An ancient gate—the earliest known in the Land of Israel—was discovered recently at Tell Erani, near the Kiryat Gat Industrial Zone. Over the past month, the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out an excavation funded by the Mekorot, the national water company, before laying down a major water pipe. In the excavation, a gate and part of a fortification system of the ancient city, dated to the Early Bronze (around 3300 BCE), were uncovered. These structures reflect the beginning of urbanization in the Land of Israel and the Southern Levant.
The earliest gate that was known to date was found in Tel Arad, an estimated 300 years later than the Tel Erani gate.
The newly discovered gate was preserved to a height of 1.5 m and is comprised of a passageway built of large stones that leads into the ancient city. Two towers made of large stones flank the gate, and between them, there are rows of mudbricks. The gate is attached to the city walls that were uncovered in previous excavations.
According to Emily Bischoff, Director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze period has been uncovered. Stones had to be brought from a distance to construct the gate and the fortification walls, mudbricks had to be manufactured and the fortification walls had to be constructed. This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of a social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”
“Probably, all passersby, traders, and enemies who wished to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate,” says IAA researcher Martin-David Pasternak. “The gate not only defended the settlement, but also conveyed the message that one was entering a distinguished and strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially, and economically. This was the message to outsiders, possibly also to Egypt, where the process that would lead to the unification of the Lower and Upper Egypt under King Narmer was already beginning.”
Pasternak adds that “at the end of the Early Bronze Age, the Egyptians themselves arrived here and settled the tell, and they reused the gate.”
According to IAA archaeologist Dr. Yitzhak Paz, “Tell Erani, which is about 37 acres in size, was an important early urban center in this area in the Early Bronze period. The tell site was part of a large and important settlement system in the southwestern area of the country in this period. Within this system, we can identify the first signs of the urbanization process, including settlement planning, social stratification, and public building.
“The newly uncovered gate is an important discovery that affects the dating of the beginning of the urbanization process in the country,” Paz continues. “The extensive excavations carried out by the IAA in recent years have led to dating the beginning of urbanization to the end of the fourth millennium BCE, but the excavations carried out at Tell Erani have now shown that this process began even earlier, in the last third of the fourth millennium BCE.”
Several archaeological excavations have been carried out at Tell Erani since the mid-1950s, in an attempt to establish when urbanization began in Eretz Israel, what were the characteristics of the early cities, and whether an Egyptian conquest stimulated this growth.