Archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered a massive Roman-era gate they believe may have served as an entrance to an ancient pagan compound.
The site, they believe, may have been used in worship and festivities honoring Pan, the ancient god of flocks and shepherds known for his love of music and sexuality.
"The worship of Pan sometimes included ceremonies involving drinking, sacrifices, and ecstatic rituals including nudity and sex. This worship usually took place outside the city walls, in caves and other natural settings," said Michael Eisenberg, director of the Hippos-Sussita Excavations Project, in a statement.
During excavations in the ancient city of Hippos-Sussita, the team of researchers from the University of Haifa’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology previously discovered a bronze mask representing Pan at the same site.
The mask's placement outside what would have been the city walls led Eisenberg to speculate at the time that there may have been an altar to Pan on the main road leading into the city.
The discovery of the gate, however, suggests the mask may be a remnant from a large sanctuary dedicated to the god.
“When we found the mask on its own, we assumed that it had filled a ritual function. Since we found it outside the city, one of the hypotheses was that we were looking at evidence of a mysterious ritual center that existed outside the city," Eisenberg said in a statement.
But the size of the gate -- which the researchers believe measured up to 20 feet tall -- suggests the site's scope may have been larger than previously thought.
"Monumental gate structures lead to large compounds," Eisenberg said. "Accordingly, it is not impossible that this gate led to a large building complex."
The site may have been dedicated to Pan or another of the "rustic gods" commonly worshipped by the ancient pagan religion.
"What kind of worship of Pan or his fellow Dionysus, the god of wine, took place here in Hippos?" the researcher said in a release. "To answer that question, we will have to keep on digging."