Category Archives: ISRAEL

Atlit Yam’s: A  9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement

Atlit Yam’s: A  9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement

There really is no limit to the number of archaeological wonders in Israel, virtually anywhere you look there is something wonderful to discover. But, hidden beneath the water, there is also an entire world, which has been overtaken by nature, silently existing next to the observable land sites, that wants to tell us the story of prehistoric Israel.

Invisible by rising sea levels, Israel’s shores are littered with submerged structures and sunken settlements that have been lost underwater over thousands of years. Below the waves, you’ll discover a domain where plants and animals were domesticated and the shift from a hunting and gathering economy to farming was made.

Along Haifa’s coast are the remnants of a Neolithic fishing village that drowned 9,000 years ago by the rising water level. Today, the exceptionally well preserved 40,000 m² site is located approximately 200-400 m offshore on the north bay of Atlit, at a depth of 8-11 m below modern sea level. Atlit Yam is one of the best-preserved submerged prehistoric settlements in the world. It was discovered and studied during the 1980s and 1990s, while excavations and surveys were carried out in the years 1985-2000.

Atlit Yam's: A 9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement
Atlit Yam is an ancient submerged Neolithic village off the coast of Atlit, Israel

A wealth of material culture has been uncovered which gives us insight into how people had to cope with a radically changing world and where new technologies were introduced. Sea- level rise forced the inhabitants of this Pre-Pottery Neolithic village to abandon the settlement and relocate multiple times to higher grounds.

It was here that the earliest known constructed fresh-water wells (with stone walls) were discovered. At the centre of the settlement, seven megaliths are arranged in a semicircle around a freshwater spring.

A diver explores a well at the site of Atlit Yam, an ancient submerged Neolithic village off the coast of Atlit, Israel.

The inhabitants lived on what we now call a traditional Mediterranean diet. Remains of about 100 different plants, which were cultivated and/or collected from the wild, were recovered as well as bones of fish, domestic and wild animals.

The village’s subsistence was based on a mixed economy of agriculture with animal husbandry supplemented by hunting, gathering and fishing. Possibly this well- balanced diet contributed to the relatively good health and longevity of the inhabitants. A substantial part of the population reached the exceptional age of 50 years old.

Sites from this period with published human remains are few, but Atlit Yam yielded a significant number of human burials, which help us in our attempt to understand this vanished society. Through the remains, we have learned that the population had to cope with diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria and some skeletons had a specific ear pathology symptomatic of diving in cold water.

The discovery of the earliest known cases of human tuberculosis (TB) in the bones of a mother and baby, showed that the disease is 3,000 years older than previously thought. This discovery sheds light on how the TB bacterium has evolved over the millennia and increases our understanding of how it may change.

Scientists might be able to develop more effective treatments in the future thanks to this discovery. The examination of this ancient DNA confirms the latest theory that bovine TB evolved later than human TB. In contrast to the original theory that human TB evolved from bovine TB after animal domestication.

The inhabitants were buried, placed in a flexed position on their sides or backs, sometimes in group graves.

Many shore communities face inundation in the coming decades caused by global warming. Sea level rise is usually cast as a doomsday scenario that will play out into the future, but Atlit Yam sends us a strong warning from the past. They were already battling chronic flooding 9,000 years ago.

It’s not that we expect sea levels to rise, they are already rising. Chronic flooding can only be avoided by adaptation measures, like seawalls, levees, dams, flood controls or as in the case of Atlit Yam, by moving away.

Millions of people would be displaced and the costs of protecting modern-day cities from rising sea levels would also likely rise. We are not doing enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future.

Climate change is inevitable, and we must establish what might happen and how much financial damage that would cause. Studies indicate that many coastal settlements around the world will be partially submerged by 2070 if nothing is done. We must take it seriously and learn the lessons from the past. The rising sea not only floods the coastal regions but also cause underground water salinization, flooded sewages, accelerated coastal destruction, and other damage.

People have moved throughout history, and for many reasons. Some were forced to move due to conflict, persecution, flooding or disasters such as drought influenced famine.  It is important to understand that not all climate-related hazards can be attributed to climate change and it is here that Atlit Yam can provide important data to make those distinctions.

