Hikers stumble upon ‘rare’ 2,500-year-old item — and thought it was ‘elaborate prank’

·2 min read

Out for a weekend hike at a park in Israel, a pair of friends stumbled upon a small piece of ancient pottery — and thought it was a joke.

Eylon Levy and Yakov Ashkenazi were walking around Tel Lachish National Park and looking at the archaeological site, the friends told the Israel Antiquities Authority in a Wednesday, March 1, news release.

Then Levy spotted something. “I stumbled upon a small pottery shard,” he said in a video from the Israel Antiquities Authority. He picked it up and saw the pottery fragment had an inscription on it.

“My hands shook,” Levy told officials. “I looked left and right for the cameras, because I was sure someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.”

Except this wasn’t a prank.

A close-up view of the pottery shard.
A close-up view of the pottery shard.

The shard was a small, roughly square-shaped fragment of tan pottery, photos show. A faint inscription is carved on its lower half.

The pair reported their find to officials who sent the fragment to a lab for further study, the release said. Researchers at the lab were stunned.

The “rare find” had an inscription in Aramaic reading “Year 24 of Darius,” archaeologists said. The inscription referred to the Persian King Darius the Great, or Darius I, who ruled a large swath of land in the modern-day Middle East from 522 to 486 B.C.

This pottery shard dated to 498 B.C., toward the end of Darius the Great’s reign, archaeologists said. The fragment contains the first inscription with Darius the Great’s name found anywhere in Israel.

While the Persian king controlled modern-day Israel, the governor ruled from an “elaborate administrative building” uncovered at what is now Tel Lachish National Park, researchers said.

The 2,500-year-old pottery fragment was found around the ruins of this administrative building and may have been an “administrative note” similar to a “receipt,” archaeologists said.

An aerial view of Tel Lachish park.
An aerial view of Tel Lachish park.

“It’s actually so exciting to be part of such an amazing discovery,” Ashkenazi said in the video. “My heart started pumping because it was so special to someone like me who really likes history and archaeology to be a part of this. This is a really special moment for me.”

Tel Lachish park and archaeological site is about 35 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

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