Massive Prehistoric City from the Stone Age Discovered Near Jerusalem

July 16, 2019

4 min read

A huge city from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age), the largest known in Israel from that period (and one of the largest of its kind in the region), has been discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near the Motza Junction. The project was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company). The excavations were conducted as part of the Highway 16 Project which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west, connecting the National Highway 1 from the Motza area to the southern part of Jerusalem (“Bayit VeGan” area), including two double tunnels.

Excavations (courtesy of: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Amongst others, thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines produced by the people of the site have been unearthed during the excavations.

Neolithic Artifacts (courtesy of: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Fertile ground

The Motza excavation site is situated just 5 km west of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near water fountains and close to a fertile valley and an ancient path that led from the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem. These optimal conditions are a central reason for long-term settlement on this site during the Epipaleolithic Period which was around 20,000 years ago, until the present day.

An ancient metropolis
According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period – 9,000 years ago – is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived here – an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!” The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual. Between the buildings, alleys were exposed, bearing evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. In the buildings, plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities.


Mystery stones
According to the researchers, “In a place where people live, there are dead people as well: Burial places have been exposed in and amongst the houses, into which various burial offerings have been placed – either useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world. These gifts testify to the fact that already during this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted trade relationships with distant lands. Amongst others, unique stone-made objects were found in the tombs, made of an unknown type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian (volcanic glass) from Anatolia, and sea-shells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea. During the excavations, artistic hand-made stone bracelets in several styles were found. “Due to the size of the bracelets, we estimate that they were mainly worn by children”, the researchers say. “We also found carefully crafted alabaster beads, as well as medallions and bracelets made of mother of pearl”.

Excavations (courtesy of: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)


Ancient seeds
In all excavation areas, many flint tools manufactured on the site were unearthed. This includes thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting, and possibly for fighting as well, axes used for tree-felling, and sickle blades as well as knives. Also, in the city, built storage sheds were exposed, which contained a huge quantity of legumes, especially lentils. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age. This finding is evidence of intensive agriculture. Moreover, one can conclude from it that the Neolithic Revolution reached its summit at that point. Animal bones found on the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.

The experts were wrong
According to researchers, “the exposure of the enormous site in Motza awakens extensive interest in the scientific world, revolutionizing what we know about the Neolithic period in that area. So far, it was believed that the Judea region was empty and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or at the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all these only several dozens of centimeters below the surface. All findings were recorded using innovative three-dimensional technology so that we can continue to research the site at the end of the excavation as well.”

According to engineer Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company, “It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company – Netivei Israel – that tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country”.

Excavations (courtesy of: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

More to come

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, along with the excitement and importance of the finds, the IAA is aware of the vital need to create an additional access road to Jerusalem. In preparation for the release of the excavated area, the entire site was documented using advanced 3D technology that will enable research of every detail digitaly. It is important to know that significant percentages of the prehistoric site around the excavation are preserved. In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Moza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut.

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