Traces of long-forgotten human settlements claimed by the sea thousands of years ago are being uncovered by archaeologists along the coastline of Israel. The discoveries are helping to fill in some of the blanks about Israel’s prehistory and are offering insights into how we responded to climate change in the past. Uncovering these stories could offer some clues about what our own future holds too.

Reconstruction drawing of the stone structure found at Atlit Yam.

The research was funded by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Matla and Feival Coastal and Underwater Archaeological Foundation (MAFCAF), the Irene Levi Sala Care Archaeological Foundation, and the National Geographic Foundation.

Publications by Ehud Galili, University of Haifa; Avi Gopher and Israel Hershkovitz, Tel Aviv University; Vered Eshed, Israel Antiquities Authority. Dr Helen Donoghue and Dr Mark Spigelman, UCL Centre for Infectious Diseases & International Health, and scientists from Tel-Aviv University.

Two Roman-era Sarcophagi Unearthed in Central Israel

Two Roman-era Sarcophagi Unearthed in Central Israel

According to a statement released by The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, two 1,800-year-old sarcophagi were unearthed at Ramat Gan Safari Park during construction work at its wildlife hospital. 

The new building, designed to offer sophisticated veterinarian facilities for birds and mammals, houses a specialist operation theatre and a large bird nursery that will provide quiet,  heated housing for the frequent feeds needed during the chick-rearing seasons.

During its construction, an extraordinary discovery was made last week – two unique sarcophagi, ancient stone coffins, were found in the earthworks.

roman sarcophagi

Veteran safari workers present at the time said that the coffins had been found years ago in the area of the safari’s parking lot.

At the time, the sarcophagi were moved to a location near the veterinary clinic and the African savanna zone. Still, over the years, they were forgotten and became buried under sand and thick vegetation.

When work on the new wildlife hospital began a few days ago, the contractor working in the area started digging. Suddenly, Rami Tam, head of the African savanna zone, noticed the two coffins jutting out of the soil.

He quickly called animal health and management director Shmulik Yedvab, who came to see the find and contacted Alon Klein and Uzi Rothstein at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit.

Hardly believing their eyes, the inspectors were astonished to see sarcophagi of this kind at the Safari Park. After a thorough examination, they excitedly confirmed the unique find’s great age.

Based on the stones and their ornate decoration, the sarcophagi were intended for high-status people who were buried near the Safari Park.

According to Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, the sarcophagi are roughly 1,800 years old and date from the Roman period. They are ornamented with symbolic discs – to protect and accompany the soul on its journey to the afterlife – and flower garlands, often used to decorate sarcophagi in the Hellenistic period as well.

Between the garlands are oval blanks, which the archaeologists believe were originally intended to be filled with a customary grape-cluster motif, but for some unknown reason, the work remained unfinished.

The sarcophagi, made of local stone – probably from the Judean Hills or Samaria – are locally-produced imitations of the prestigious sarcophagi made of Proconnesian marble from the Turkish island of Marmara.

Found together, the two sarcophagi bear identical ornamentation, and they may have been made for a husband and wife or for members of the same family. The exact provenance of the sarcophagi is unknown.

Still, they were probably buried near the Safari Park, in the region of Messubim – the site of ancient Bnei Brak in the Roman period, known to us from the Passover Haggadah.

The wealthy owners of the sarcophagi, buried with their grave goods, had no idea that the coffins would find a place of honour alongside giraffes, elephants, and a bird nursery. On Tuesday of this week, the sarcophagi were transferred to their rightful location in the Israeli National Treasures repositories.

Archaeologists Find Remains of ‘Rare’, Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias

Archaeologists Find Remains of ‘Rare’, Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias

Archaeologists in Israel say they have discovered the remnants of an early mosque — believed to date to the earliest decades of Islam — during an excavation in the northern city of Tiberias.

This mosque’s foundations, excavated just south of the Sea of Galilee by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, point to its construction roughly a generation after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, making it one of the earliest Muslim houses of worship to be studied by archaeologists.

“We know about many early mosques that were founded right in the beginning of the Islamic period,” said Katia Cytryn-Silverman, a specialist in Islamic archaeology at Hebrew University who heads the dig. Other mosques dating from around the same time, such as the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, the Great Mosque of Damascus, and Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, are still in use today and cannot be tampered with by archaeologists.

