Although Egyptian-Israeli relations have been
frosty in recent years, ties between the two lands were vibrant around
3,000 BCE during the Early Bronze Age - at least according to Tel Aviv
University and University College London archeologists who discovered a
rare, four-centimeter-long stone fragment at the point where the Jordan
River exits Lake Kinneret.
piece, part of a carved stone plaque bearing archaic Egyptian signs,
was the highlight of the second season of excavations at Tel Bet Yerah
(Khirbet el-Kerak). The site lies along an ancient highway that
to the wider world of the ancient Near East.
The dig, carried out within the Beit Yerah National Park, was
completed there last week by a joint team headed by TAU's
Greenberg and David Wengrow from England
Earlier discoveries, both in Egypt and at Bet Yerah, have
indicated that there was direct interaction between the site - then one
of the largest in the Jordan Valley - and the Egyptian royal court. The
new discovery suggests that these contacts were of far greater local
significance than had been suspected.
The archeologists noted that the fragment - which
depicts an arm and hand grasping a scepter and an early form of the
ankh sign - was the first artifact of its type ever found in an
archaeological site outside Egypt. It has been attributed to the period
of Egypt's First Dynasty, at around 3000 BCE.
Finds of this nature are rare even within Egypt itself, they
said, and the signs are executed to a high quality, as good as those on
royal cosmetic palettes and other monuments dating to the origins of
This year's excavations also provided new
insights into contacts between the early town and the distant north,
when large quantities of "Khirbet Kerak Ware" (a distinctive kind of
red/black burnished pottery first found at Tel Bet Yerah) were found in
association with portable ceramic hearths, some of them bearing
decorations in the form of human features.
"The hearths are very similar to objects found in Anatolia and
the southern Caucasus," noted Greenberg, "and most were found in open
spaces where there was other evidence for fire-related activities.
"The people using this pottery appear to have been migrants or
descendants of migrants, and its distribution on the site, as well as
the study of other cultural aspects, such as what they ate and the way
they organized their households, could tell us about their interaction
with local people and their adaptation to new surroundings."
A special focus of this year's excavations was the large
fortified structure that has been identified by experts in early
Islamic history as the Umayyad palace of al-Sinnabra. Its colorful
mosaic floors, discovered decades ago but long concealed from view,
were revealed and properly recorded for the first time.
Deep and massive foundations showed that the structure had been
in use for at least two major periods and that it must have been an
impressive monument before it was razed and its stones carted away for
Some of these foundation walls showed severe cracking, perhaps
related to the massive earthquake of 749 CE that destroyed many sites
along the Jordan Valley.
The tel was once described by influential American biblical
archeologist William F. Albright as "perhaps the most remarkable Bronze
Age site in all Palestine." It presents the most complete sequence of
the transition from village to city life in ancient Canaan.
Built on a raised peninsula near an important crossroads and a
fertile valley, Tel Bet Yerah became a major regional center, and its
fortification systems, city gate, streets and houses reveal elements of
advanced urban planning.
Modern archeological research on the mound began in the early
1920s, when E.L. Sukenik (father of the late archeologist and
politician Prof. Yigael Yadin) examined finds from the section of the
old Samak (Tzemah)-Tiberias road that traversed the mound along its
At about the same time, Albright conducted his own
investigation of the site; he was the first to identify and define the
pottery known as Khirbet Kerak Ware.
The first archeological excavation was conducted in 1933, when
the modern Tzemah -Tiberias highway was constructed. Over the next 70
years, about 20 excavation licenses were issued for Tel Bet Yerah and
some 15,000 square meters were excavated, most of them in Early Bronze