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Israeli archaeologists unearth one of earliest known agricultural settlements in Israel

Excavation at Eshtaol (Photo: Yoli Shwarz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

In a brand new insight into Israel's ancient past, archaeologists have recently unearthed evidence of what they called “one of the earliest known agricultural settlements” in history, shedding new light on humanity's journey toward civilization.

According to the archaeologists’ claim, the site, nestled within the Eshtaol settlement not far from modern-day Beit Shemesh (about 20 miles west of Jerusalem), is a testament to a crucial period when humanity transitioned from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled farming groups. Surrounded by contemporary agricultural fields, Eshtaol offers a glimpse into the dawn of human agriculture, marking a changing moment in human history.

Led by a team of experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority, including Dr. Kobi Vardi, Dr. Amir Golani, and Benjamin Storchan, the excavation revealed a vibrant picture of life during the pre-Pottery Neolithic period, approximately 10,000 years ago. During the meticulous excavations, ancient buildings and artifacts – sickle blades, arrowheads, flint axes – emerged, providing invaluable insights into early agricultural practices and the dawn of civilization.

Dr. Kobi Vardi holding a flint arrowhead from excavation (Photo: Yoli Shwarz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

According to this understanding, the significance of this discovery cannot be overstated, as it marks a major turning point in the history of man. As humanity transitioned from hunter-gatherer societies to settled agricultural communities, the Eshtaol settlement thrived for millennia, reaching its zenith in the Early Bronze Age around 5,000 years ago. This period saw the emergence of a well-organized community, evidenced by the abundance of pottery, stone tools and grinding stones discovered at the site.

The strategic location of Eshtaol, near natural water sources such as ancient riverbeds and springs, played a crucial role in its prosperity. This fertile ground for agriculture ensured the sustained success of farming activities for generations, highlighting the ingenuity of our ancestors in selecting optimal sites for settlement and cultivation.

Yet, Eshtaol is just one chapter in Israel's rich history of the Neolithic period. Across the landscape lie other remarkable settlements, such as the today-submerged village of Atlit Yam and the legendary city of Jericho. Atlit Yam, carbon-dated to be between 8,900 and 8,300 years old, offers insights into ancient communities, while Jericho, with its Neolithic-era walls, stands as a testament to human resilience and innovation.

Jericho is often called “the most ancient city on earth,” and while there are more ancient settlements known in Turkey today, Jericho is still the most ancient “walled city” (of its kind) on earth. The new settlement discovered at Eshtaol is only one of this series of Pre-Pottery-Neolithic sites discovered in this very strategic main geographical crosspoint area of the levant.

The Pre-Pottery-Neolithic period is dated by mainstream archaeological research to between the years 10,000 to 6500 B.C. However, this may change in the future because of new research. This period is said to have followed the Natufian culture of the Epipalaeolithic Near East (also called sometimes Mesolithic), where a few people would have already begun to leave the “site-shelters” or “cliff-shelters” dwellings and to build the very first huts and houses, trying to domesticate few animals and plants in the levant (See Nahal Me’arot in Israel).

Additionally, the team discovered a structure dating back 6,000 years (not from the Pre-Pottery-Neolithic period but rather from a later period called the early Bronze period), which includes a smoothed standing stone, suggesting the existence of cultic activity at the location.

Dating as far back as 10,000 B.C., standing stones have been unearthed in the Near East, persisting through the biblical era. This stone, referred to as "Massebah" in the Bible, probably served as a religious site where individuals would anoint with oil and seek divine assistance. For more information about the standing stones, click here.

Together, these Neolithic settlements weave a captivating tale of human ingenuity and adaptation, providing a glimpse into the origins of agriculture, architecture, and social organization. As archaeologists continue to unearth Israel's ancient treasures, each discovery offers a window into our shared past, enriching our understanding of the remarkable journey that has led us to the present day.

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

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