Archaeologists have discovered a massive Canaanite burial ground near Bethlehem, establishing for the first time that the city thrived 4,200 years ago, thanks to its strategic position between its ancient sister cities, Jerusalem and Hebron.
The necropolis, named Khalet al-Jam´a, contains more than 100 tombs, Haaretz reported Monday, dating from around 2200 BCE to 650 BCE.
Discovered by Italian and Palestinian archaeologists, the tombs were intended for generations of the same family, in a practice described in the bible as “lying down with one’s forefathers.” The tombs were carved into the soft limestone rock.
Although many of the tombs have been looted in the past or damaged by modern building, the archaeologists were able to retrieve fine bowls, jugs, lamps, Bronze Age weapons and scarabs — amulets mounted on rings — which, according to Lorenzo Nigro, head of the excavation and professor at Sapienza University of Rome, show the direct connection between the ruling class in southern Palestine and the Pharaonic court of 1750-1650 BCE in Avaris, in the Nile Delta.
During the Iron Age, burial practices changed and came more into line with those found typically in Jerusalem, the report said. Instead of piling bodies in, one after the other, individual bodies were laid on a shelf in a specially cut chamber, or in slots carved into the chamber walls.
Bethlehem came under the rule of the Hebrew kings of Judah as early as the 8th century BCE, and remained so into the 7th century BCE. The Bethlehem burial site was abandoned after the Assyrians conquered Judah and relocated its communities.