The Uniqueness of Israel
Israel’s Archaeological Mysteries
Considering Israel’s history, it is no surprise that there are numerous archaeological mysteries across the length and breadth of the country and a huge amount of work is still taking place unearthing the country’s secrets. There are some searching for specific treasures, such as the Ark of the Covenant, while other people have come across amazing finds purely by accident.
Not everything that is found can be easily understood. For example, there is a manmade mound of rocks in the Kinneret that is thought to date to around the third century BCE. There are some who think that it was how Jesus supposedly walked on water while others believe that the stones were built as a monument and grave and that the structure was most likely built on land before being knocked into the water by an earthquake.
A far older and in some ways more impressive mystery is the Gilgal Refaim (Wheel of Ghosts) that can be found on the Golan Heights. It bears some similarities with Stonehenge in England, but it is much older and was built an estimated 6,000 years ago. It is thought that 42,000 basalt stones were used to construct the four enormous concentric circles that may once have been as high as 9 metres. It is not known for certain what the site was used for but it is likely that it was either a place of worship or a burial site.
Not very far away from the Gilgal Refaim, in 2017 archaeologists found an enormous dolmen that is thought to be more than 4,000 years old. The dolmen was found in a field of more than 400 dolmens in the Upper Galilee that have been dated to the Bronze Age. It is notable for its size but also for the artistic decorations in its ceiling. It is the first art ever to be found in a dolmen in the Middle East and the significance is not known. Furthermore, dolmens are found across the world but archaeologists have no idea who built them, how or why.
According to ancient texts, the tombs of the Hasmonean heroes from the Hanukkah story, the Maccabees, were marked with a huge pyramid structure that could be seen from miles around. However, since mid-nineteenth century, archaeologists have been searching for the tomb around the area of Modi’in and have failed to find it. In 2015, the Israel Antiquities Authority took another look at a pillared structure found 150 years ago at Horbat Ha-Gardi. It is known to be a Christian burial site dating from around 200 years after the Maccabees. However, it is possible that early Christians intentionally chose the site of the Maccabee tombs for their cemetery.
There are many more great archaeological mysteries in Israel. For instance, no one quite understands what happened to the submerged Neolithic village found just off the cost of Atlit. There are mysteries surrounding Masada, Zedekiah’s Cave in Jerusalem, and more. While you are unlikely to solve any of these mysteries on your gap year, you are sure to have a fantastic time exploring the sites and getting to know more about Israel’s fascinating history.