The announcement last week of researchers finding a cache of four 1,900-year-old Roman swords in a cave in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in the Judean Desert overshadowed what may have been an even more remarkable find discovered in the same cave: a paleo-Hebrew inscription written in ink on a stalactite in the ancient script typical of the First Temple period.
About 50 years ago a paleo-Hebrew inscription was discovered in a cave near Ein Gedi. The partial inscription was painted on a stalactite with carbonite ink around the 7th century BCE. Dr. Asaf Gayer decided it was time to revisit the site to re-photograph the inscription using multispectral imaging. Such imaging has already done wonders to reveal invisible text on pottery sherds and other engravings. He invited his geologist colleague Boaz Langford to join in. They recruited Israel Antiquities Authority photographer Shai Halevi to record the expedition.
After photographing the stalactite, Gayer suggested they perform a thorough archaeological survey inside the cave. It was then that they discovered the four swords in their wood and leather scabbards and an extremely well-preserved Roman pilum (a shafted weapon). The story of the discovery of the swords caught the public eye but the story of the inscription was largely overlooked.