Israeli high schoolers excavate 2,700-year-old water system
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Israeli high schoolers excavate 2,700-year-old water system

Etchings of human figures, crosses, and depictions of vegetation found on walls of ancient Rosh Ha'ayin reservoir

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

  • Dozens of high school students participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin dig, summer 2017. (Gili Stern, IAA)
    Dozens of high school students participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin dig, summer 2017. (Gili Stern, IAA)
  • View from inside the Rosh Ha'Ayin reservoir. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)
    View from inside the Rosh Ha'Ayin reservoir. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)
  • Engravings on the walls of the Rosh Ha'Ayin water reservoir: Human figures and crosses. (Gilad Itach, IAA)
    Engravings on the walls of the Rosh Ha'Ayin water reservoir: Human figures and crosses. (Gilad Itach, IAA)
  • Engravings on the walls in the Rosh Ha'Ayin water system from 2,700 years ago: Human figure. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)
    Engravings on the walls in the Rosh Ha'Ayin water system from 2,700 years ago: Human figure. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)

The Neo-Assyrian Empire invasion of Israel in 738 BCE brought with it war and destruction — and taxes, the trademarks of imperial rule.

But because an army marches on its stomach, along with heavy tariffs came an impressive spate of agricultural infrastructure in its conquered territories. The new discovery of a 2,700-year-old administrative watering system near Rosh Ha’ayin attests to the conqueror’s emphasis on exploiting its new lands.

With the help of high school students participating in the Education Ministry’s new Land of Israel and Archaeology studies program, ahead of the construction of a new neighborhood in the area the Israel Antiquities Authority recently exposed a massive water system.

The excavated system measures some 20 meters long and is over 4 meters deep. A large 50-meter long building is built on top of the cavernous underground reservoir.

According to the IAA it is “highly likely” that the structure and reservoir were built at the end of the Iron Age (late eighth or early seventh century BCE), placing it during the Neo-Assyrian conquest of the war-torn region, where the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were constantly at war. There is evidence that the reservoir was used until modernity.

According to archaeologist Gilad Itach, director of the excavation for the IAA, “It is difficult not to be impressed by the sight of the immense underground reservoir quarried out so many years ago. In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a fundamental necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 mm, the region’s winter rains would easily have filled the huge reservoir.”

In addition to the cavernous water system, on its walls were found some seven engravings of human figures, crosses, and depictions of vegetation.

Engravings on the walls in the Rosh Ha'Ayin water system from 2,700 years ago: Human figure. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)
Engravings on the walls in the Rosh Ha’ayin water system from 2,700 years ago: Human figure. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)

Itach hypothesizes that the figures “were probably carved by passersby in a later period. Overall, we identified seven figures measuring 15–30 cm. Most have outstretched arms and a few appear to be holding some kind of object.”

In 2014, a 23-room ancient 2,800-year-old farmhouse
 was also discovered in the region. Used for some 600 years, it is evidence of the agricultural settlement in the area.

View from inside the Rosh Ha'Ayin reservoir. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)
View from inside the Rosh Ha’ayin reservoir. (Assaf Peretz, IAA)

“The area had a silo to store grains, and barns,” head of the 2014 IAA excavation Amit Shadman told Haaretz. “We also see agriculture terraces. All these things together lead us to the conclusion that this was a farmhouse.”

According to Itach, however, this water system is “different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads.”

“Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls, and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads,” said Itach.

Dozens of high school students participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin dig, summer 2017. (Gili Stern, IAA)
Dozens of high school students participated in the Rosh Ha’ayin dig, summer 2017. (Gili Stern, IAA)

Itach was given support by high schoolers in the new Land of Israel and Archaeology program, which, according to the IAA, is designed to connect students with the past and train the archaeologists of tomorrow. Students opting for this track as part of their chosen matriculation assessment (bagrut) join an excavation for a week.

Although the area is zoned for a new residential neighborhood, the IAA has plans, in cooperation with the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Rosh Ha’ayin Municipality, to create an open archaeological site that will be accessible to the public.

Engravings on the walls of the Rosh Ha'Ayin water reservoir: Human figures and crosses. (Gilad Itach, IAA)
Engravings on the walls of the Rosh Ha’ayin water reservoir: Human figures and crosses. (Gilad Itach, IAA)
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