A 2,750-year-old temple and a cache of sacred vessels from biblical times were discovered in an archaeological excavation near Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The finds, unearthed at Tel Motza on the western outskirts of the capital, date from the early monarchic period and include pottery figurines of men and horses, providing rare evidence for the existence of a ritual cult in the Jerusalem region at the beginning of the Judean monarchy. The precise significance of the figurines is still unknown.

Ancient figurines of people found at Tel Motza (photo credit: Clara Amit/courtesy of IAA)

Ancient figurines of people found at Tel Motza (photo credit: Clara Amit/courtesy of IAA)

“The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judea at the time of the First Temple,” said excavation directors Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz. They said the structure’s uniqueness was enhanced by the site’s proximity to Jerusalem, which was the kingdom’s main center and the seat of kings David and Solomon.

An IAA statement described the walls of the structure as massive, and said it includes a wide, east-facing entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East: the rays of the sun rising in the east would have illuminated the objects placed inside the temple, symbolizing the divine presence within. A square structure which was probably an altar was exposed in the temple courtyard, and the cache of sacred vessels was found near the structure. The assemblage includes ritual pottery vessels, with fragments of chalices (bowls on high bases which were used in sacred rituals), decorated ritual pedestals, and a number of pottery figurines.

Figurine of a horse found in Tel Motza (photo credit: Clara Amit/ courtesy of IAA)

Figurine of a horse found in Tel Motza (photo credit: Clara Amit/courtesy IAA)

Motza and the surrounding region are well-known for their archaeological importance. Many finds from a variety of periods have been unearthed at the site, among them a public building, a large structure with storehouses and a considerable number of silos supposedly used to store the capital’s grain supplies. Experts have proposed identifying the site with the Biblical settlement of Motza which is mentioned in the Book of Joshua.

According to the site’s directors, ”The finds recently discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archaeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general, and in the Jerusalem region in particular, prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah, which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem.”