An ancient settlement and a cultic temple believed to be up to 10,000 years old have been discovered in the Judean foothills in Israel.
(Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)
JERUSALEM - An ancient settlement believed to be up to 10,000 years old is allowing archaeologists in the Judean foothills of Israel a glimpse into how society developed there over the centuries.
The remains were accidentally discovered in the south-central Israeli village of Eshta'ol during a large-scale excavation prior to the widening of a highway, researchers with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced earlier this week.
The oldest artifacts discovered are believed to be from the pre-pottery Neolithic Period. Archaeologists have found traces of rows of houses, stone axes and a cultic temple dating back to the beginning of the eighth millennium and through the fourth millennium B.C.E.
"The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages," Amir Golani, one of the excavation's directors, said in a statement. "We can clearly see that in the early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, the rural society made the transition to an urban society."
Being able to chart the transition from rural society to a planned, urban-based society is particularly exciting for the researchers, who note the remains are carefully laid out, with alleys and buildings neatly constructed.
"We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement's leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery," Golani said. "It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction."
Golani said the archaeologists have found traces of many buildings, including a large stone worked on all six sides and standing upright that could have been part of a temple.
The standing stone is a little more than 4 feet tall and weighs at least 400 pounds. One of its sides faces east, meaning it could have been a cultic temple.
"In the past, numerous manifestations have been found of the cultic practice that existed in the Chalcolithic Period," said Ya'akov Vard, another director of the excavations, referring to the Copper Age that is considered part of the Bronze Age. "However, from the research we know of only a few temples at 'En Gedi and at Teleilat Ghassul in Transjordan."
The finds at the site reveal a period when man started to settle in one place, domesticating plants and animals instead of searching for them in the wild.
Golani said it was the first time such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean foothills.
"The building, almost all of which was found, underwent a number of construction and repair phases," he said. "This is evidence of man's transition to permanent dwellings when man started raising animals near the homestead."
A cluster of nine flint and limestone axes also were discovered near the main prehistoric house-like building. Some were used as tools and others were used as cultic objects, Golani said.
"Today we can't really get by without our cellphones and computers, but back then these tools were just as vital," he said.