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A large hoard of ancient Chalcolithic artifacts more than 5,700 years old was discovered in Israel in 1961

David Goran

The Nahal Mishmar hoard, found in a cave (which became known as the ‘Cave of Treasures’) in the Judean Desert in 1961 by the Israeli archaeologist Pessah Bar-Adon, is a key find for the study of Chalcolithic metallurgy in Israel and the Levant.

The first photograph taken, showing the discovery of the hoard. Source

The Nahal Mishmar hoard is not only the oldest, but also by far the largest and most varied. Source

The Nahal Mishmar hoard is not only the oldest but also by far the largest and most varied. Source

Hidden in a natural crevice, covered by a large rock, and wrapped in a straw mat, the archeologists found the most extraordinary and unique collection of copper, bronze, stone and ivory artifacts. The hoard included 432 copper, bronze, ivory and stone decorated objects – 240 mace heads, about 100 scepters, 5 crowns, powder horns, tools and weapons.

The most common objects were 118 of these “scepters“. Source

The most common objects were 118 of these “scepters“. Source

Hippopotamus tusk with circular perforations. The hoard of 432 objects was published by Pessah Bar-Adon within ten years of discovery. Source

Hippopotamus tusk with circular perforations. The hoard of 432 objects was published by Pessah Bar-Adon within ten years of discovery. Source

Left, Replica of bronze sceptre from the Nahal Mishmar Hoard. Right, Cooper “standard“, 11 cm high. Source1 Source2

Left, Replica of bronze sceptre from the Nahal Mishmar Hoard. Right, Copper “standard“, 11 cm high. Source1 Source2

There are ten of these cylindrical objects in the hoard. Conventionally known as crowns, but a group of archaeologists think they were stands for vessels with pointed bottoms. Source

There are ten of these cylindrical objects in the hoard. Conventionally known as crowns, but a group of archaeologists thought they were stands for vessels with pointed bottoms. Source

Some of the tools in the hoard were made of a copper, containing a high percentage of arsenic (4–12%) which is harder than pure copper and more easily cast so the objects should technically be described as arsenical bronze. Radiocarbon dating showed that they were from the Chalcolithic or Copper Age, between 4000 and 3500 BC. This discovery spectacularly illustrates the recurrent restrictions of the surviving material record as evidence for ancient metallurgy.

A selection of the copper maceheads. Source

A selection of the copper maceheads. Source

The ancient crown dates back to the Copper Age between 4000–3500 BC. Source

The ancient crown dates back to the Copper Age between 4000–3500 BC. Source

Many of these copper objects were made using the lost-wax process, the earliest known use of this complex technique.

“Carbon-14 dating of the reed mat in which the objects were wrapped suggests that it dates to at least 3500 B.C. It was in this period that the use of copper became widespread throughout the Levant, attesting to considerable technological developments that parallel major social advances in the region.”

The difficulty with interpreting these objects is that the collection is absolutely unique, and some of these objects are like nothing ever seen anywhere else. Source

The difficulty with interpreting these objects is that the collection is absolutely unique, and some of these objects are like nothing ever seen anywhere else. Source

Prominent finds from the hoard are currently on display in the archaeology wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.