Rare ancient temple and vessels discovered on IDF training grounds

Using drones, Israeli archaeologists recently exposed an exciting find so rare that similar sites in the nation can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News Staff

An impressive 2200-year-old structure and a rare ritual altar have been recently unearthed in the midst of an IDF training area. The structure was apparently dismantled intentionally centuries ago, perhaps during the Hasmonean conquests of the region.

The remarkable Hellenistic period structure, possibly an Idumean palace or temple, was uncovered during Sukkot in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat ‘Amuda, situated at the heart of an IDF military training area in the Lachish region.

Excavation directors Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) stated that if this was indeed an Idumean palace or temple, “it is a rare and exciting find – similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.”

Two stone incense altars were discovered in one of the rooms. One of them bears the carved image of a bull which is depicted as standing in what is apparently the façade of a temple, adorned with magnificent columns.

The altar is “a unique and rare find in terms of its decoration,” the archeologists explained. The bull, they say, “may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans.”

In addition to the incense altar, delicate pottery vessels were also uncovered, including painted bowls, jugs and oil lamps.

During the Hellenistic period, Horvat ‘Amuda was apparently one of the agricultural satellite communities of Maresha, which had by then become the Idumean district capital.

Prior to that in the fifth century BCE during the Persian era, the Idumeans, a Semitic people originating in southern Jordan, settled in the Judean Shephelah area.

After the area was conquered by the Hasmoneans in 112 BCE, the Idumeans converted and subsequently blended into the Judean population. The notion that the temple was dismantled by the Hasmoneans correlates with history.

Multi-Tiered Discoveries

Numerous underground spaces, used as quarries or to house Jewish ritual baths, oil presses and dovecotes at later eras were also found at the site.

Hiding tunnels from the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans were also discovered; one of these contained an intact cooking pot from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).

Cutting-Edge Tech at the Service of Antiquity

This discovery came through the help of camera-equipped drones, technology that has become part of the archaeologists’ toolbox in recent years.

As part of an extensive archaeological research project in the Beit Guvrin and Maresha area, the drone cameras photographed the archaeological remains from high above, subsequently revealing hints of the structure now under excavation.

Calling the discovery a research breakthrough, the archaeologists said that the technology helped them choose where to focus their excavation probes, a method that in fact led to this unique discovery.

They expressed hope that their continued excavation of the site in the spring will uncover more findings.