A huge number of archaeological digs are going on in Israel at any given time and they often turn up amazing finds. However, sometimes, truly astonishing finds are made purely by accident, such as the Dead Sea scrolls that were found by Bedouin shepherds in the 1940s.
Far more recently, a man enjoying some scuba diving off the coast of northern Israel came across a number of artefacts on the seabed. The most exciting of them was a metre-long sword that dates back to the Crusaders. The sword is currently undergoing cleaning, but there is a good chance that you will be able to see it on your gap year.
Often it is children who make some of the most impressive finds, perhaps because they are more observant of the world around them. In 2021, a six year old was on a visit to an archaeological site, Tel Jemmeh, with his parents and saw a tiny tablet on the ground. The tablet was engraved with two figures, a man leading a captive with his hands tied behind his back. The free man looks well fed while the captive is distinctly emaciated. Amazingly, it is thought that the tablet dates back around 3500 years, to between the 12th and 15th centuries BCE, a time when the Egyptian Empire ruled the area.
A similar thing happened to an eight year old a few years ago who was hiking with his family near Tel Beit Shemesh. He came across a figurine of an ancient fertility goddess that is thought to date from the Iron Age, around the tenth to sixth century BCE. To thank him, the Israel Antiquities Authority arranged for his class to take part in a dig and tour its archives, which just goes to show that it is always worth keeping your eyes peeled.
It is not only children who makes finds, one lucky soldier had his day brightened earlier this year when he came across a coin that dates back to the Roman Empire. The coin carries an image of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and was minted in 158-159 CE. On the other side is the Syrian moon god Men with the inscription “of the people of Geva Philippi” and the date it was minted. It is this identification of the minting location that makes the coin so rare. Just 11 other examples have been found.
Amazingly, archaeological finds in Israel can be so common that they simply get forgotten. Earlier this year two Roman-era coffins were found for the second time at the Ramat Gan Safari. The coffins were first found in the carpark many years ago and they were then moved to near the African savannah area where they were forgotten and soon became covered by sand and vegetation. However, they were uncovered once again during construction of a new wildlife hospital and now the 1-800 year old coffins have been moved to the Israeli National Treasures repository.
These are just a few of the many extraordinary discoveries everyday people have made in Israel. While enjoying your gap year, be sure to keep your eyes peeled while out on hikes. Perhaps you will be the next to spot a rare artefact.