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Digging History

10,000-year-old house uncovered outside of Jerusalem

  • Work being conducted at the excavation.Yoli Shwarz/Israel Antiquities Authority

  • An aerial view of the large excavation along Highway 38.Sky View Company/Israel Antiquities Authority

  • The standing stone (mazzevÄ) which is worked on all of its sides. Evidence of cultic activity in the Chalcolithic period.Zinobi Moskowitz/Israel Antqiuities Authority

  • A 10,000 year old house, the oldest dwelling to be unearthed to date in the Judean Shephelah.Dr. Yaâakov Vardi/Israel Antiquities Authority

  • A Chalcolithic period building and the standing stone (mazzevÄ) positioned at the end of it.Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority

An archaeological excavation near Jerusalem has revealed a 10-millennia-old house and a 6,000-year-old cultic temple -- discoveries that experts called "a fascinating glimpse into thousands of years of human development," and evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings.

The ancient structures were found at the site of a planned expansion the main access road to Israeli city Beit Shemesh, called Route 38. The house is the oldest building ever found in the area and dates back to the time of the earliest known domestication of plants and animals.

'Up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food.'

- Excavation directors with the IAA

"We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation," said Amir Golani, one of the excavators for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). "The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages."

The oldest artifacts found are of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (approximately 10,000 years ago). According to the excavation directors, "whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food."

Golani explained that the find gave archaeologists a window onto a period 5,000 years ago in the Early Bronze Age, when a rural society made the transition into an urban society.

They "can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement's leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery."

Also among the finds were multiple structures from from the end of the Chalcolithic period (the Copper Age) some 6,000 years ago. Archaeologists found a six-sided stone column standing 51 inches high and weighing several hundred pounds.

"The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east," the excavator directors said in a press release. "This unique find alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site."

A group of nine flint and limestones axes were also discovered laying side by side near the prehistoric building. "It is apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owners. Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tools," the researchers concluded.

"It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical," said Golani.

The IAA and Netivei Israel Company will open the excavation to the visiting public this Wednesday, November 27.