Back to Homepage

Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

No. 12

The Nahal Qanah Cave: Earliest Gold in the Southern Levant

Avi Gopher and Tsvika Tsuk

Contributions by:
I. Carmi, A. Frumkin, Y. Goren, I. Hershkovitz, L. Kolska Horwitz, O. Lernau, N. Liphschitz and S. Shalev

Avi Gopher

Tel Aviv 1996


In 1980, during a visit to villagers of Kfar Lakhif in western Samaria, members of the Israel Cave Research Center (ICRC) of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel were told of a large karstic cave in the vicinity. The following year members of the ICRC set out to search the surrounding region for the cave, which was located after a two-day search.

The first of the team to clamber into the cave tells that he crawled into a very narrow fissure which at first appeared to come to a dead end but in fact opened into a large chamber. His head-lamp illuminated an open expanse, very rich in stalagmites and stalactites and he could hear the sound of dripping water. This amazing sight was to meet our eyes on each subsequent visit.

The cave is entered through a round inclined shaft. At first it is still possible to stand upright or slightly stooped but soon the roof becomes lower and one must wriggle along on one's stomach around kinks in a narrow 40 cm. high passage. Finally this broadens and leads into a vertical chimney which opens into a large hall. From the first visit it was evident that there were archaeological remains in the cave for wherever one trod sherds lay on the ground or peeped out from beneath the vast boulders which had fallen in the centre of the hall. In 1982 we visited the cave together and after a series of delays launched the excavation in 1986. What started as an investigation of a natural cave complex turned into a most unusual archaeological expedition.

Every aspect of the logistics of this project was complex. Equipment had to be carried up the steep and stony hillside for a considerable distance. Generator-supplied lighting had to be installed to supplement head lamps. Safety measures had to be taken to prevent accidents on the wet and slippery mud floor with its extreme irregularities, steep inclines and impeding boulders. Working tools had to be brought in and finds taken out. These and many more unanticipated problems were solved with the help and cooperation of our ICRC colleagues who had the experience and the equipment to overcome almost anything.

The first stage of the project was to survey the cave thoroughly and map all accessible areas. This was undertaken by members of the ICRC. Work was laborious and slow. Plans and sections of the excavated areas of the cave had to be drawn in the most awkward positions and extremely confined spaces.

The wealth of sherds and vessels was collected by groping under slabs, on ledges and in crevices. As the excavation proceeded methods for removal of sediments were developed. Those that were relatively dry were put into strong plastic bags, closed with string, tagged and manhandled towards the base of the entrance shaft whence they were dragged to the sieving and sorting station outside. Each find added a piece to the puzzle of the mysterious site we were researching - a complete flint arrowhead, a very tiny carnelian bead, a bone point, a few sea shells or a fragment of hippopotamus tusk. The sherds turned out to represent three periods: the Pottery Neolithic period (Yarmukian culture) which includes the earliest pottery assemblage in Israel dating to the second half of the sixth millennium B.C.E., the Chalcolithic Period and the Early Bronze Age.


Order Now

   Gilman Building 225 | Tel: 03-6407235 | Fax: 03-6407237