Archaeology'It’s the first time people are living inside city walls'

Discovery of Israel’s oldest gate resets clock on local urbanization by centuries

Alongside 5,500-year-old entrance to fortified city at Tel Erani, near Kiryat Gat, archaeologists find evidence of social stratified city-dwelling in Israel

  • Archaeologists excavate the oldest gate discovered in Israel at Tel Erani near Kiryat Gat in 2023. (Yoli Schwartz/IAA)
    Archaeologists excavate the oldest gate discovered in Israel at Tel Erani near Kiryat Gat in 2023. (Yoli Schwartz/IAA)
  • An aerial view of the 5,500-year-old gate at Tel Erani, the oldest known gate in Israel, taken in 2023 before the area was backfilled for preservation. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
    An aerial view of the 5,500-year-old gate at Tel Erani, the oldest known gate in Israel, taken in 2023 before the area was backfilled for preservation. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
  • Archaeologists excavate the oldest gate discovered in Israel at Tel Erani near Kiryat Gat in 2023. (Yoli Schwartz/IAA)
    Archaeologists excavate the oldest gate discovered in Israel at Tel Erani near Kiryat Gat in 2023. (Yoli Schwartz/IAA)
  • An aerial shot of the Tel Erani excavation site in 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
    An aerial shot of the Tel Erani excavation site in 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)

Archaeologists have uncovered the oldest known gate in Israel, a 5,500-year-old imposing stone and mud-brick passageway to the ancient city of Tel Erani, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday. The gate’s discovery near the central city of Kiryat Gat has forced archaeologists to reconsider when urbanization began in the region, now saying it was likely centuries earlier than previously believed.

“This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze IB has been uncovered,” Emily Bischoff, the IAA’s director of the excavation, said in a video about the gate. The latest excavations at Tel Erani were discovered recently during an IAA survey of the area ahead of laying a new water line to Kiryat Gat.

“What’s interesting about this gate is it was built partially from mud bricks and partially from monolithic stones, and these stones are larger than me,” said Bischoff.

The ancient city of Tel Erani is one of the first examples of urbanization in Israel. Around 150 dunams (150,000 square meters or 37 acres), it was settled in the Early Bronze Period, starting around 3,300 BCE, and abandoned at the end of the Early Bronze Period, around 2,500 BCE.

At Tel Erani, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of urbanization, including public buildings, city planning such as streets and fortification walls, a possible drainage system, and “social stratification,” meaning that some people had nicer homes than others, based on their status.

Previously, experts had believed that urbanization in this area had started around 5,200 years ago, which was the age of the oldest known gate in Israel. Until the current discovery, the oldest gate to a fortified city was in Tel Arad, near Beersheba. But the dating of the Tel Erani gate pushes the evidence of the start of urbanization back by a number of centuries, to around 5,500 years ago.

Emily Bischoff, the director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, at the Tel Erani site near Kiryat Gat. (Yoli Schwartz/IAA)

“It is probable that all passersby, traders or enemies who wanted to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate,” said Martin-David Pasternak, an IAA researcher whose area of expertise is the Bronze Age. “The gate not only defended the settlement, but also conveyed the message that one was entering an important, strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially and economically.”

Clear evidence of social organization

Bischoff noted that the construction of the gate and fortification walls required bringing stones from quite a distance and manufacturing hundreds or thousands of mud bricks.

“This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization,” she explained. “It’s the first time people go from living all over the region to living inside the city walls.”

An aerial shot of the Tel Erani excavation site in 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)

Archaeologists also found a number of interesting smaller discoveries, including a complete alabaster jar, a number of juglets, and red-colored bowls. The fortification wall, which is 7 to 8 meters thick, dates to a time when Egypt was invading the area.

Tel Erani has hosted several archaeological excavations since the mid-1950s, directed by the Department of Antiquities, the Israel Antiquities Authority, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and University of Krakow, Poland. Skeletal samples from Tel Erani helped archaeologists peer into the tartar on ancient teeth and understand what kinds of foods the ancient Canaanites ate.

The current excavations took place ahead of a new water line, which Mekorot, Israel’s National Water Carrier, hopes to start building this year to provide more water to Kiryat Gat. In particular, the new water line will serve the current and planned Intel factories, which use an enormous amount of water to produce computer chips.

Pottery discovered while excavating the Tel Erani site near Kiryat Gat in 2023, during an Israel Antiquities Authority survey ahead of laying a water pipe. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)

Intel plans to invest $25 billion for an additional chip manufacturing plant in Kiryat Gat, which should open in 2027. Chip manufacturing plants require massive amounts of ultra-pure water to keep the silicone wafers free from the smallest specks of debris or dust, as well as for cooling. The water line construction will start in the next few months and is expected to finish in 2024.

After the excavation concluded, the area was backfilled to protect the gate. Mud brick construction is particularly susceptible to erosion and vandalism.

An aerial view of the 5,500-year-old gate at Tel Erani, the oldest known gate in Israel, taken in 2023 before the area was backfilled for preservation. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)

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