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30 December 2012
Iron Age temple discovered near Jerusalem

Rare evidence of the religious practices and rituals in the early days of the Kingdom of Judah has recently been discovered at Tel Motza, to the west of Jerusalem (Israel). In excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently conducting at the site, prior to work being carried out on the new Highway 1  by the National Roads Company, a ritual building and a cache of sacred vessels some 2,750 years old have been uncovered.
     According to Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find. The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site's proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom's main sacred center at the time." According to the archaeologists, "Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown."
     Many finds have previously been uncovered at the site, from a variety of different periods. According to archaeologists Eirikh, Dr. Khalaily and Kisilevitz, the current excavation has revealed part of a large structure, from the early days of the monarchic period (Iron Age IIA). The walls of the structure are massive, and it includes a wide, east-facing entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East: the rays of the sun rising in the east would have illuminated the object placed inside the temple first, symbolizing the divine presence within. A square structure which was probably an altar was exposed in the temple courtyard, and the cache of sacred vessels was found near the structure.
     The assemblage includes ritual pottery vessels, with fragments of chalices (bowls on a high base which were used in sacred rituals), decorated ritual pedestals, and a number of pottery figurines of two kinds: the first, small heads in human form with a flat headdress and curling hair; the second, figurines of animals - mainly of harnessed animals.
     Ritual elements in the Kingdom of Judah are recorded in archaeological research, especially from the numerous finds of pottery figurines and other sacred objects found at many sites in Israel, and these are usually attributed to domestic rituals. However, the remains of ritual platforms and temples used for ritual ceremonies have only been found at a few sites of this period.

Edited from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (26 December 2012), PhysOrg (28 December 2012)

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