Eshtaol Excavations Reveal the Oldest House in the Shephelah

Bible and archaeology news

The Eshtaol excavations uncovered this 10,000 year old house, the oldest known domestic structure in the Shephelah. Credit: Dr. Ya‘akov Vardi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavations at Eshtaol recently uncovered the remains of a 10,000-year-old house in the Judean Shephelah, the lowland west of Jerusalem, as well as a later cult site, stone axes and other Neolithic remains. The excavations, which were conducted before a proposed Israeli highway expansion, revealed several stages of the millennia-long narrative of early cultural development at Eshtaol, a site associated with the birth and burial of Samson in the Biblical period (Judges 13:25; 16:31).

In an IAA press statement, archaeologists Amir Golani, Ya‘akov Vardi, Benyamin Storchan and Ron Be’eri describe the significance of the 10,000-year-old domestic building (pictured to the right), which dates to the transitional Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. “It should be emphasized that 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. Here we have evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, ancient man started raising them near the house.”

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The team also uncovered a 6,000-year-old structure featuring a smoothed standing stone, indicating the presence of cult at the site. In the BAR article “Mysterious Standing Stones: What Do These Ubiquitous Things Mean?” Doron Ben-Ami describes the type:

Standing stones have been found in the Near East from as early as 10,000 B.C.E., and they continue through the Biblical period. Massebah (plural masseboth) is the Hebrew word usually translated “standing stone(s).” Massebah and its variants appear 34 times in the Bible. Sometimes the stones are mentioned in a positive light, as when Moses set up 12 masseboth at Mt. Sinai at the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 24:4) or when Joshua erected a “great stone” at Shechem (Joshua 24:26–27). Sometimes they are referred to in a neutral context, as when Jacob set up a massebah upon awakening from the dream in which he saw a ladder (or stairs) to heaven (Genesis 28:18). But most of the time the Bible violently condemns masseboth: “You shall not … erect a massebah, which the Lord your God detests” (Deuteronomy 16:22). Masseboth have been found at numerous sites in Israel, such as Tel Dan, Arad, Megiddo, Tel Kitan and others.

The excavations also uncovered evidence of the transition into a planned and proto-urban society in the Early Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago. In the IAA statement, archaeologist Amir Golani notes that “we can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction. We 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.”

Read the IAA announcement.

Read more about Eshtaol on Todd Bolen’s Bibleplaces blog.

Learn more about Neolithic religion in Bible History Daily. Read “The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion: Is Turkey’s “Stonehenge” evidence of the oldest religion in the world?” online for free.

BAS Library Members: Read “Mysterious Standing Stones: What Do These Ubiquitous Things Mean?” by Doron Ben-Ami as it appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of BAR.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.

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  • Noah says

    Thanks for the comment Maurice. The article says that the earliest structure at Eshtaol was built around 10,000 years ago at the same site that later, in the Biblical period, became associated with Samson.

  • Maurice says

    How could this be the time of Samson? Its 10,000 years ago. Some say the Exodus took place about 3,500 years ago. Ten thousand years ago would be much earlier than Samson.

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