Photo Credit: Eyal Marko, Israel Antiquities Authority
The enormous Motza junction excavation site alongside Highway 1 to Jerusalem.

Thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines were unearthed in a huge settlement from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age). The prehistoric settlement, the largest found in Israel from that period and one of the largest of its kind in the region, was discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Motza Junction, a couple of miles from Jerusalem.

The enormous Motza junction excavation site / Eyal Marko, Israel Antiquities Authority

The project was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel national transport infrastructure company, as part of the Highway 16 Project which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west and connecting Highway 1 to Jerusalem’s Bayit VeGan neighborhood via two tunnels.

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The Motza excavation site is on the banks of the Sorek stream, near a fertile valley and the ancient road that led from the Shefela foothills to Jerusalem. According to the researchers, “these conditions were the main reason for the existence of a long-term settlement on this site, from the Epipalaeolithic period, some 20,000 years ago, to the present.”

Researchers at the Motza junction excavation site / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the IAA, “this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period – 9,000 years ago – is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 to 3,000 residents lived here – an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!”

Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and ritual places. Alleys were exposed among the buildings, evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. Plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities.

Ox figurine from Motza junction excavation / Klara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the researchers, “in a place where people live, there are dead people as well: burial places have been exposed in and among the houses, in which various burial offerings were placed – useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world.

These gifts testify to the fact that as early as this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places. Unique stone objects were found in the tombs, made of an uncommon type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian (volcanic glass) from Anatolia, and seashells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea.

Artistic stone bracelets in several styles were found as well.

A child’s stone bracelets from Motza junction excavation / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

“Due to the size of the bracelets, we estimate that they were mainly worn by children,” the researchers say. “We also found carefully crafted alabaster beads, as well as medallions and bracelets made of mother of pearl.”

Many flint tools manufactured on the site were unearthed, including thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting and fighting, axes used for tree-felling, sickle blades, and knives.

Human figurine from Motza junction excavation / Klara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Storage sheds were exposed which contained a very large quantity of legumes, especially lentils. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age. According to the researchers, “this finding is evidence of an intensive practice of agriculture in the area 9,000 years ago.” Moreover, one can conclude that the Neolithic Revolution reached its summit at that point: animal bones found in the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep growing, while hunting gradually decreased.

According to researchers, the excavation of the enormous site in Motza awakens extensive interest in the scientific world, changing what has been known about the Neolithic period in that area. In the past it was believed that the Judea area was empty back then, and that sites of that size existed only on the east bank of the Jordan river, or in the Northern Levant.

A spear that was found near the body of a warrior at the Motza junction excavation / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

“Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all this only several dozen centimeters below the surface. All findings were recorded using an innovative three-dimensional technology, so that we can continue to research the site at the end of the excavation as well,” the researches said.

Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company, said: “It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company – Netivei Israel – that tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country.”

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archeologist of the IAA, in preparation for the release of the excavated area, the entire site was documented using advanced 3D technology that will enable digital examination of every detail, and a significant portion of the prehistoric site around the excavation is being preserved.

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