10,000-year-old cult center found near Nazareth

Archeologist: artifacts unearthed at 10,000-year-old site indicate 'intense' ritual practice.

A 200-square-meter site in the lower Galilee dating back as far as 10,500 years has been identified by Hebrew University archeologists as having been a cult center and burial ground, mostly for men, equipped with items brought from as far away as Anatolia. Prof. Nigel Goring-Morris of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, who is leading the excavations, says that the "funerary precinct" is just one of the many finds discovered at the site this year - including remains of a fully articulated, but tightly contracted 40-year-old male. Among the items buried at Kfar Hahoresh in the Nazareth hills include phallic figurines, sea shells from the Mediterranean and Red Seas and items from Syria, Cyprus and Turkey. The site, he said, dates back to 6,750 BCE to 8,500 BCE. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era corresponds to the period when the first large village communities were established in the fertile regions of the Near East when a wide ranging cultural interaction sphere came into being throughout the Levant, the archeologist said. The massive walled enclosure measures 10 meters by at least 20 meters. It is believed to have been a regional funerary and cult center for nearby lowland villages. Goods found in the graves include a sickle blade and a sea shell, while a concentration of some 60 other shells was found nearby. The shells provide evidence for extensive exchange networks from the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Symbolic items include small plain or incised tokens. An entire herd of cattle was also found buried nearby. While fertility symbols during this period are often associated with female imagery, at Kfar Hahoresh only phallic figurines have been found to date, including one placed as a foundation deposit in the wall of the precinct. Exotic minerals found at the site include malachite from south of the Dead Sea, black glassy obsidian from central Anatolia, and a "votive axe on serpentine" from either Cyprus or northern Syria. "Cultic artifacts, installations and their contextual associations attest to intensive ritual practices in the area," noted Goring-Morris. Burials at the site now total at least 65 skeletons and display an unusual demographic profile - with an emphasis on young adult males. Graves occur under or associated with lime-plaster surfaced L-shaped walled structures and are varied in nature from single articulated burials through multiple secondary burials with up to 17 individuals. Bones in one had been intentionally re-arranged in what appears to be a depiction.