Cytryn-Silverman said that excavating the Tiberian mosque allows a rare chance to study the architecture of Muslim prayer houses in their infancy and indicates a tolerance for other faiths by early Islamic leaders. She announced the findings this month at a virtual conference.

When the mosque was built around 670 AD, Tiberias had been a Muslim-ruled city for a few decades. Named after Rome’s second emperor around 20 AD, the city was a major center of Jewish life and scholarship for nearly five centuries. Before its conquest by Muslim armies in 635, the Byzantine city was home to one of a constellation of Christian holy sites dotting the Sea of Galilee’s shoreline.

Archaeologists Find Remains of 'Rare', Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias
This 2014 aerial photo shows the site of the Al-Juma (Friday) Mosque in Tiberias, northern Israel.

Under Muslim rule, Tiberias became a provincial capital in the early Islamic empire and grew in prominence. Early caliphs built palaces on its outskirts along the lakeshore. But until recently, little was known about the city’s early Muslim past.

Gideon Avni, the chief archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who was not involved in the excavation, said the discovery helps resolve a scholarly debate about when mosques began standardizing their design, facing toward Mecca.

“In the archaeological finds, it was very rare to find early mosques,” he said.

Archaeological digs around Tiberias have proceeded in fits and starts for the past century. In recent decades the ancient city has started yielding other monumental buildings from its past, including a sizeable Roman theater overlooking the water and a Byzantine church.

Since early last year, the coronavirus pandemic halted excavations and lush Galilean grasses, herbs, and weeds have grown over the ruins. Hebrew University and its partners, the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, plan to restart the dig in February.

Initial excavations of the site in the 1950s led scholars to believe that the building was a Byzantine marketplace later used as a mosque.

But Cytryn-Silverman’s excavations delved deeper beneath the floor. Coins and ceramics nestled among at the base of the crudely crafted foundations helped date them to around 660-680 AD, barely a generation after the city’s capture. The building’s dimensions, pillared floor-plan, and qiblah, or prayer niche, closely paralleled other mosques from the period.

Avni said that for a long time, academics weren’t sure what happened to cities in the Levant and Mesopotamia conquered by the Muslims in the early 7th century.

“Earlier opinions said that there was a process of conquest, destruction, and devastation,” he said. Today, he said, archaeologists understand that there was a “fairly gradual process, and in Tiberias, you see that.”

The first mosque built in the newly conquered city stood cheek by jowl with the local synagogues and the Byzantine church that dominated the skyline. This earliest phase of the mosque was “more humble” than a larger, grander structure that replaced it half a century later, Cytryn-Silverman said.

“At least until the monumental mosque was erected in the 8th century, the church continued being the main building in Tiberias,” she added.

She says this supports the idea that the early Muslim rulers — who governed an overwhelmingly non-Muslim population — adopted a tolerant approach toward other faiths, allowing a “golden age” of coexistence.

“You see that the beginning of the Islamic rule here respected very much the population that was the main population of the city: Christians, Jews, Samaritans,” Cytryn-Silverman said. “They were not in a hurry to make their presence expressed into buildings. They were not destroying others’ houses of prayers, but they were actually fitting themselves into the societies that they now were the leaders of.”

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old ‘Biblical royal purple dye’

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old ‘Biblical royal purple dye’

In Israel, fragments of dyed thread uncovered dating back 3,000 years refer to the accounts in the Bible of the purple garments worn by royalty including King Solomon. Researchers from Israel find traces of woven fabric, a tassel,  and fibers of wool dyed in so-called ‘royal purple’ from a dig site in the Timna Valley.

The area is rich in copper ore in the country’s south and has been mined since the 5th millennium BC. It belonged to Edom, the biblical kingdom. The discovery is the first time that purple cloth from about 1,000 BC has been discovered and represents a glimpse into the Biblical Kings’ wardrobes.

Purple dye was coveted for its vibrant colour and longevity — but its origins, being sourced in minute amounts from shellfish — made it expensive to use.

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old 'Biblical royal purple dye'
Scraps of dyed thread (pictured) unearthed in Israel that date back 3,000 years match the descriptions of the purple garments worn by royalty like King Solomon in the Bible

‘This is a very exciting and important discovery,’ said the Israel Antiquities Authority’s curator of organic finds, Naama Sukenik. This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye.’

