Relics from World War I battlefield unearthed in central Israel

"These finds constitute evidence of one of the major battles that was fought in Palestine between the British forces and the Turkish forces," says IAA.

May 9, 2017 16:05
3 minute read.
Bullets, cartridges and shell fragments found at the site.

Bullets, cartridges and shell fragments found at the site.. (photo credit: CLARA AMIT, COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

Rare relics from a fierce World War I battle between the British and Ottoman armies were recently unearthed during an excavation at Migdal Tzedek National Park, the Antiquities Authority said on Tuesday.

Dozens of bullet cartridges, shell fragments and military items were discovered by archeologists and student volunteers from the Melach Haaretz pre-military preparatory program, prior to paving an access road between Rosh Ha’ayin and the Afek Industrial Park.

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According to Yossi Elisha, director of the excavation for the authority, the first rifle cartridge was found by student volunteer Yitzhak Kalontarov.

“Yitzhak approached me curiously with an artifact in his hand and I was surprised to discover that it was a rifle cartridge – and even more surprised when it turned out to be a World War I cartridge,” recounted Elisha.

“As archeologists, we expect to discover ancient finds from hundreds and thousands of years ago, whereas here we have a relatively ‘young’ 100-year-old artifact. But we were all drawn to the fascinating story of the battle.”

The discovery area is one of several battle sites in Israel in which, between 1917 and 1918, the Ottomans’ Yildirim Army Group, which included German units and was commanded by Gen. Erich von Falkenhayn from July 1917 to February 1918, fought the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which included French and Italian units.

The students and researchers went on to collect dozens more cartridges, shell fragments and remnants of a British Army cap insignia at one of the outposts, adjacent to several bullets and Ottoman rifle cartridges.

Two other military outposts once used by the Ottoman Army were also unearthed.

“One [of the outposts] was located inside an ancient field tower and the other was adjacent to an agricultural terrace,” said Elisha. “These finds constitute evidence of one of the major battles that was fought in Palestine between the British forces and the Turkish forces during the First World War.”

“It was extremely exciting, because this is concrete evidence of the fighting between the forces in the area,” said Assaf Peretz, a researcher at the Antiquities Authority.

“Our excitement increased even more when archeologist Shahar Crispin identified the name of the unit to which the soldier belonged whose insignia was found: the Norfolk Regiment,” Peretz continued.

The relics were remnants of the Battle of Megiddo, which took place on September 19, 1918, the archeologists said.

“Two battalions, 1/4 and 1/5 of the British Norfolk Regiment, attacked the ridge where the excavated site is located to assist another battalion that attacked the Ottoman fortifications,” said Peretz.

“Finding the British cap insignia inside the Ottoman outpost vividly illustrates the historical event.”

An aerial photograph of the excavation area. (Courtesy of Griffin Aerial Photography)

Alexander Glick, a weapons expert at the Antiquities Authority, reconstructed the battlefield based on the findings.

“The British forces shelled the Turkish positions with their 18-pounder guns, which were the standard field artillery piece in the British Army during World War I,” said Glick, adding that fragments of artillery shells and shrapnel balls were found during the excavation.

“It seems that the Turkish forces sustained serious casualties from this barrage.

Nevertheless, they responded with massive light-arms fire aimed at the British forces, as can be seen from the bullet cartridges of the Mauser rifles that were discovered in the Turkish positions.”

Glick continued: “It is interesting to note that the rifles and cartridges were manufactured in Germany and were supplied shortly before the battle, evidence that the Turks were dependent upon their German allies for weapons and ammunition.”

The students and representatives of the Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority presented the finds to Col. Ronnie Westerman, defense attaché at the British Embassy, and to Eran Tearosh, chairman of the Society for the Heritage of World War I in Israel.


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