Cave of the Treasure -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 10:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: Cave of the Treasure
Author: Gary A. Byers

Cave of the Treasure

Gary A. Byers

You have heard the story of Mohammed edh-Dhib, the Bedouin shepherd who accidentally stumbled onto the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now meet Freddy Halprine. I encountered Freddy on a flight to Israel in September 1995, on the way to our initial season at Kh. al-Makater. Over dinner we began to swap archaeological stories, and it turned out his were much better than mine!

In 1961, Freddy was a 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli army. Trained in explosives, he worked with metal detectors finding land mines. Because of this training, he was assigned to work with archaeologist Pesah Bar-Adon’s excavation of caves in the Judean Desert. Freddy was to use his metal detector to find any metal objects in the caves.

Freddy spent a month with the archaeologists excavating a natural cave in the Nahal Mishmar whose only opening was in the vertical side of a cliff, 160 feet down from the top and 800 feet from the valley floor below. Traces of a narrow one-person wide path could be seen, apparently winding down from the top of the cliff in antiquity. It had long since eroded away and modern access to the cave was only possible by rope ladder from the cliff above.

For three weeks diggers worked through assorted debris of burials, ash, and household utensils of pottery, bone, shell, ivory, copper, stone and flint. The dry climate of the Dead Sea region also preserved organic materials - cloth of flax and wool; straw platters, baskets, mats, ropes and a sieve; leather sandals and a piece of a leather coat; food stuffs (wheat, lentils, onions, garlic, olives, dates and acorns); and bones of sheep, deer,

Freddy Halprine (left) and the author, somewhere over the Atlantic.

mountain goat, and various birds.

With most of these items in fragmentary form, they were important to the archaeologists, but meant little to Freddy. Since his metal detector survey of the cave found nothing, and he had no other regular responsibilities, Freddy decided to try his hand at digging. During the final week of the excavation he was assigned to excavate along the north wall of a passageway opening into another chamber.

Freddy noticed a small opening in the rocks and soil of the cave floor he was clearing. Without fear (or good sense - there was no way of knowing what kind of desert critter might have been hiding there), and lacking proper archaeological technique, Freddy reached his hand inside. He felt something and pulled it out, “I found something,” he announced, as he held it up high, “and there are more!”

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