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Four ‘excellently preserved’ 1,900-year-old Roman swords discovered inside Dead Sea cave

The 1,900-year-old weapons were discovered inside a cave overlooking the body of water.
The 1,900-year-old weapons were discovered inside a cave overlooking the body of water. Copyright  Ohad Zwigenberg AP Photo
Copyright  Ohad Zwigenberg AP Photo
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Archaeologists believe the weapons were seized from the Roman army and stashed in the cave by Judean rebels.

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Four Roman swords in an excellent state of preservation have been found by Israeli researchers near the Dead Sea.

The 1,900-year-old weapons were discovered inside a cave overlooking the body of water.

Three of the four 60-65cm long blades were still encased in their wooden scabbards.

The swords were spotted inside an almost completely inaccessible crevice by a team of photographers documenting an inscription.

Archaeologists believe the weapons were seized from the Roman army and stashed in the cave by Judean rebels.

"This is a dramatic and exciting discovery, touching on a specific moment in time," Eli Escusido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), said in a statement.

He explained that the arid desert conditions around the Dead Sea meant artefacts that wouldn’t have survived elsewhere in Israel have been preserved.

"This is a unique time capsule, whereby fragments of scrolls, coins from the Jewish Revolt, leather sandals, and now even swords in their scabbards, sharp as if they had only just been hidden away today," he added.

Fifty years ago, a stalactite with a partial ink inscription in ancient Hebrew script was discovered in the cave on a cliffside above the Dead Sea.

Archaeologist Dr Asaf Gayer of Ariel University, geologist Boaz Langford of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and photographer Shai Halevi of the IAA were visiting the cave recently to employ multispectral photography to reveal parts of the inscription not visible to the naked eye.

When looking around the upper level of the cave, Gayer happened upon a Roman javelin in a narrow crevice.

After reporting the find, they returned with another team to carry out excavations during which the four swords were unearthed.

The three weapons still in their wooden scabbards were identified as a Roman spatha, or long swords, while the fourth, shorter one was identified as a ring-pommel sword.

“Each one of them can tell you an entire story,” said Guy Stiebel, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist specialising in Roman military history.

“They also reflect a much grander narrative of the entire Roman Empire and the fact that from a small cave in a very remote place on the edge of the empire, we can actually shed light about those mechanisms is the greatest joy that the scientist can have,” he said.

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