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A rare ancient and mysterious over 4,000-year-old dolmen decorated with ancient rock art has been uncovered

A surprising and important archaeological discovery in the Galilee: A rare ancient and mysterious dolmen over 4,000 years old decorated with ancient rock art has been revealed. According to the researchers, "this is the first documented art in a dolmen in the Middle East".

The dolmen is 4,000 years old this year. Photo: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai Academic College.
The dolmen is 4,000 years old this year. Photo: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai Academic College.

Archaeologists from the Tel Hai Academic College, the Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently discovered a mysterious dolmen (an oversized structure resembling a stone table) over 4,000 years old in a large field of dolmens, near Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee. The uniqueness of the dolmen lies in its enormous dimensions, in the structure that surrounds it, and above all - in the artistic decorations engraved on its ceiling. The study was published last weekend (2/3) in the scientific magazine PLos one.

The dolmen was discovered during a chance visit by Prof. Gonen Sharon from the Galilee Studies program at Tel Hai Academic College, in the field of dolmens around Kibbutz Shamir, which includes more than 400 huge stone buildings, dating to the Intermediate Bronze Age (over 4,000 years ago). When he entered the chamber built under the largest dolmen, he was surprised to find rock paintings engraved on the ceiling.

The discovery of the engravings led to a research project of the dolmen and its surroundings, which yielded new discoveries about the phenomenon of dolmens in the Land of Israel. "This is the first art documented in Dolman in the Middle East" says Uri Berger, an archaeologist at the Antiquities Authority and a partner in the research. "The engraved shapes show a straight line approaching the center of an arch. About 15 such engravings were recorded in the ceiling of the dolmen, scattered in a rainbow spring along the ceiling. These forms have no parallels in the art of rock engravings in the Middle East, and their meaning is still a mystery." The panel displaying the art was scanned in the field by the computerized archeology laboratory at the Hebrew University. Using an innovative technique, a three-dimensional model of the cone was produced. "The XNUMXD scan makes it possible to identify engravings that are otherwise almost undetectable with the naked eye," explains Prof. Lior Grossman, the director of the laboratory.

A three-dimensional model of the engravings: the computerized archeology laboratory of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
A three-dimensional model of the engravings: the computerized archeology laboratory of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The room inside the dolmen, in the ceiling of which the engravings were found, is large: 2x3 meters, and the stone that covers it is also enormous in size, its weight is estimated to be at least 50 tons (!) It is one of the largest stones used to build dolmens in the Middle East. The dolmen was surrounded by a huge mound of stones (tumulus), with a diameter of about 20 meters, and the weight of its stones is estimated at another 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens were identified within the wave of stones, which were placed at the foot of the decorated dolmen. This means that it is a huge monumental structure, built in a hierarchical way (central cell and secondary cells). This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The huge dolmen in Shamir is just one of hundreds of huge buildings densely scattered in this area. It testifies to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the "Middle Ages" of the Bronze Age. Archaeologists tend to interpret the past based on material findings. The absence of cities, large settlements and monumental buildings indicates the collapse of the governmental and economic systems during a "dark period" in history. The dolmens tell a different story about the period - a society with a complex governmental and economic system, carrying out monumental engineering works, but leaving no other archaeological evidence behind.

"The huge dolmen in Shamir indicates, without a doubt, a public construction" says Prof. Sharon. "Its establishment required significant personnel for a significant period of time. During this time, all these people need to be housed and fed. The construction of such a huge structure requires engineering and architectural knowledge that is not usually found in the hands of small groups of nomads. And even more importantly, a strong governmental system is needed here that can gather significant personnel, finance them and above all command the execution and control of a large and long-term project."

The dolmen - a view from the inside. Photo: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Antiquities Authority.
The dolmen - a view from the inside. Photo: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Antiquities Authority.

Despite all this, the circumstances of the establishment of the dolmens, the technology involved in their construction and the culture of the people who erected them still constitute one of the greatest mysteries in the archeology of Israel.

What is a dolmen? - A dolmen (stone table) is a megalithic structure (mega = large, lithos = stone) thousands of years old built of huge stones. The basic shape of the dolmen is table-like and most of them are surrounded by a wave of stones. Dolmens are known around the world from Ireland to Korea. Thousands of dolmens are scattered in the Middle East, from Turkey to Yemen. In the Golan Heights, thousands of dolmens of various types have been identified scattered in concentrations (dolmen fields) across the plateau. Although they are very common and very prominent in the ancient landscape of the Land of Israel, the mystery surrounding the age and purpose of the dolmens has not yet been solved.

The field of dolmens in Shamir - The field was first surveyed by the late Moshe Kagan in the 50s. Over 400 huge buildings were identified in the field, overlooking the Hula valley.

One response

  1. It seems to me that this is a kind of idolatry, what is known as Merculite, whose method of work is to throw stones and its form is two stones, one slightly larger than the other, with a large stone on top of them

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