Israeli workers building a new road and a bridge on the outskirts of Jerusalem chanced upon a huge settlement from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age), the largest known in Israel from that period, and one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Extensive salvage excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) conducted as part of widening Highway 1, near Motza Junction, exposed thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines produced by the people of the site.
Israeli construction work at various parts of the country has previously brought to the exposure of important archeological findings.
The Motza excavation site is situated on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near water fountains and close to a fertile valley and to the ancient way that led from the coastal region to Jerusalem. These optimal conditions are a central reason for long-term settlement at the site, from the Epipaleolithic Period, around 20,000 years ago, to the present day.
Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the IAA, said that “this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period – 9,000 years ago – is discovered in Israel.”
Some 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived at the village, “an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!” they pointed out.
The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, public facilities and places of ritual. Alleys were found between the buildings, bearing evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. In the buildings, plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities.
The researchers related that “in a place where people live, there are dead people as well. Burial places have been exposed in and among the houses, into which various burial offerings have been placed – either useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world. These gifts testify to the fact that already during this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places.”
Unique stone-made objects were found in the tombs, made of an unknown type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian, volcanic glass, from Anatolia in modern-day Turkey, and seashells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea. Artistic hand-made stone bracelets in several styles were also found.
“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 at the site were unearthed, including thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting, and possibly for fighting, axes used for tree-felling, and sickle blades and knives.
Similarly, built storage sheds which contained a huge quantity of legumes, especially lentils, were found. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age, and this finding is evidence of the intensive practice of agriculture, the researchers noted.
It is fair to conclude from the findings that the Neolithic Revolution, in which humanity transitioned from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, reached its summit at the site 9,000 years ago. Animal bones found on the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.
The researchers explained that “the exposure 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.”
Until this discovery, it was believed that this area was empty and that sites of this magnitude existed only on the other bank of the Jordan River, or at the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, a complex site where varied economic means of subsistence existed was found.
All findings were recorded using innovative three-dimensional technology, enabling the continued research of the site at the end of the excavation.