Israel Antiquities Authority excavations prior to the widening of a highway in Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, have uncovered rare finds of a 6,000 year old cultic temple, the first 10,000 year old building to be discovered in the Judean plain and a nearby cluster of rare axes
The large excavation area will be open to the public on Wednesday.
Settlement remains were unearthed at the site, the earliest of which dates to the beginning of the eighth millennium BCE and latest to the end of the fourth millennium BCE.
The finds revealed at the site range from the period when man first started to domesticate plants and animals, instead of searching for them in the wild, until the period when of the beginnings of proper urban planning.
The oldest artifacts that were exposed at the site are ascribed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period of approximately 10,000 years ago.
“This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah (plain),” according to Drs. Amir Golani, Ya‘akov Vardi, and Ron Be’eri and Binyamin Storchan, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority,
The building, almost all of which was found, underwent a number of construction and repair phases that offer evidence that whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food.
The cluster of nine flint and limestone axes that were discovered lying side by side near the prehistoric make it “apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owner,” the archaeologists said.
“Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tool,” they added. “Based on how it was arranged at the time of its discovery, it seems that the cluster of axes was abandoned by its owner for some unknown reason,”
In the archaeological excavation conducted at Eshta’ol, an important and rare find from the end of the Chalcolithic period in the second half of the fifth millennium BCE was discovered in the adjacent area.
During the course of the excavation, 6,000-year-old buildings were exposed and a stone column was discovered alongside one of them. The standing stone is 1.30 meters (51 inches) high and weighs several hundred pounds.
“The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east,” according to the excavation directors.”
“We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation,” said Dr. Amir Golani, one of the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages. Thus we can clearly see that in the Early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, the rural society made the transition to an urban society.
“We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction. 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.
“It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical.”
Aerial view of excavations prior to widening the highway at Beit Shemesh,