Flowers, Ruins and a Skull

by Sarah on May 10, 2009

Yesterday we took a little walk near Bet Shemesh and as I mentioned in a previous post this area is riddled with ancient man-made caves dating from the time of the Bar Kokbha resistance against the Romans (132–136 AD). This particular site is called the Aytab ruins which is currently being renovated and has sections dating to the crusader era (1100-1270 AD) as well as newer additions from later Arab settlements. I like this walk because it goes through an old orchard (bustan in Hebrew and Arabic) of pomegranates, figs, almonds, prickly pears and grape vines. In the early spring there are fields of flowers but now only the thorny plants remain, the rest of the vegetation is already yellowing. There are still interesting plants to identify, both edible and extremely poisonous. One of the most infamous and poisonous plants, henbane (Hyoscyamus aureus) was growing out of the crevices of the ruins, and has been linked to many a man’s death, including that of Hamlet’s father. We have hiked here a half a dozen times but today finding henbane was a premonition to something a little bit more ominous. It was a beautiful day and that made our next find even more surprising.

We stopped by a clump of olive and oaks trees to eat but instead of sitting down, my son, being his restless and curious self took his sandwich and starting to explore the area.
“There is a little cave here and I am going in! I see a shovel in it and I am going to get it”, he called out in exuberance.

All we wanted to do was relax but Alon stuffed the remainder of the sandwich in his mouth, took his flashlight and crawled into the narrow opening. I was right outside making sure Uri (my seven year old) didn’t get too close and knock a rock onto his brother. He reached the bottom in a few seconds but no sooner did he squeeze through, he popped out again.

“There is a skull in there! A human skull!”, his eyes were colossal, he was flushed but smiling and ran out to my husband who told him,
“Are you making this up? I bet there isn’t even a shovel in there.”
But I knew by the look on Alon’s face that he was completely serious and so my husband, still skeptical, took the camera and pushed himself in as much as possible to photograph whatever was there and indeed Alon was not lying (I will spare you the picture).

Freaky! During the entire ride from the house the boys and my husband were talking about Indiana Jone’s fantastic cave adventure in Raider’s of the Lost Ark. To the boys this was great excitement and an extension of their earlier conversation!

It seemed to us that the skull was ancient because it looked, well, really old, but because neither of us have much experience with skulls, ancient or not we called the police. We were told that Israel’s antiquity authority was conducting archaeological digs in the area and that they still had not finished excavations. The skull that we found was probably in an ancient burial ground. We left the skull there but I am intensely curious to know more about this find. Unfortunately I am sure nobody will call to update us on the research being done so it is up to me to contact them.

On the way back Alon said “I thought I found a perfect round rock but when I touched it, it was too smooth and when I turned it around I saw the eye sockets.” I was afraid he would have nightmares but he had a great sleep, dreaming about adventure.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

lisaiscooking May 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm

What an adventurous day! It would be interesting to learn more about your find.


shaya May 11, 2009 at 4:38 am

Wow, what a perfect adventure for your little boys. That is amazing. As for me, I’d have been thrilled just roaming amidst the pomegranates, figs and almonds – that’s my idea of adventure!


Sarah May 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

We were told by the department of antiquity that the skull we found dates to the Arab settlement which existed until 1948-1949, this needs to be verified.
This weekend we are off to explore another cave in the North, hopefully no skulls!


dad May 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm



Robin from Israel March 5, 2011 at 11:16 am

Your son is a lot cooler than me – picking up a rock and finding it to be a human skull would have freaked me out completely!

Luckily my walk in Ben Shemen yesterday turned up nothing more sinister than almond blossoms and wildflowers (including a stunning area FULL of cyclamen, I’d never seen so many so close together before!).

(Psst… I’ve got a giveaway going for a $50 gift certificate – swing by my blog for a chance to win.)

My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!


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