| 5 September 2009
3,700-year-old fortification uncovered in Israel
Israeli archaeologists say they have uncovered the oldest example of massive fortifications ever found in Jerusalem. The Israel Antiquities Authority says the 3,700-year-old wall was built by the ancient Canaanites as a protected passage from a hilltop fortress to a spring.
Excavation director Ronny Reich says this is the first time such significant construction has been discovered from before the time of the monumental building projects of King Herod 2,000 years ago. The 26-foot-high wall is part of the fortification that archaeologists believe protected the city's Canaanite residents from marauders. Reich said Wednesday a 79-foot section of the wall has been uncovered, and more likely remains hidden.
"The construction of a protected passageway was a possible solution to the contradiction of the spring - the source of life for the inhabitants of the fortress in case of emergency - being located in the most inferior and vulnerable place in the area," Reich, of the University of Haifa, explained. In later periods, too, Jerusalem's rulers attempted to connect the spring to the city via walls and tunnels.
The Canaanite walls the archaeologists discovered are about two meters apart, rise to a height of some eight meters in some places and are made of gigantic stones, three to four meters thick. About 24 meters have been exposed, but excavators say this is only one-third of their original length. The walls have been dated by pottery to the Middle Bronze Age, better known in Israel as the 'Period of the Patriarchs.' At that time, Jerusalem was a kind of city-state - a fortress surrounded by farming plots. The massive nature of the fortifications has convinced archaeologists that the city was apparently larger and stronger than they had previously believed. "To move such large stones, you need know-how and you need power," Reich says, "because a group of people doing the building needs a society to support them economically and a ruler to tell one group to work and the other group to support them."
Critics say Israel uses such projects as a political tool to bolster Jewish claims to occupied Palestinian land. Excavations at the site, known as the City of David, are in a Palestinian neighbourhood just outside the walls of Jerusalem's old city.
Sources: Haaretz, BBC News (2 September), Associated Press (3 September 2009)
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