‘In antiquity, purple attire was associated with the nobility, with priests, and of course with royalty.’ Direct radiocarbon dating has confirmed that the finds date from around 1,000 BC, matching the times of the biblical monarchies of David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

In the Old Testament, the colour is mentioned in the ‘Song of Songs’, chapter 3, verses 9–10.

‘King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon,’ the scripture reads. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior inlaid with love.’

Royal purple dye — made from molluscs found in the Mediterranean, over 186 miles (300 km) north of Timna — is described in various Jewish and Christian texts. However, this is the first time that purple-dyed Iron Age textiles have actually been found in Israel — or, indeed, anywhere throughout the Southern Levant.

‘The gorgeous shade of the purple, the fact that it does not fade, and the difficulty in producing the dye — which is found in minute quantities in the body of molluscs — all made it the most highly valued of the dyes,’ explained Dr Sukenik. The dye, he continued, often cost more than the equivalent amount of gold.

‘Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusc-shell waste and potsherds with patches of dye, which provided evidence of the purple industry in the Iron Age.’

‘Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3000 years.’

Other organic materials — including Iron Age textiles, cords and leather — were also preserved at the Timna site thanks to the region’s extremely dry climate. These artefacts — which also date back to the time of David and Solomon — offer a unique glimpse into life during biblical times, the researchers said.

Researchers from Israel found remnants of woven fabric (pictured), a tassel and fibres of wool dyed in so-called ‘royal purple’ from a dig site in the Timna Valley

‘Our archaeological expedition has been excavating continuously at Timna since 2013,’ said Erez Ben-Yosef of Israel’s Tel Aviv University. If we excavated for another hundred years in Jerusalem, we would not discover textiles from 3,000 years ago.’

‘The state of preservation at Timna is exceptional and it is paralleled only by that at much later sites — such as Masada and the Judean Desert Caves.’

In recent years, the archaeologists have been excavating a relatively new site in the region, which is referred to as ‘Slaves’ Hill’.

‘The name may be misleading since, far from being slaves, the labourers were highly skilled metalworkers,’ added Professor Ben-Yosef. Timna was a production center for copper, the Iron Age equivalent of modern-day oil,’ the archaeologist continued.

‘Copper smelting required advanced metallurgical understanding that was a guarded secret and those who held this knowledge were the “hi-tech” experts of the time,’ he said.

‘Slaves Hill is the largest copper-smelting site in the valley and it is filled with piles of industrial waste such as slag from the smelting furnaces,’ said Professor Ben-Yosef.

‘One of these heaps yielded three scraps of coloured cloth. The colour immediately attracted our attention, but we found it hard to believe that we had found true purple from such an ancient period’.

According to the researchers, the purple dye — thought to have been called argaman in Hebrew — was produced from three species of mollusc that are indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea.

These species included the Banded Dye-Murex, the Spiny Dye-Murex and the Red-Mouthed Rock-Shell. The dye was made from a gland inside the body of the mollusc via a complex chemical process that lasted several days.

Argaman (purple) and tekhelet (azure) colours are often mentioned together in ancient texts and still have symbolic value and religious significance to this day. Temple priests, the Kings David and Solomon (pictured), and also Jesus of Nazareth are described as having worn purple

Today, most experts agree that two different precious dyes — the purple argaman and the light blue, or azure, tekhelet — were both produced from the purple dye molluscs, but using different levels of exposure to light.

These two colours are often mentioned together in ancient texts and still have symbolic value and religious significance to this day. Temple priests, the Kings David and Solomon and also Jesus of Nazareth are described as having worn purple-coloured clothing.

To reconstruct the mollusc dyeing process, Professor Amar travelled to Italy where he cracked open thousands of molluscs to extract raw material from their innards. This was then used in hundreds of attempts to reconstruct the ancient dye.

The Timna Valley — in the country’s south — is rich in copper ore and has been mined since the 5th millennium BC. It belonged to the biblical Kingdom of Edom.

Traces of Possible Neolithic Tsunami Found in Israel

Traces of Possible Neolithic Tsunami Found in Israel

Prehistoric tsunami disasters had a significant impact on coastal societies,” said lead author Dr Gilad Shtienberg from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues at the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology.”

“6,000 years of historical records and geological data show that tsunamis are a common phenomenon affecting the eastern Mediterranean coastline, occurring at a rate of around 8 events per century in the Aegean region over the past 2,000 years and approximately 10 per century over the past 3,000 years in the Levant basin.”

