Archaeologists working in upper Galilee, near Kibbutz Shamir, have unearthed an unusual dolmen believed to be over 4,000-years-old. A type of megalithic tomb with a single chamber, a dolmen is typically comprised of at least two large vertical stones that support a flat capstone which lies horizontally on top of them (like a table).
Discovered in a large field of over 400 dolmens dating back to the Intermediate Bronze Age, several factors cause this structure to stand out, including its large size, the structure that surrounds it, and most intriguingly, the artistic decorations that are etched into its ceiling.
The find represents the first art to ever be documented inside a Middle Eastern dolmen. The engravings, approximately 15 of them, are spread across the ceiling and show a straight line directed at the center of an arc. No similar examples of these shapes exist and their significance remains unknown.
As part of the research conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Hai College, and Hebrew University, Jerusalem, the stone panel with the engravings was scanned in situ by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of Hebrew University. Using a new, innovative technique, the scans were then used to create a three dimensional model. The three-dimensional scanning process allowed the research team to see engravings not visible to the naked eye.
The dolmen’s interior chamber measures 6 x 9 feet, and the capstone is estimated to weigh around 50 tons. Furthermore, it was enclosed within an enormous stone burial mound (a tumulus) measuring 20 yards in diameter with a total weight estimated to be 400 tons. Inside the stone mound, at least four smaller dolmens were found at the foot of the large decorated dolmen, creating a monumental structure that was built with a main cell as well as secondary cells.
The gigantic dolmen found at Kibbutz Shamir is one among hundreds of huge, densely scattered megalithic structures located in the area, and offers evidence that a significant and well-established government system existed there during what’s referred to as the Middle Age of the Bronze Age.
“The gigantic dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is undoubtedly an indication of public construction, that required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time,” Gonen Sharon, a professor with the Galilee Studies Program at Tel Hai College explained in an article published by JewishPress.com, “during that time all of those people had to be housed and fed. The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess. And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project.”
The study has been published in the scientific journal PLOS One.
Image courtesy of Gonen Sharon/Tel Hai College