An impressive 2,200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Edomite palace or temple, was uncovered on Sukkot in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat ‘Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lakhish Regional Council in southern Israel.
During the Hellenistic period, Horvat ‘Amuda was apparently one of the agricultural satellite settlements of Maresha, which had by now become the Edomite district capital (today it is part of Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park). Prior to that, in the fifth century BCE (the Persian period), the Edomites settled in the Judean foothills. After the area was conquered by the Hasmoneans in 112 BCE, the Edomites converted and subsequently blended into the Judaean population, to the point where one of the last Hasmonean kings was the Edomite son of a convert, Herod.
According to the excavation directors, Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University, and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “if this was indeed an Edomite palace or temple, it is a rare and exciting find – similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.”
Two stone incense altars were discovered in one of the rooms. One of them, bearing the carved image of a bull, is depicted as standing in what is apparently the façade of a temple adorned with magnificent columns. According to the archaeologists, the altar is “a unique and rare find in terms of its decoration.” The bull, they say, “may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Edomites.” In addition to the incense altar, delicate pottery vessels were also uncovered, including painted bowls, small jugs and oil lamps.
Also found at the site are numerous underground spaces, used as quarries or to house ritual baths (miqvaot), oil presses and dovecotes. Hidden tunnels from the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans were also discovered. One of these contained an intact cooking pot from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).
The new discovery came to light with the help of camera-equipped drones – a technology that has become part of the archaeologists’ tool box in recent years. As part of an extensive archaeological research project of the area between Bet Guvrin and Maresha in the north and Moshav Amatzia in the south, the drone cameras photographed the archaeological remains from high above, subsequently revealing hints of the structure now under excavation.
Calling the discovery a research breakthrough, the archaeologists say: “This technology helped us choose where to focus our excavation probes, and, indeed, it very quickly emerged that this was in fact a unique discovery. We hope that our continued excavation of the site in the spring will uncover more of the story told here.”
The excavation at Horvat ‘Amuda, which was funded by the Beit Lehi Foundation and the IAA, was carried out with the participation of archaeology students from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, as well as a group of volunteers from the United States.