“Most of these events are small and have only local impacts.”

In the study, the researchers found a large paleo-tsunami deposit (between 9,910 to 9,290 years ago) at the archaeological site of Tel Dor in northwest Israel.

“Tel Dor, located along the Carmel coast of northwest Israel, is a maritime city-mound that has been occupied from the Middle Bronze II period (2000 to 1550 BCE) throughout the Roman period (3rd century CE) while Byzantine and Crusader remains are also found on the tel,” they said.

“The local environment of Dor is characterized by a series of unique embayments/pocket beaches that stand out from the linear morphology of the southeastern Mediterranean littoral shoreface.”

To conduct their analysis, the scientists used photogrammetric remote sensing techniques to create a digital model of the Tel Dor site, combined with underwater excavation and terrestrial borehole drilling to a depth of 9 m (29.5 feet).

In their samples, they found an abrupt layer of seashells and sand, dated to between 9,910 and 9,290 years ago, in the middle wetland layers deposited 15,000 to 7,800 years ago.

They estimate that the ancient tsunami had a run-up of at least 16 m and travelled between 3.5 to 1.5 km inland from the paleo-coastline.

The near absence of Pre-Pottery Neolithic A-B archaeological sites (11,700-9,800 years ago) suggest these sites were removed by the tsunami, whereas younger, late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B-C (9,250-8,350 years ago) and later Pottery-Neolithic sites (8,250-7,800 years ago) indicate resettlement following the event.

“We can’t know for sure why people weren’t living there, in a place otherwise abundant with evidence of early human habitation and the beginnings of village life in the Holy Land,” said Professor Thomas Levy, a researcher in the Department of Anthropology and the Levant and Cyber-Archaeology Laboratory in the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego.

“Was the environment too altered to support life? Was the tsunami part of their cultural knowledge — did they tell stories of this destructive event and stay away? We can only imagine.”

“Our project focuses on reconstructing ancient climate and environmental change over the past 12,000 years along the Israeli coast, and we never dreamed of finding evidence of a prehistoric tsunami in Israel,” Dr Shtienberg said.

“Scholars know that at the beginning of the Neolithic, around 10,000 years ago, the seashore was 4 km (2.5 miles) from where it is today.”

“When we cut the cores open in San Diego and started seeing a marine shell layer embedded in the dry Neolithic landscape, we knew we hit the jackpot.”

Investigation in Israel Reveals Wide Range of Artifacts

3,800-year-old baby in a jar unearthed in Israel

Live Science reports that recent archaeological investigations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the ancient port city of Jaffa, which is located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, have uncovered a middle Bronze Age burial, a pit filled with Hellenistic pottery dated from the fourth to first centuries B.C, coins, and pieces of Roman and medieval glass.

Team member Yoav Arbel said the 3,800-year-old skeletal remains of an infant were found in a jar that may have been intended to protect the delicate remains. “

While such burials of babies are not that rare, it is a mystery why the infants were buried this way, said Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who was part of the team that discovered the jar.

3,800-year-old baby in a jar unearthed in Israel
Archaeologists found an infant jar burial about 10 feet (3 meters) under street level in Jaffa, which dated to the Middle Bronze Age II.

Arbel told Live Science, “You might go to the practical thing and say that the bodies were so fragile, [maybe] they felt the need to protect it from the environment, even though it is dead,” Arbel told Live Science.

“But there’s always the interpretation that the jar is almost like a womb, so basically the idea is to return [the] baby back into Mother Earth, or into the symbolic protection of his mother.”

The 4,000-year-old city of Jaffa, where the jar was found, is the older part of Tel Aviv, the second most populated city in Israel after Jerusalem. It was one of the earliest port cities in the world, and has been almost continuously occupied since about 900 B.C., Arbel said

“We’re talking about a city that was ruled by a lot of different people,” Arbel said. “Let’s say that a lot of flags flew from its mast before Israel’s flag of today.”

Despite how strange the baby burial seems to modern eyes, it’s not an unusual find for the region.

“There are different periods when people buried infants in jars in Israel,” Arbel said. “The Bronze Age all the way to less than 100 years ago.” 

The finds were detailed in the 100th issue of the journal Atiqot, which includes more than 50 other studies on archaeology from Jaffa.

