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In 2nd archeological find near Gaza border since the war began, IDF reservists find ancient grinding mortar

Lt. Col Yair Amitsur and Sarah Tal, both of the IAA, with a grain grinder discovered in a staging area near Gaza, in a photo released on December 7, 2024. (Photo: Ilan Glick/IAA)

For the second time since the start of the war in Gaza, IDF reservist soldiers have made an archaeological find near the Gaza border.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Sunday that reservists serving near the Gaza border discovered an ancient basalt mortar, most likely used for grinding grain. 

The discovery of the tool was made by two reservists, Lt.-Col. Yair Amitsur, the commander of the civilian front in Division 143, and Lt.-Col. Elyashiv Bohbot, second rabbi of the division. 

A grain grinder discovered in a staging area near Gaza, in a photo released on December 7, 2024. (Photo: Sarah Tal/IAA)

The two soldiers were patrolling the field when they noticed a basalt block. 

“As part of the routine field patrols in the Otaf sector, our eye was caught by a pile of soil on the side of the road, from which a round basalt block stood out,” said Bohbot.

“We pulled the block out and it turned out that it was a fairly large and heavy tool.” 

The latest find comes just two weeks after another two IDF reservists discovered a 1,500-year-old Byzantine oil lamp in a staging area near the Gaza border.

According to the IAA's announcement on Sunday, Amitsur, who works for IAA, immediately recognized the basalt tool as a mortar, called makhtesh in Hebrew, commonly used for grinding grain. The mortar would be paired with a pestle, made of stone or wood, and used for grinding grains or legumes to make flour. 

“Basalt is familiar to us from the north of the country or from other remote areas,” Amitsur explained. “In light of this, it is clear that the tool we found was brought here from afar, and was probably used in the past in the home of one of the area residents to grind grain or other products.” 

“We were excited to suddenly get a greeting from the past and have some good news to deal with for a moment,” Amitsur said.

“The tool reminds us that throughout the generations, the western Negev served as a significant settlement area, where a variety of cultures settled. Wars also took place here in the past, but in the end, the settlement always returned here and the area flourished again.” 

A grain grinder discovered in a staging area near Gaza, in a photo released on December 7, 2024. (Photo: Sarah Tal/IAA)

“We, in the center of the division's home front, are entrusted day and night with the connection between the settlement and the army, and are busy helping rehabilitate this region," Amitsur added. "We are certain that just like in ancient times, today, too, we will recover from the disaster that befell us and return to settle in the western Negev, and the settlement will prosper and flourish.” 

“We are doing important work here, but I look forward to the day when I can return to doing archaeology full-time,” Amitsur said.

Sarah Tal, an archaeologist with the IAA's Western Negev District, collected the find to be transferred to the Antiquities Authority and said the mortar “was exceptionally well-preserved.” 

Tal said the date of the mortar couldn’t be immediately determined, noting that basalt mortars like the one found were used from antiquity through the Mamluk period. 

IAA Director Eli Escusido said: “In this case, we were fortunate that one of our employees, an archaeologist serving in the reserves, identified the ancient discovery and knew how to proceed.”  

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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