Neolithic Water Well Excavated Off Levantine Coast

7,500-year-old water well reused as garbage pit


Underwater archaeologists excavating off the coast of Haifa have exposed a Neolithic period water well. Photo: J. McCarthy.

Maritime archaeologists working off the coast of Haifa, Israel, have partially excavated a 7,500-year-old water well. The water well supplied freshwater to a Neolithic period settlement at the site of Kfar Samir, which is submerged 16 feet under the Mediterranean Sea as a result of a prehistoric sea-level rise. The project is led by Dr. Ehud Galili of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of Haifa in collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Benjamin of Flinders University and Dr. Deborah Cvikel of the University of Haifa.

The contents of water wells can offer a wealth of archaeological information.

“Once [the water wells] stopped serving their intended purpose, people used them as big rubbish bins,” Dr. Benjamin explained in a Flinders University press release. “This is superb for archaeologists because it means we can look through the refuse of prehistoric societies—including animal bones, plant fibers and tools—to see how these ancient civilizations lived, how they hunted and what they ate.”

“At the Kfar Samir site, the water well was probably abandoned when sea levels started to rise and the freshwater became salty, so people threw food scraps and animal bones down the well instead,” said Dr. Benjamin. “As [this was] a pre-metal society, we expect to find stone tools—perhaps weapons made of flint—and needles made of bone.”

In addition to exposing the water well, the archaeologists took core samples for pollen analysis and used photogrammetric technology in order to create a 3D model of the site. Continued work at Kfar Samir will provide more insight into the nature of the Neolithic village.

Read the Flinders University press release.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

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  • Kurt says

    In Bible times, people made extraordinary efforts to locate reliable sources of water. Abraham and Isaac dug wells near Beer-sheba to ensure that they had sufficient water for their households and flocks.—Genesis 21:30, 31; 26:18.
    Shallow wells often dried up during the long, hot summers. To provide a dependable water supply, a well had to be deep. (Proverbs 20:5) One well in Lachish is 144 feet [44 m] deep. Another well, located in Gibeon, is over 80 feet [25 m] deep and 35 feet [11 m] wide. Digging that well required the removal of some 3,000 tons of rock. The Samaritan woman who came to draw water from Jacob’s fountain told Jesus: “The well is deep.” The water level there was perhaps 75 feet [23 m] below ground.—John 4:11.
    Cisterns were another source of water in the ancient Middle East. These underground chambers collected rainwater that fell from October to April. Channels were cut in the hillside to direct the runoff into the cisterns. The Israelites hewed out large cisterns to store water.—2 Chronicles 26:10.
    To draw water from wells and cisterns was, and still is, hard work. Women like Rebekah and Jethro’s daughters performed a vital service by drawing water every day for their families and livestock.—Genesis 24:15-20; Exodus 2:16.

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