Oct 05, 2022
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Students in the Melach HaAretz pre-military preparatory program discovered rifle cartridges and shell fragments from the British and Ottoman Empires while participating in an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation near the city of Rosh HaAyin in the greater Tel Aviv area.

“One of the students, Yitzhak Kalantarov, approached me curiously with an artifact in his hand,” said IAA project manager Yossi Elisha. “I was surprised to discover that it was a rifle cartridge and I was even more surprised when it turned out to be a World War I cartridge.”

Students of the Melach Ha-Aretz preparatory program discover an Ottoman army outpost that was located next to an agricultural terrace. (Gili Stern, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“As archaeologists, we expect to discover ancient finds from hundreds and thousands of years ago, whereas here we have a relatively ‘recent’ 100-year old artifact, but we were all drawn to the fascinating story of the battle,” Elisha explained.

Two military outposts used by the Ottoman military were also discovered inside an ancient field tower and adjacent to an agricultural terrace. “These discoveries constitute evidence of one of the major battles fought in the Land of Israel between British forces and Turkish forces during the First World War,” elaborated Elisha.

At the beginning of the excavation, a fragment of a British army cap insignia was discovered at one of the outposts next to bullets and Ottoman rifle cartridges.

Fragment of a cap insignia of the British Norfolk Regiment. (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“It was extremely exciting because this is concrete evidence of the fighting between the forces in the area,” IAA researcher Assaf Peretz told Tazpit. “Our excitement increased even more when archaeologist Shahar Crispin identified the unit on the cap to be the Norfolk Regiment.”

According to Peretz, the fighting on this site was part of the Battle of Megiddo that took place on September 19, 1918. Two battalions of the British Norfolk Regiment—1st Battalion, 4th Marines and 1/51st Battalion, 5th Marines—attacked the ridge where the excavated site is located in order to assist another battalion that attacked the Ottoman fortifications.

“The British forces shelled the Turkish positions with their 18-pounder guns, the British army’s standard field artillery piece during World War I,” explained IAA weapons expert Alexander Glick in accordance with the artillery shells and shrapnel balls found in the excavation.

“It seems that the Turkish forces sustained serious casualties from this barrage. Nevertheless, they responded with massive light-arms fire aimed at the British forces, as can be seen from the bullet cartridges of the Mauser rifles that were discovered in the Turkish positions,” continued Glick.

Glick further noted that the fact that the rifles and cartridges, supplied shortly before the battle, were manufactured in Germany serves as evidence that the Turks were dependent upon their German allies for weapons and ammunition.

The students as well as representatives of the Nature and Parks Authority and the IAA presented the finds on Tuesday to British Defense Attaché Colonel Ronnie Westerman and Chairman of the Society for the Heritage of World War I Eran Tirosh at the Migdal Tzedek National Park.

Students and representatives of the Israel Antiquities Authority presented the finds to the British Embassy’s defense attaché in Israel, Colonel Ronnie Westerman. (Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The park was included in the list of sites where the Axis-affiliated Ottoman Yildirim Army Group fought the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

The excavation was conducted prior to the paving of an access road between Rosh HaAyin and the Afek Industrial Park.