Excavation director Anna Eirikh displays a horse figurine.Baz Ratner/Reuters
Figurines of a person found at Tel Motza.Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority
Overhead view of the Tel Motza excavation site.Skyview/IAA
Archaeologists have discovered a 2,750-year-old temple along with a cache of sacred artifacts, providing rare insight into religious practices at the time, the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.
The temple was uncovered west of Jerusalem, at the Tel Motza archaeological site, in preparation for work on Highway 1. Among the finds are pottery figurines, fragments of chalices and decorated pedestals, which indicate the site was the stomping ground of a ritual cult.
"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple,” said excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz in a statement.
"There are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple."
- Excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz
“The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site's proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom's main sacred center at the time."
The surrounding region has been a key archaeological site for the past two decades after the discovery of numerous buildings including a storehouse, which archaeologists believe was run by high-ranking officials at the time for Jerusalem's grain supplies. The Biblical settlement "Mozah" is mentioned in the Book of Joshua, described as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin bordering on Judaea (Joshua 18: 26).
The latest excavation has revealed a brand new structure, according to the directors, with massive walls and a wide, east-facing entrance, which conform to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East. The archeologists stress that "the find of the sacred structure together with the accompanying cache of sacred vessels, and especially the significant coastal influence evident in the anthropomorphic figurines, still require extensive research."
Such finds are rare because alternative ritual practices were banned after the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon about 3000 years ago, according to archaeological estimates.
The directors believe the site must have existed "prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period (at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah), which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem."