A unique find—a 30-inch-long arrow made from a reed—has been discovered in a Judean wilderness cave. The extraordinary low humidity of the cave environment, like that of the famous caves near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, had preserved the shaft since the end of Iron Age II, about 600 B.C.E. In the protective environment, even traces of black and white paint were still visible at the end of the shaft, where a convex slot once held the string of a bow. The broken tip of the shaft was probably damaged when the arrow struck the wall of the cave. On the floor nearby, excavators found the arrow’s 3-inch-long iron head—also remarkably well preserved.

Located less than a mile south of the ruins at Qumran, the cave is about 100 feet deep, making it the largest of the caves explored in this area. The interior of the cave showed no evidence of habitation, but a large terrace in front of the cave revealed a floor made from mud mixed with palm leaves. Perhaps this floor on the 50-foot-long, 20-foot-wide terrace belonged to a hut of one of the members of the Dead Sea sect, which had its headquarters in nearby Qumran.

The excavators of the cave, a group of American volunteers working under the direction of Joseph Patrich of Haifa University and Robert Eisenman of California State University at Long Beach, found other important traces of the people who had used the cave briefly at the end of Iron Age II. Two wooden beams were held together with a wooden nail. An oil lamp and an intact pottery juglet were also found. Most poignant were the skeletal remains of a young man found with pieces of a shroud. Whether or not he was felled by the iron arrowhead we will never know.