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Ancient Tomb From the Dark Ages Reveals First Evidence of Rock Art in Middle East

Mar 09, 2017 06:12 AM EST
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Archaeologists unearthed the first evidence of Middle Eastern rock art in a 4,000-year-old tomb in Israel.

Mysterious symbols etched in stone adorn the burial cave of a man, woman and child in the Hula Valley, according to a report from The Times of Israel.

The trio was buried surrounded by ceramic pots under a dolmen, a stack of massive boulders that looks like a crude table. This dolmen, one of many recently-excavated tombs, is located near the Kibbutz Shamir in Hula Valley. Gonen Sharon, lead author of the study recently published in journal Plos One, first spotted the drawings back in 2012.

Sharon, in an interview with The Times of Israel, called dating the dolmens, which were scattered throughout Golan Heights, "problematic."

She explained, "It's a problem to date them because they are very obvious on the landscape and people have been using them since they were built 4,000 years ago or a little bit more than that. ... Now we have a kind of consensus that the dolmens of the Galilee and the Golan should be dated to the Intermediate Bronze Age."

The pottery and the style of the tomb helped archaeologists narrow down the timeline to around 2350 and 2000 BCE. Many researchers believed that this time period of the Early Bronze Age was characterized by the collapse of many city-state governments. Citizens were thrust into nomadic conditions or smaller villages, with the disappearance of many cities until the Middle Bronze Age.

This newly-excavated dolmen -- named Dolmen 3 -- threw a wrench into this theory, since the grave is one of the biggest ones ever recorded in the Levant and the first with multiple subchambers. This design pointed to an existing social hierarchy.

Furthermore, it contained the intriguing rock art that was the first of its kind discovered in the region. Fourteen drawings on the underside of the slab all had the same theme: a vertical line that had an arc on the end. The size and curves varied.

The meaning of the mysterious etchings remains unknown, but archaeologists have suggested that it could be the human figure or a symbol for the deceased soul.

Its these drawings along with the burial chambers -- with 50-ton slabs of basalt, no less -- and the customs that suggest there was an existing type of complex society or government during this time period.

The study is a collaboration of Tel Hai College, the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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