A huge ancient settlement, one of the largest of its kind in the region, has been discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Motza Junction.
The project which uncovered the site was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company). The excavations are being conducted as part of the Highway 16 Project which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west, connecting the National Highway 1 from the Motza area to the southern part of Jerusalem ("Bayit VeGan" area), including two double tunnels.
Amongst others, thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines produced by the people of the site have been unearthed during the excavations.
The Motza excavation site is situated 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near water fountains and close to a fertile valley and to the ancient way that led from the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem.
According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, "this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived here – an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!"
The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual. Between the buildings, alleys were exposed, bearing evidence of the settlement's advanced level of planning. In the buildings, plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities.
According to the researchers, "In a place where people live, there are dead people as well: Burial places have been exposed in and amongst the houses, into which various burial offerings have been placed – either useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world.
These gifts testify to the fact that already during this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places. Amongst others, unique stone-made objects were found in the tombs, made of an unknown type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian (volcanic glass) from Anatolia, and sea-shells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea. During the excavations, artistic hand-made stone bracelets in several styles were found.
"Due to the size of the bracelets, we estimate that they were mainly worn by children", the researchers say. "We also found carefully crafted alabaster beads, as well as medallions and bracelets made of mother of pearl".
In all excavation areas, many flint tools manufactured on the site were unearthed, including thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting, and possibly for fighting as well, axes used for tree-felling, and sickle blades and knives.
In the settlement, built storage sheds were exposed, which contained a huge quantity of legumes, especially lentils. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site's age. This finding is evidence of an intensive practice of agriculture. Moreover, one can conclude form it that the Neolithic Revolution reached its summit at that point: animal bones found on the site show that the settlement's residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.
According to researchers, "the exposure of the enormous site in Motza awakens extensive interest in the scientific world, changing what has been known about the Neolithic period in that area.
So far, 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. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all this only several dozens of centimeters below the surface. All findings were recorded using an innovative three-dimensional technology, so that we can continue to research the site at the end of the excavation as well."
According to engineer Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company, "It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company – Netivei Israel – that tomorrow's transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country".
According to Amit Re'em, Jerusalem District Archeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, along with the excitement and importance of the finds, the IAA is aware of the vital need to create an additional access road to Jerusalem.
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. It is important to know that significant percentages of the prehistoric site around the excavation are preserved. In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Moza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut.