9,000 Year-old ‘Mega Site’ Found Near Jerusalem Changes History
The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced a discovery that could change the history of the Middle East . Archaeologists have unearthed a highly developed site that is approximately 9000 years old. The find is revealing a sophisticated society and its transition from one based on hunting to agriculture. This discovery is providing new insights into the origin of urban living and civilization in the Levant.
This remarkable site was unearthed during a major infrastructure project some 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of Jerusalem, near the town of Motza. During the construction of some tunnels and a new road junction, workers came across the Stone Age settlement . A group of archaeologists working for the IAA and led by Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, have been working at the location for 18 months.
Huge Stone Age Settlement
Despite the construction work, the remains of the settlement is in very good condition. The site measures about a third of a mile (½ kilometer) in length. It is believed that at one time between 2,000-3,000 people lived at the settlement. To find such a large site is extraordinary and in the Stone Age , it would have been regarded as a metropolis.
Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily (left) and Dr. Jacob Vardi, directors of the excavations at the Neolithic settlement. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority )
The settlement was located in a fertile valley that has been almost continuously inhabited for 20,000 years. It was previously believed that there had been no major settlements in this part of the Levant in the Neolithic. The discovery of the site now means that settlements similar to those further north and east of the Jordan River once existed in Judea, part of modern Israel.
There is a great deal of evidence that the settlement was planned. It contains residential buildings , public buildings, and places of worship and there is even an alleyway. Also, there is evidence that the people who lived there were expert builders. The Times of Israel reports that “plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities”.
During the excavations “thousands of arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives” were found, reports the Times of Israel . This would show that the Neolithic site was also a manufacturing site. Some of the items produced, such as the arrowheads indicate that hunting remained important for the people who lived there up to 9,000 years ago.
The spearhead discovered at the Neolithic settlement. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority )
It appears that they only gradually abandoned hunting for food. The huge number of arrowheads may also indicate that the inhabitants engaged in local conflicts.
The Transition from Hunting to Farming
Implements such as the sickle blade would indicate that the settlement gradually became to depend on farming over time. This was a process that took several hundred years. There have been storerooms found with legume seeds, and it seems that lentils, in particular, were grown by the inhabitants.
Based on the number of sheep bones, it appears that they engaged in animal husbandry . The adoption of farming and the domestication of animals led to the rapid growth of the settlement from “maybe one hectare it grew to 30 or 40 hectares”, Vardi stated, according to the Jerusalem Post .
The team also found some jewelry, including stones bracelets, beads, mother-of-pearl medallions, and a child’s copper wrist band . The archaeologists have also unearthed goods which indicate that the settlement engaged in long-distance trade .
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Beads discovered at the Neolithic settlement near Jerusalem. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority )
They have found obsidian knives that came from Anatolia (Turkey), seashells, and basalt grinders that came from the north. “The city existed for 1500 years as a trade center” according to the Jerusalem Post .
Stone Age Art Discovered at the Neolithic Settlement
The Times of Israel reports that “a number of small statues were unearthed, including a clay figurine of an ox and a stone face”. This would suggest that the people who once lived there developed a sophisticated culture. Moreover, the orderly planning of the site would indicate that there was some central political authority governing the settlement, in the Stone Age.
9,000-year-old figurine of an ox, discovered during archaeological excavations at the Neolithic settlement. (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority )
During the digging several graves were found. They were located among the buildings including homes. The dead and the living could be found side-by-side in the settlement. A grave with two men, believed to be warriors, was also found. A donkey was unearthed at the foot of this grave, presumably killed to accompany the men into the afterlife.
Preservation of the Neolithic Site
The IAA has conducted a 3-D survey of the site, as part of an effort to map and preserve the site. They also hope to preserve as much as the Neolithic settlement as possible but recognize the need for a new road junction. The “IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration” reports the Israel National News .
Preservation and excavation works on the Motza Neolithic site. ((Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority )
This discovery will no doubt, persuade historians to revise their work on the history of this area during the late Stone Age. The settlement also shows that large scale urban centers were built during the Neolithic and that sophisticated societies evolved. It also demonstrates that early farmers only gradually abandoned hunting as a source of food. There are expected to be more amazing finds made in the future at the location.
Top image: The huge settlement from the Neolithic period that was discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Motza intersection near Jerusalem. Source: Eyal Marco / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ed Whelan