge of the Dead Sea, in modern Jordan.

Ossarium, Ghassul culture, around 3500 BC (Palestine); now in British Museum.
Teleilat el Ghassul  in Jordan. It is the type-site of the Ghassulian culture
Photo: Udimu

It is probable that the copper used for producing them was mined in Wadi Feynan (a major wadi in southern Jordan).

The dry bed of Wadi Feynan/Wadi Ghuwayr in late spring (May 2014). The archaeological site of Ghuwayr 1 is visible on the rise in the centre-right of the image.
Photo: Joe Roe
Nahal Mishmar Hoard
Photo: Hanay
Nahal Mishmar Hoard
Photo: Hanay

Burials in the Cave of the Treasure

Due to the dry climate numerous textile and plaited remains were found at the site. The remains of over 20 individuals were found in the caves. They were members of a sedentary Chalcolithic population which ended under tragic circumstances which is indicated by the fact they had numerous injuries and that the wrappings were stained with blood.

Copper-Bronze Crown from the Cave of the Treasure at Nahal Mishmar Judean desert Israel

Dating Cave of the Treasure Objects

Many of these copper objects were made using the lost-wax process, one of the earliest known uses of this complex technique. Lost-wax casting is the process by which a duplicate metal sculpture 

(often silver, gold, brass or bronze) is cast from an original sculpture.

Carbon-14 dating of the reed mat which was used to wrap the objects points that it was used circa 3500 B.C. Carbon-14 dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon.

During this period the use of copper became widespread throughout the Levant which also led to social changes in the region.

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