4000-Year-Old Mysterious Megalithic Tomb Discovered in the Golan
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A monumental megalithic tomb with unique rock carvings in its ceiling has been discovered in the Golan Heights. The mysterious multi-chambered tomb is the sign of early farmers that left their mark all over the fertile region, archaeologists say. In fact, the Bronze Age tomb, built some 4000 years ago, is one of the largest discovered in the Middle East and the basalt capstone covering it, which has rock art engraved on it, weighs about 50 tons.

The 4,000-year-old dolmen.

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The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About fifteen such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery," says Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The engravings that were exposed on the inside of the built chamber.

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The tomb was covered with an imposing heap of stones and earth, a so-called tumulus, some 20 meters in diameter.

One of the interior chambers of the tomb, where the rock art was discovered, was two by three meters in area and investigation of the single chambered tomb, revealed a secondary multi-burial of both adults and children (the practice of allowing bodies to decompose in one place, then collecting the bones and interring them in another place).

Inside the tomb the excavators discovered colored beads and other personal items of the deceased.

Colored beads that were uncovered in the archaeological excavation inside the dolmen.

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The imposing monumental tomb with giant basalt slabs that the ancient builders used to construct this memorial to their “special dead” is evidence of a sophisticated society that had a complex governmental and economic system that executed monumental engineering projects but did not leave behind any other archaeological evidence the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority explained.

“The gigantic dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is without doubt an indication of public construction”, says Professor Sharon, “that required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time. During that time, all of those people had to be housed and fed. The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess. And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project".

The view from inside the dolmen.

The view from inside the dolmen. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A Place of Rocks

Rock dominates the landscape in the Upper Galilee and the Golan. In many places, huge pavements of basalt stone dotted with massive boulders stretch as far as the eye can see. The whole Golan area, in fact, is a vast basalt stone deposit that covers a vast area. Much of this “mysterious brooding moonscape” have a very mineral rich and fertile soil.

Wind and rain have sculpted the basaltstone pavements or slabs, known, into some wondrous shapes and forms, giving the Golan a dramatic, stark beauty all its own.

But it was not the unique beauty of the Golan landscape that first attracted the people who settled here thousands of years ago. They were more interested in the Golan´s remarkable ability to provide year-round grazing for their cattle.

The large expanse of basaltstone—acts as a huge storage heater, soaking up warmth in summer and slowly emitting it in winter. The mild winters and fertile and volcanic soil created a very attractive farming environment for those early settlers

Early Builders in the Golan

Past generations, such as those early farmers, left their mark all over the Golan landscape. There are thousands of dolmens (5,600 dolmens have been documented in the Golan on top of roughly 400 in the Galilee) it bears witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the Middle Bronze Age (2350 until 2000 BCE).

As no significant settlements and monumental building had been found for these "dark ages," civilization had been thought to have reverted to that of nomadic, tribal society inhabiting rural villages, with no central governmental system.

The 4,000-year-old dolmen.

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"The fact that we do not see cities and big settlements and monumental building doesn't mean nothing existed at that time," Sharon points out. "The largest empire in history of the world is the Mongol Empire and it left no traces in archaeology. They were like Bedouin, nomadic. For the dolmens to have been built, they needed enough people to do it, needed to feed them, needed architectural mastery and technological knowledge, and planning. The dolmen is monumental and attests to a more significant culture than we had thought." She concludes.

Great mystery surrounds these ancient peoples. Who exactly were they? What did they believe? Did they construct the enigmatic dolmens as a memorial mark for their dead, or was it set aside as a sacred place for some special religious rituals? No one really knows.