Conventional thought among archaeologists was that Neolithic people didn’t settle in the area around the Judean Hills. Yet Motza, 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem, was always within easy distance of fresh water from the Sorek river, and near good agricultural ground. A trail coming from the southern foothills allowed access to traders and emigrants. All those were good reasons for past people to settle in the area.
Recent excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Motza junction uncovered a huge settlement from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age). It’s the largest known in Israel from that period, and one of the largest of its kind in the region. See also our post about the oldest-known bread, discovered in Jordan.
Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, Antiquities Authority excavation directors at Motza say,
“This is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period – 9,000 years ago – has been discovered in Israel. Until now, it was believed that the Judea area was empty, and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or at the Northern Levant.”
The researchers estimate that 2000-3000 people lived and worked in the area until now considered barren. They excavated large buildings with alleys running between them, and found house spaces, storage sheds, public spaces, tombs,and places of worship. Uncovered burial offerings made of materials from Anatolian volcanic glass, and sea shells from the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, show that the inhabitants traded with foreigners. Artistic figurines were found (presumably house idols).
Jewelry for everyday was also uncovered: bracelets and medallions made of alabaster beads and mother of pearl, and carefully crafted stone-bead bracelets for children to wear.
Judging from the thousands of flint arrowheads found, hunting was part of everyday subsistence, and warlike defense was well understood. The remains of axes, sickles and knives show that the inhabitants made and used tools for agriculture. Indeed, huge quantities of identifiable pulses, especially lentils, were found in the storage sheds. Yet it seems that the people of the settlement were turning away from hunting, as large quantities of sheep bones found indicate a preference for home-raised meat instead.
The excavations were initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company), after the Highway 16 Project revealed archaeological remains. The project is constructing a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west, connecting the National Highway 1 from the Motza area to the southern part of Jerusalem including two double tunnels. It is considered vital to access to Jerusalem.
Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company says, “It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company, that tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country.”
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 digitally. A large part of the prehistoric site around the excavation will be preserved. In addition, there will be an exhibition showing the site’s history built by the Israel Antiquities Authority. At Tel Motza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public. Conservation and accessibility works are underway in nearby Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut.