Janis Raisen – IAA Archaeologists Uncover a 6000-Year-Old Community
Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have done it again—uncover a fascinating ancient community inside Israel. While at a glance the site may appear uneventful since it’s not part of a cave, a harbor or a temple, looks can be deceiving.
The area they uncovered in the central Israeli town of Yehud, was home to a flourishing, residential community that dates back 6000 years to the Chalcolithic period. The site also shows evidence of established communities during the Byzantine, the Islamic and the Ottoman periods.
Archaeologists, Eriola Jakoel and Yossi Elisha, managed the two-month excavation that ended in early December. “We excavated parts of buildings in a vibrant community in the center of Yehud,“ explained Jakoel. Archaeologists don’t always know what lies beneath the surface, but in this case they expected to uncover many clues to build on previous knowledge, which they gained from other excavations they completed in the neighborhood. “This city has a long history, and what’s interesting is that we excavated the continuation of its history,” explained Jakoel. “Just a few years ago we had little information about the area, but because of past excavations we have a new perspective of the city of Yehud, and we know that the history of Yehud dates back 6000 years. Any excavation, whether large or small, helps us put the pieces of the puzzle together, not just for Yehud, but for the entire area,” she explained.
It’s a powerful experience to stand in front of an ancient structure and to imagine how people lived. Archaeologists play a vital role in interpreting all of the clues and the remnants that have been left behind.
“We can reconstruct the time period and understand the character of the buildings and the activity that took place,” explained Jakoel. “As buildings were torn down and rebuilt you can see the remnants of the foundations. One of the beautiful aspects of archaeology is that we can discover the activity and way of life of generations of people, as they came and repeatedly rebuilt on existing foundations, each bringing their own changes, their own culture, their own traditions,” Jakoel explained.
The archaeologists were very excited to uncover a ditch in this ancient residential community. The ditch is from the Byzantine period, according to Yossi Elisha. “We think the ditch was there to catch and collect rain water from under the floors, and carry it outside of the building to keep the house dry,” he said.
“When we excavate different periods we find materials. We know that the land was inhabited. We find all of the places where people lived; we can map out where they lived and why they lived there,” explained Elisha.
This intriguing residential area had many interesting finds that were waiting to be uncovered. Hundreds of ceramic pieces were discovered in just the first two weeks of the excavation. Jakoel holds up a piece of a 6000-year-old jar from the Chalcolithic period.
Characterized by the beautiful reddish stripes and cone-shaped structure, this ceramic vessel, known as the “cornet” is another interesting item that was uncovered from the Chalcolithic period. The cornet was a popular vessel used in the region during that time.
Although ceramic items discovered from the Chalcolithic period were abundant, many of the excavated pieces were also associated with the Islamic, the Ottoman, and the Byzantine periods.
A beautiful piece from the Islamic period was found completely intact. Though it may seem inconceivable, Jakoel said it’s not unusual for excavated items to stand the test of time and remain in their original form. Under the supervision of Elisha, this piece of pottery was uncovered. He said it was one of the first discoveries at the site, and was found just under the topsoil.
Many pieces from this excavation, and from other IAA excavations, are often discovered by volunteers. When students or other volunteers discover something, it is exciting for them, according to Jakoel. “They love finding artifacts, to touch them, and to think that someone used these exact same tools, or coins, thousands of years ago—something that was part of their daily lives.”
“We are always happy to have volunteers and students. The IAA archaeologists invest a lot of time in providing volunteers with background information and general knowledge,” she said. It’s even more beneficial for those that can dedicate a few days to an excavation. “We explain the kinds of artifacts that exist in archaeology. Each day they receive explanations on a different type of archaeology. The most important lesson is when they are present during a find and the archaeologists can offer whatever knowledge they can provide. But It’s not like learning from a history book. They have the opportunity to touch a piece of history and to make discoveries with their own hands.
We also love the experience of new discoveries just as much as the volunteers. We share in their excitement.”
Volunteering for the IAA however, is not just for the young crowd. Enya and Shlomo Shohat, a retired couple from Yehud, came regularly to help out at the excavation. They were given the tasks of washing and then labeling the pieces that were uncovered. The information indicates exactly where each piece was found. This helps the IAA to classify each item.
The couple came to the excavation once a week to donate their time. When asked why they chose to volunteer at the site: “We appreciate our history,” explained Enya. “It’s our roots.” “Also, we can walk five or six minutes from our home and go back 6000 years “ added Shlomo.
Why is the IAA’s work so important? “The public usually only sees the end result of the work that the IAA does—in museums—but all the work that is done before the items make it to the museum, most people don’t know about,” explained Enya.
With over 30,000 archaeological sites across the country, the crucial and compelling work of IAA archaeologists—and their many volunteers—is never done.