A roof tile with a bear stamp found in Jaffa.
A stone with a cross discovered in a Persian period cemetery located in Jaffa.
A stone with a cross discovered in a Persian period cemetery located in Jaffa.
An early Byzantine period mosaic written in Greek from Jaffa saying, in essence, “That’s life!”

Because Jaffa has been almost continuously used for four millennia, the other finds described in the journal span the Hellenistic, Crusader and Ottoman periods.

For instance, at another site, Arbel and his team found a big rubbish pit brimming with pieces of imported amphorae (ceramic vessels) dating to the Hellenistic period, from the fourth to the first centuries B.C.

These roughly 2,300-year-old amphorae, which were used to hold wine, were crafted on various Greek Aegean Islands such as Rhodes and Kos, Arbel said. This one pit provides more evidence that trade routes between Jaffa and Greece were robust, Arbel said.

Archaeologists also found: 30 coins dating to the Hellenistic, Crusader (12th–13th centuries), late Ottoman (late 18th–early 20th centuries) and British Mandate (1942) periods; the remains of at least two horses and pottery dating to the Ottoman Empire; 95 glass vessel fragments from Roman and Crusader times; and 232 seashells, including those from the Mediterranean Sea, land snails and three mother-of-pearl buttons.

There’s also the witty, ancient Greek mosaic discovered near an A.D. fourth- or fifth-century necropolis, saying “Be of good courage, all who are buried here. This is it!”

In essence, it means “this is life!” and that death is everyone’s shared destiny, said Zvi Greenhut, head of the publication department at the IAA, told Live Science.

Israeli Archaeological Dig Uncovers 9,000-year-old Mega City

Israeli Archaeological Dig Uncovers 9,000-year-old Mega City

The largest ever Neolithic settlement discovered in Israel and the Levant, say archaeologists  — is currently being excavated ahead of highway construction five kilometres from Jerusalem.

Because of its scale and the preservation of its material culture, the 9,000-year-old site, situated near the town of Motza, is the ‘Big Bang’ for prehistory settlement research, said Jacob Vardi, co-director of the excavations at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority,

Vardi said It’s a game-changer, a site that will shift what we know about the Neolithic era drastically.” He said that some international scholars are beginning to realize the existence of the site may necessitate revisions to their work, he said.

“So far, it was believed that the Judea area was empty and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or in the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all these only several dozens of centimeters below the surface,” according to Vardi and co-director Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily in an IAA press release.

Roughly half a kilometer from point to point, the site would have housed an expected population of some 3,000 residents. In today’s terms, said Vardi, prehistoric Motza would be comparable to the stature of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv — “a real metropolis.”

According to an IAA press release, the project was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company) as part of the Route 16 Project, which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west running from the Route 1 highway at the Motza Interchange to the capital.

According to co-director Khalaily, the people who lived in this town had trade and cultural connections to widespread populations, including Anatolia, which is the origin for obsidian artifacts discovered at the site. Other excavated materials indicate intensive hunting, animal husbandry, and agriculture.

Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Antiquities Authority Excavation director at the Motza site, holding a bowl from the Neolithic Period.

“The society was at its peak” and appeared to increasingly specialize in raising sheep, said Khalaily.

In addition to prehistoric tools such as thousands of arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives, storage sheds containing large stores of legumes, especially lentils, were uncovered. “The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age,” said the archaeologists.

Archaeologists recovered thousands of flint tools crafted by early farmers, such as sickles to harvest crops and arrowheads for hunting and warfare.

Alongside utilitarian tools, a number of small statues were unearthed, including a clay figurine of an ox and a stone face, which Khalaily joked was either a human representation “or aliens, even.”

9,000-year-old figurine of an ox, discovered during archaeological excavations at Motza near Jerusalem.

In the ancient, unrecorded past as well as today, the site is situated on the banks of Nahal Sorek and other water sources. The fertile valley is on an ancient path connecting the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem, said the IAA. “These optimal conditions are a central reason for long-term settlement on this site, from the Epipaleolithic Period, around 20,000 years ago, to the present day,” according to the press release.

“Thousands of years before the construction of the pyramids, what we see in the neolithic period is that more and more populations turn to live in a permanent settlement,” said Vardi. “They migrate less and they deal more and more in agriculture.”

