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American tourist stumbles upon intact Early Bronze Age pottery jug in Judean Desert

Officials say discovery at Qumran may be the first complete vessel from the period found in region’s caves

The ancient clay jug discovered by Robbie and his friend in cave 53 in the Qumran region, February 2022. (Amir Ganor/Israel Antiquities Authority)
The ancient clay jug discovered by Robbie and his friend in cave 53 in the Qumran region, February 2022. (Amir Ganor/Israel Antiquities Authority)

An American tourist hiking in the Qumran region in southern Israel recently stumbled upon a remarkable discovery: a fully intact pottery vessel from the Early Bronze Age.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Robbie Brown was touring Israel with a friend last month when they decided to climb to a cave near the Dead Sea, about 100 meters (328 feet) above the surrounding terrain.

The cave, known as Cave 53, was not unfamiliar to Brown, who participated in an archaeological excavation there in 2017 that led to some rare finds — including ancient dates and olive seeds and a piece of a blank ancient scroll.

A previous excavation at the cave took place about 30 years ago, making the findings in 2017 even more unexpected.

But the Judean Desert cave apparently had some more surprises in store, as Brown and his friend found out.

Reaching the cave, the two uncovered an intact ancient pottery jug — potentially the first ever found in the region from its period. They photographed the finding and immediately contacted Dr. Yuval Baruch from the IAA.

The famous caves in Qumran, in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

When they arrived to investigate, Baruch and Amir Ganor, the IAA’S director of the robbery prevention unit, could not believe their eyes.

“It’s amazing,” said Ganor. “Only about two years ago, our archaeologists surveyed the cave as part of a survey of the Judean Desert caves, which has been conducted continuously for the past five years and was intended to document and locate all ancient finds in the desert caves.”

“In a few caves, pottery sherds were found, providing evidence of the Early Bronze Age. This is perhaps the first complete vessel we have found from this period in the caves in the Judean Desert,” he said.

Ganor said it was a good thing that Brown was aware of the “importance of the finds and their role in completing the archaeological puzzle of the Land of Israel,” calling on citizens who may discover similar artifacts in the future “to leave them in place and call us immediately so that we can maximize the archaeological information from the find.”

Caves in the Qumran region have attracted archaeologists for decades, ever since a shepherd followed a goat into a cave in the desert cliffs in 1947 and discovered three of the Dead Sea Scrolls inside.

What followed were exciting excavations in the caves where the scrolls were found, and at Qumran, an ancient settlement below the cliffs. By the late 1950s archaeologists working at Qumran had uncovered remains from buildings, a tower, cisterns, Jewish ritual baths, and an aqueduct.

Most experts believe that several hundred men lived at Qumran, which today is a national park.

Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am contributed to this report.

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