Ancient Sea of Galilee find indicates ‘complex, well-organized society’

A team of Israeli scientists has discovered an ancient structure under the Sea of Galilee, possibly up to 4,000 years old, and the purpose of this monument is currently unknown.

The structure is best described as a cairn — a man-made pile of stones meant as a marker, either for a place of note, a location of religious significance, or sometimes as a burial monument to someone important. Cairns can range in size from a small pile to a large artificial hill.

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This particular find is huge — a roughly circular pile of stones, measuring around 70 metres across and about 10 metres high, and containing an estimated 60,000 tons of volcanic rock. The scientists note that these rocks, some up to 1 metre across, had to be moved to their present location from at least a few hundred metres away — not to mention carried up the incline of the cairn to build its 10-metre height — so this was no easy undertaking.

Furthermore, the structure is located more than 200 metres below the surface of the water. It's possible that it was built underwater, or it may have been constructed on land, and then a combination of rising sea levels in the Sea of Galilee and the ground sinking due to tectonic activity caused it to become submerged to its current level.

So, what's the big deal about this, if it's basically just a big pile of rocks under the water?

It's age is fairly important. The scientists figure that it's likely from the 3rd millennium BCE (Before Current Era), making it over 4,000 years old. This would make it an Early Bronze Age artifact.

It's size and structure, and the effort needed to construct it "is indicative of a complex, well-organized society, with planning skills and economic ability," they wrote in their paper.

Overall, though, it's "possible relation of the submerged stone structure to the ancient settlements along the shores of the Sea of Galilee is of great importance," the researchers wrote, as it would offer another piece of evidence in tracing back human history.

Speculation as to the structure's purpose runs down two roads at the moment, depending on what the environment was like when the monument was built.

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If it was actually built underwater, it may have been put there as a fish nursery, as the structure rising up over the sea floor attracts fish to it. Fish nurseries with similar structure (although substantially smaller) have been found in the past. Interestingly, if this idea turns out to be true, that speaks to a rather advanced mindset — to alter the environment that much to attract a food source to your settlement.

If it was built on land and then was submerged later by natural processes, it may have had more 'typical' significance for a cairn, although what the specific meaning of this one would be is still unknown.

The researchers, led by Israeli archaeologist Yitzhak Paz, of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University, published their findings in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. They plan on conducting an underwater excavation of the site sometime in the future, so that they can look for further clues to the structure's purpose and origin.

(Images courtesy: Shmuel Marco/Paz et al, IJNA)

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