Canaan’s Earliest City Gate

Bronze Age stone gate discovered at Tel Erani

Earliest city gate

The ancient city gate at Tel Erani. Courtesy Yoli Schwartz, IAA.

What ancient site features the earliest city gate? In Israel, at least, that would be the Early Bronze Age site of Tel Erani. During a salvage excavation of the site by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), archaeologists discovered the impressive stone gateway built into the city’s mudbrick fortification wall. Dating to around 3300 BCE, Tel Erani’s city gate is now the oldest ever found in Israel, making it several hundred years older than the gate from Tel Arad, another Early Bronze Age city. But why did Erani’s residents need the gate in the first place?

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A Powerful City Gate

Preserved to a height of almost 5 feet, the ancient city gate consists of two mudbrick towers flanking a stone-lined passageway into the city. “This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze IB has been uncovered,” said Emily Bischoff, director of the excavation. “In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mudbricks had to be manufactured, and the fortification walls had to be constructed. This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”

Tel Erani

Aeriel photo of Tel Erani. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

The newly discovered gate connects directly to Erani’s mudbrick fortification system, which was around 23 feet thick. The wall was uncovered in earlier excavations by Ben-Gurion University and the University of Krakow. Although the mudbricks used for most of the construction were made locally, the gate’s monolithic stones were brought from some distance, perhaps as far away as Lachish, located 8 miles to the east.

While the exact reason for Erani’s unexpected stone city gate and fortification system is not known, according to Martin-David Pasternak of the IAA, “It is probable that all passers-by, traders or enemies, who wanted to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate. The gate not only defended the settlement but also conveyed the message that one was entering an important strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially, and economically.”


The Beginning of Urbanism

Located in the southern coastal plain, a dozen miles east of the coastal city of Ashkelon, Tel Erani began to be intensively settled in the Chalcolithic period (c. 4500–3500 BCE) and would eventually come under the control of the growing Egyptian kingdom later in the  Early Bronze Age (c. 3500–2000 BCE).

Tel Erani

Vessels and a small figurine uncovered at Tel Erani. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

Reaching a size of 37 acres, the site of Tel Erani was an important early urban center. “The tell site was part of a large and important settlement system in the southwestern area of the country in this period,” said Yitzhak Paz, an IAA expert in the Early Bronze Age. “Within this system, we can identify the first signs of the urbanization process, including settlement planning, social stratification, and public building.” This new gate now allows researchers to push back the beginning of that process of urbanization hundreds of years.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Sha’arayim: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Second Gate Discovered

Iron Age Gate and Fortifications Uncovered at Philistine Gath

Read more in the BAS Library:

Rejected! Qeiyafa’s Unlikely Second Gate

The Last Days of Canaanite Azekah

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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