An ancient 5,500-year-old gate—the earliest known in the Land of Israel—was discovered recently at Tel Erani, at an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation near the Kiryat Gat Industrial Zone. During the excavation, a gate and part of a fortification system of the ancient city were found and dated to the Early Bronze IB, about 3,300 years ago. The team used pottery found with the gates to determine that they were both in use during the same time. These structures reflect the beginning of urbanization in the Land of Israel and the Southern Levant. The gate would have served as both a defense and a signal of political, social, and economic fortitude during a time when the Lower and Upper Kingdoms of Egypt were undergoing unification. By the end of the Bronze Age, the two empires were one.
The earliest gate that was known until now was the gate at Tel Arad, which was dated about 300 years later than this gate.
The Tel Erani gate, which was preserved to a height of 1.5 meters, consists of a passageway built of large stones that leads into the ancient city. Two towers made of large stones flank the gate, and between them, there are rows of mud bricks. This gate is attached to the city walls that were uncovered in previous excavations.
According to Emily Bischoff, Director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA: “This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze IB has been uncovered. In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mud bricks had to be manufactured and the fortification walls had to be constructed. This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”
“It is probable that all passers-by, traders or enemies, who wanted to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate,” says Martin-David Pasternak, IAA researcher of this period. “The gate not only defended the settlement, but also conveyed the message that one was entering an important strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially and economically. This was the message to outsiders, possibly also to Egypt, where the process that would lead to the unification of the Lower and Upper Egypt under King Narmer was already beginning.” Pasternak adds that, “At the end of the Early Bronze Age, the Egyptians themselves arrived here and settled the tell, and they reused the gate.”
According to Dr. Yitzhak Paz, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist specializing in the Early Bronze Age period, “Tell Erani, which is about 150 dunams in size, was an important early urban center in this area in the Early Bronze period. The tell site was part of a large and important settlement system in the southwestern area of the country in this period. Within this system we can identify the first signs of the urbanization process, including settlement planning, social stratification, and public building. The newly uncovered gate is an important discovery that affects the dating of the beginning of the urbanization process in the country. The extensive excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority over recent years have led to dating the beginning of urbanization to the end of the fourth millennium BCE, but the excavations carried out at Tell Erani have now shown that this process began even earlier, in the last third of the fourth millennium BCE.”
Archaeologists also found a number of interesting smaller discoveries, including a complete alabaster jar, a number of juglets, and red-colored bowls. The fortification wall, which is 7 to 8 meters thick, dates to a time when Egypt was invading the area.
Tel Arani is a multi-period archaeological site on the outskirts of Kiryat Gat in the Southern District of Israel. It was inhabited in the Bronze and Iron Age, when it was the site of a substantial Philistine city with links to Egypt. It has been identified with the biblical cities of Libnah, Gath, Mmst, Eglon, and Makkedah, but none of these identifications are certain. The city was destroyed in the 6th century BCE, possibly by the Babylonians. In the Persian period, it was the site of a temple.
Several archaeological excavations carried out at Tel Erani since the mid-1950s were directed by the Department of Antiquities, the IAA, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and the University of Krakow, Poland. The extensive research carried out at the tell has shown the importance of the questions and issues related to the beginning of urbanization: When did urbanization begin? What is a city? What are the characteristics of a city? Was there an Egyptian conquest or not?
“Following the excavation, the ancient gate, made of mud bricks, was covered up to protect it against erosion,” added Paz.
According to Eli Escusido, Director of Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery of the most ancient city gate known in the country, adds another important piece of knowledge to our archaeological knowledge. Together with the cooperation of the Mekorot Water Company, it was decided to move the water pipe in order to preserve the ancient gate”
The excavation was carried out over the last month and was funded by the Mekorot -the national water company of Israel, prior to laying a water pipe. The planned route of this new water line extends about 11 km, connecting the Pelugut Junction area to the eastern part of Kiryat Gat. The pipe diameters range from 48-60 inches, with an estimated cost of 90 million NIS. During preliminary test drilling, archaeological artifacts were exposed, prompting the rescue excavations.
According to the Mekorot Company, the archaeological excavations were conducted in conjunction with the construction of the new water pipeline designed to augment the water supply to Kiryat Gat and focused on supplying the water requirements of the Intel factory, a major water consumer. Intel’s factory in Kiryat Gat represents the largest single investment ever made in Israel by the private sector.
According to the Mekorot Company, the execution of the water line is slated to commence within 2023, with operations continuing throughout 2024. Mekorot stated that the positive cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority will continue at other sites in Israel.