4,000-year-old megalithic structure contains ancient rock art
For the first time in the Southern Levant, ancient rock art has been found in a megalithic tomb structure known as a dolmen. Composed of huge stones and resembling a table, this 4,000-year-old dolmen resides in a field of more than 400 dolmens in Israel’s Golan Heights. Archaeologists from Tel Hai College, the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently published a study of this monumental dolmen—one of the largest found in the Levant—in the journal PLOS ONE.
The dolmen is surrounded by a huge circular stone heap (a tumulus) almost 66 feet in diameter. A massive stone slab covering the central chamber of the dolmen measures about 6.5 by 10 feet and weighs at least 50 tons. On the ceiling inside the chamber are a number of engravings.
“The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc,” said IAA archaeologist Uri Berger, one of the coauthors of the study, in an IAA press release. “About 15 such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery.”
Excavation of the central chamber of the dolmen uncovered a few centimeters below the surface the burial of at least three people: an adult male, an adult female and a child. The poor preservation of the skeletal remains has hindered further study.
“It is currently not possible to conclude whether the burials were found as placed during the original use of the dolmen or as disturbed by later burials,” the researchers write in the PLOS ONE article.
While the meaning of the ancient rock art is uncertain, the researchers offer a suggestion in their study: “Given the burial context and the placement of the engravings above the human remains, a possible interpretation is that they are schematic human forms or symbolic representations of the soul of the deceased. From this depiction, one may postulate the meaning of the panel as representing, or relating to, the journey that awaits the deceased.”
According to the archaeologists, the dolmen field—known as the Shamir Dolmen Field—has provided evidence that the time period in which the dolmens were constructed witnessed more socio-economic complexity than previously thought. In the PLOS ONE study, the scholars elaborate:
Until recently, the Intermediate Bronze Age (IB) of the Levant was understood by researchers as the “Dark Ages” between two urban periods. The collapse of the Early Bronze cities, the near absence of settlements in the archaeological record, together with no reported monumental buildings or any other indicators of a central regime, led to the definition of the socio-economic structure of the IB as “small-scaled mixed agro-pastoralism.” The findings from the Shamir Dolmen Field challenge this view and suggest that, at least in the Hula Valley Basin and the Northern Golan Heights, a governmental body existed that had the ability to recruit the labor and organization needed for the stonemasonry of monumental architecture.
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