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8 April 2009
Huge 'foot-shaped' enclosures discovered in Jordan valley

"The 'foot' structures that we found in the Jordan valley are the first sites that the People of Israel built upon entering Canaan and they testify to the biblical concept of ownership of the land with the foot," said archaeologist Prof. Adam Zertal of the University of Haifa, who headed the excavating team that exposed five compounds in the shape of an enormous 'foot', that it were likely to have been used at that time to mark ownership of territory.
     For the first time, enclosed sites identified with the biblical sites termed in Hebrew 'gilgal', which were used for assemblies, preparation for battle, and rituals, have been revealed in the Jordan valley. The researchers, headed by Prof. Adam Zertal, exposed five such structures, each in the shape of an enormous 'foot', which they suppose functioned during that period to mark ownership on the territory. "I am an archaeologist and only deal with the scientific findings, so I do not go into the additional meanings of the discovery, if there are any," Prof. Zertal said.
     The stone enclosures were located in the Jordan valley and the hill country west of it. To this day, no archaeological site has been proposed to be identified with the gilgal. Between the years 1990 and 2008, during the Manasseh Hill-Country Survey that covers Samaria and the Jordan Valley, five such enclosures were found and excavated, all designed in the shape of a human foot. All of these sites were established at the outset of the Iron Age I (the 13th-12th centuries BCE). Based on their size and shape, it is clear that they were used for human assembly and not for animals. Two of the sites (in Bedhat esh-Sha'ab and Yafit 3) were excavated in the years 2002-2005. The findings, mostly of clay vessels and animal bones, date their foundation to the end of the 13th century BCE, and one of them endured up to the 9th or 8th century BCE without architectonic adjustment. In at least two cases, paved circuits, some two meters wide, were found around the structures. These were probably used to encircle the sites in a ceremony.
     "Ceremonial encirclement of an area in procession is an important element in the ancient Near East," Prof. Zertal says. He also emphasized that the 'foot' held much significance as a symbol of ownership of territory, control over an enemy, connection between people and land, and presence of the Deity. Some of these concepts are mentioned in ancient Egyptian literature. The Bible also has a wealth of references to the importance of the 'foot' as a symbol. "The biblical text testifies to the antiquity of these compounds in Israel's ceremonials, and the 'foot' structures were built by an organized community that had a central leadership," Prof. Zertal stated.

Sources: EurekAlert!, ScienceDaily (6 April 2009)

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