A team of archeologists recently unearthed a 2,200-year-old structure from the Hellenistic period believed to be an Idumean palace or temple during excavations at the Horvat ‘Amuda site in the Lachish region of the Northern Negev.
The structure was spotted in a former military firing range area with the help of aerial drone photography. Archaeologists working on the excavation believe it could be around 2,200 years old, placing it in the Hellenistic period of Mediterranean history in between the conquest of Alexander the Great and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority are leading the excavation. So far, the excavation has revealed a series of rooms, stone walls, and underground baths. Several artifacts have been uncovered, including incense altars and other stone vessels engraved with images of bulls and the moon, leading researchers to believe that the structure might have been a temple. Bull worship was common among the Edomite (or Idumean) civilization which built settlements in this area throughout the Hellenistic period, leading archaeologists to believe that this could be one an extremely rare discovery.
In a statement, the researchers underscore how unique such a find would be if confirmed:
If this was indeed an Idumean palace or temple, it is a rare and exciting find. Similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.
Archaeologists have found evidence of a large fire among the ruins, possibly indicating that the structure was burned down at some point, likely by one of the ruling dynasties of Judea.
While the excavations will likely take years, this discovery reveals a fascinating glimpse into a little-understood period of Mediterranean history and is one more demonstration of how aerial drone photography is revolutionizing archaeology. Scattered stones and shards of artifacts had been found in the area of this new excavation site for years, but were assumed to be debris until a drone’s bird’s-eye view revealed the outlines of a larger structure. Just wait until remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) catch up with their airborne counterparts. Atlantis, here we come.
“Similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.”
Two well-preserved stone incense altars were discovered in one of the rooms. One of them, bearing the carved image of a bull, is depicted as standing in what is apparently the façade of a temple adorned with prominent columns.
According to the archeologists, the altar is “a unique and rare find in terms of its decoration.”
The bull, they say, may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans.
In addition to the incense altar, delicate pottery vessels were also uncovered, including painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps.
Also found at the site were numerous underground spaces used as quarries, or to house ritual baths (mikvaot), oil presses and dovecotes. Additionally, hiding tunnels from the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans were discovered, with one containing an intact cooking pot from the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).
The archeologists said the discovery came to light with the help of camera-equipped drones, a new technology that has become part of their tool box in recent years.
“As part of an extensive archeological research project of the area between Bet Guvrin and Maresha in the North, and Moshav Amatzia in the South, the drone cameras photographed the archeological remains from high above, subsequently revealing hints of the structure now under excavation,” they said.
They described the drones as a “research breakthrough.”
“This technology helped us choose where to focus our excavation probes, and, indeed, it very quickly emerged that this was in fact a unique discovery,” they added.
“We hope that our continued excavation of the site in the spring will uncover more of the story told here.”
The excavation was funded by the Beit Lehi Foundation and the IAA, and carried out with the participation of archeology students from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, as well as a group of volunteers from the United States.