Ancient engravings of ships and animals uncovered in Beersheba

Excavators discovered large cistern while preparing for a new neighborhood.

November 7, 2018 13:51
1 minute read.
Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen from the Israel Antiquities Authority in a cistern in Beer Sheva

Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen from the Israel Antiquities Authority in a cistern in Beer Sheva. (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)


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Excavators uncovered ancient engravings of ships and animals while clearing the way for a new neighborhood in Beersheba, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The engravings were found on the walls of a large, Roman-era water cistern, with a 5 to 5.5m. circumference and a depth of 12 m. An initial clearing of what at first appeared to be a large depression exposed a well-hewn and plastered staircase leading into the depth of the cistern.

In the plaster covering the cistern walls, the excavators, Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen and Avishay Levi-Hevroni of the authority, spotted thinly engraved lines. Though many of the lines have become less visible over time, they could make out the depictions of boats, a sailor and animals. Thirteen ships were engraved in the plaster of the cistern walls.

According to Eisenberg-Degen, a specialist in rock art and graffiti at the authority, the ships include technical details and present proportions which suggest that the artist was knowledgeable in ship construction.

“The shape and form of the cistern [and] the technique of hewing and plastering suggest that the cistern is of the first-second century CE, and likely served the residents of a Roman-period site situated some 800 m. away, recently excavated by Dr. Fabian and Dr. Cohen-Sason of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,” Eisenberg-Degen said.

Though the cistern was found filled with sediments, it is apparent that it was maintained, cleaned and in use until recently, the authority said.

The sediment fill included a number of ceramic shards, ammunition shells and parts of weapons that the authority said date back to World War I.

The Antiquities Authority and the “Umbrella Agreement and Development of New Neighborhoods in Beersheba” will preserve the cistern and incorporate it into the future public green space of the new neighborhood, which will be called Rakafot.

“There are all sorts of plans about how to make it accessible to the public,” said Eisenberg-Degen. “This a an almost direct communication with the thoughts of a person who was in this place 2,000 years ago, and this is what he chose to decorate the walls with.”

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