Israeli students discover First Temple-era water system

Israeli students chance upon an impressive First Temple-era water reservoir. 

A huge 2,700-year-old water system was recently exposed at an archaeological site near Rosh Ha-Ayin, in the center of Israel, with the help of students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology studies program.

As has been the case on many previous occasions in Israel, the archeological find was unexpectedly unearthed during excavations conducted ahead of a construction project, in this case a new residential neighborhood.

In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 millimeters, the region’s winter rains would have easily filled the huge reservoir, which is nearly 20 meters long and reaches a depth of over four meters.

On its walls, near the entrance, researchers identified engravings of human figures, crosses, and a vegetal motif that were probably carved by passersby in a later period. Overall, seven figures measuring 15–30 cm were identified. Most have outstretched arms and a few appear to be holding some kind of object

Gilad Itach, director of excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), said that “it is difficult not to be impressed by the sight of the immense underground reservoir quarried out so many years ago.”

The excavations reveal that the reservoir was built beneath a large structure with walls that are all nearly 50 meters long. Some of the potsherds found on the floors of the rooms probably belonged to vessels used to draw water from the reservoir.

Researchers believe that it is highly likely that the structure and the reservoir were built at the end of the Iron Age, the late 8th or early 7th century BCE. While the building was abandoned during the Persian period, the reservoir was still in use until modern times.

In recent years, a number of other farmsteads built at the end of the First Temple period were discovered near Rosh Ha-Ayin. They were probably erected after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 720 BCE, when the Assyrian empire dominated the region.

The IAA notes that the establishment of farmhouses in this area is interesting, given the fact that many regions within the decimated Kingdom of Israel remained desolate.

Some scholars believe that the establishment of the farmsteads was motivated by the empire’s wish to settle the area, which lay on an international route and near the western border of the Assyrian empire.

“The structure exposed in this excavation is different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads,” Itach pointed out. “Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls, and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads.”

High-school students participated in the excavations as part of a new educational program, which is designed to connect students with the past and train the archaeologists of tomorrow.

Students opting for this track as part of their chosen matriculation assessment join an excavation for a week. They experience the various tasks involved in the excavation, discuss the research questions and archaeological considerations, and document the dig in the excavation journal as part of their research work.

The site will remain an open area accessible to the public, adjacent to the new residential neighborhood.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News