Among the architecture uncovered in the excavation are large buildings that show signs of habitation, as well as what the archaeologists identify as public halls and spaces used for worship. In a brief video published by the IAA, archaeologist Lauren Davis walks a narrow path between remains of buildings — a prehistoric alleyway. “Very much like we see in buildings today, separated by alleys between,” said Davis.

Israeli Archaeological Dig Uncovers 9,000-year-old Mega City
Excavation works on the Motza Neolithic site

According to the archaeologists, this alleyway is “evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning.” Likewise, the archaeologists discovered that plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and sealing various facilities during the construction of the residents’ domiciles and buildings.

In addition to signs of life, the archaeologists uncovered several graves. According to Davis, in the midst of a layer dating to 10,000 years ago, archaeologists found a tomb from 4,000 years ago. “In this tomb are two individuals — warriors — who were buried together with a dagger and a spearhead,” she said.

“There’s also an amazing find,” said Davis, “which is a whole donkey, domesticated, that was buried in front of the tomb probably when they sealed it.” Added Vardi, the donkey was apparently meant to serve the warriors in the world to come.

According to Amit Re’em, the IAA’s Jerusalem District archaeologist, despite the roadworks, a significant percentage of the prehistoric site around the excavation is being preserved and all of it is being documented.

Each architectural structure is being documented through 3-D modeling. “When we finish the excavation here,” said Vardi, “we will be able to continue to research the site in the laboratory,” adding that this is an unprecedented use of technology.

“In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Motza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut,” announced the IAA release.

3000-year-old temple-era gold bead found by 9-year-old Jerusalem boy

3000-year-old temple-era gold bead found by 9-year-old Jerusalem boy

A nine-year-old boy, the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) revealed earlier this week, found the first-ever Temple-era gold granule bead during wet sifting of earth from the Temple Mount.

In August, while sifting through the soil with his kin, Binyamin Milt, a resident of Jerusalem, unearthed a perfectly preserved small, flower-shaped cylinder, made of four layers of tiny gold balls, unaware that the item he carried was probably forged around 3,000 years ago.

In fact, the bead was so well preserved that when the boy took the bead to the supervising archaeologist, he initially wrote it off as likely to be an unidentified modern object, not even writing down the boy’s contact information before hurrying back to continue sifting.

3000-year-old temple-era gold bead found by 9-year-old Jerusalem boy
First Temple-era gold granule bead

It was only while sorting through the summer’s artefacts in Dr Gabriel Barkay’s backyard that he realized the bead was strikingly similar to several similar items he had found when he excavated burial systems from the First Temple period in Katef Hinnom.

While those beads were made of silver, they were identical to the gold bead in both shape and manufacturing method (called granulation).

Similar beads have been found in several other sites across Israel, dated to various periods, with the overwhelming majority dating to the Iron Age (12th to 6th centuries BCE).

Once the bead’s significance had become clear, TMSP researchers called all the families who participated in the sifting on that specific day, until they made contact with Binyamin.

Pieces of gold jewellery are rarely found among archaeological artefacts from the First Temple period since gold at that time was not refined and generally contained a significant percentage of silver.

Granulation is a technique which demands of the goldsmith a considerable amount of expertise and experience, due to the many components and complex manufacturing stages.

The granules are shaped using tiny metal pieces which are melted on a bed of charcoal or charcoal powder, which absorbs air, preventing oxidation.

Once the metal melts, the surface tension of the liquid produces ball-shaped drops. An alternative method involves dripping the liquid metal from a height into a bowl and constantly stirring the drops.

At this stage, it is not yet clear what purpose the bead served, though initial projections by TMSP members say it could have been part of an ornament worn by an important personage who visited the Temple, or by a priest. More info on the piece will be published once all the artefacts from the summer are processed.

TMSP was founded in response to illegal renovations which were carried out in 1999 by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, disposing of over 9,000 tons of dirt, mixed with invaluable archaeological artefacts, dumping it all into the Kidron Valley.

Archaeologists Dr Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira retrieved the rubble and began sifting through it in 2004, with the goal of understanding the archaeology and history of the Temple Mount, while preserving history.

Over the years, it has grown into an internationally significant project, bringing in over 200,000 volunteers who have helped the researchers find thousands of priceless artefacts.