Ancient, rare stone structure decorated with rock art exposed in Israel

Israeli archaeologists discovered a mysterious and unique millennia old structure, which has generated more questions than answers as to how people lived in the Holy Land 4,000 years ago. 

Israeli archaeologists discovered a mysterious dolmen, a large table-like stone structure, over 4,000 years old in the Upper Galilee.

Dolmens are found around the world from Ireland to Korea. Thousands of dolmens are scattered across the Middle East from Turkey to Yemen.

In the Golan Heights in northern Israel, thousands of dolmens of different types are identified, and scattered in concentrations known as dolmen fields. Although common and prominent in the landscape of ancient Israel, the mystery surrounding the dolmens’ age and their purpose are unresolved.

What makes this newly discovered dolmen unique is its huge dimensions, its surrounding structure, and most importantly, the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling.

It is one of more than 400 huge stone structures dating to the Intermediate Bronze Age.

The discovery of the engravings led to a research project of the dolmen and its environs, producing new revelations concerning the dolmen phenomenon in Israel.

Mysterious significance

“This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East,” said Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and partner in the study. “The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About fifteen such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery.”

The panel depicting the art was scanned in the field by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University. A three-dimensional model of the engraving was produced using an innovative technique.

“The three-dimensional scan enabled us to identify engravings that otherwise could not be seen with the naked eye”, explained Professor Lior Grossman, the laboratory director.

A 50 ton structure

The chamber inside the dolmen where the engravings were found on its ceiling is large, measuring 2 × 3 meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated fifty tons. This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East.

The dolmen was enclosed within an enormous stone heap, a tumulus, about 20 meters in diameter, and its stones are estimated to weigh a minimum of 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap. This is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically, with a main cell and secondary cells.

This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The hundreds of dolmens in the area bear witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the “Middle Ages” of the Bronze Age.

The dolmens reveal a society with a complex governmental and economic system that executed monumental engineering projects, but left behind no other archaeological evidence.

“The gigantic dolmen is without doubt an indication of public construction,” says Sharon. “It required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time. During that time all of those people had to be housed and fed. The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess. And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project”.

Circumstances surrounding the dolmens’ construction, the required technology and the culture of the people who built them are still one of the great mysteries of Israel’s archaeology.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News