Multiple ancient artifacts, evidence of a "cultic" temple and the remains of what appears to be a rare, 10,000-year-old structure have been unearthed at an important dig site outside Jerusalem.
Archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discoveries this week. The items were found in an area of the Judean Shephelah region undergoing excavation in advance of a planned highway expansion, according to a statement from the IAA.
The discoveries are expected to be valuable for researchers who are investigating the way society developed in the area over a transitional period spanning several thousand years.
“We can clearly see that in the Early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, the rural society made the transition to an urban society," IAA excavation co-director Dr. Amir Golani said in the statement. "It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical."
The 10,000-year-old building excited researchers because of its age and indications it was important enough to undergo several renovations.
“This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah," IAA archaeologists said in a joint statement. "It should be emphasized that whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food. Here we have evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, ancient man started raising them near the house."
Multiple axes were also found near the house, some of which were probably tools and others that appeared to be used for ceremonial or cultic purposes. A 6,000-year-old "standing stone," or carved stone pillar, also "alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site," according to the statement.
This standing stone and the axes are the latest artifacts found recently in Israel that show thousands of years ago, inhabitants of of the modern-day state worshiped multiple deities. In fact, throughout the past several years, archaeologists have found multiple examples of cultic shrines and artifacts, including a store of statues unearthed north of Jerusalem, Haaretz reports.
Of course, Israel has long been a hot spot for archaeologists, Live Science notes. The area where the structures and artifacts were found has proven a goldmine of sorts for researchers in the past. This July, for example, researchers came across several large buildings from the 10th century B.C. that some experts have suggested may have belonged to the biblical ruler King David.