Artwork uncovered on mysterious 4,000-year-old structures in the Golan

The dolmen near the kibbutz is the largest one even discovered in the Middle East and its ceiling features 14 tridents carved into the stone.

Credit: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority
For thousands of years, mysterious rock structures have dotted the bucolic landscape of the Golan Heights and the Galilee. Known among archaeologists as dolmens, little is known about the origin and identity of these giant megalithic burials.
The dolmen in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve. (photo credit: YANIV BERMAN/IAA)The dolmen in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve. (photo credit: YANIV BERMAN/IAA)
New work by Israeli researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel-Hai College has recently added a new piece to the puzzle: artwork depicting animals, geometric shapes and even a human face was uncovered on four dolmens, as was revealed in a paper published in the journal Asian Archaeology last week.
“Several years ago, a panel of rock art engravings was discovered on the inner wall of a huge dolmen in a field surrounding Kibbutz Shamir,” Prof. Gonen Sharon, head of the M.A. Program in Galilee Studies at Tel-Hai, said in a press release. Sharon coauthored the paper with Uri Berger from the IAA.
The dolmen near the kibbutz is the largest one even discovered in the Middle East and its ceiling features 14 tridents carved into the stone.
“This was the first time rock art was documented in the context of dolmens in the Middle East. Following this discovery, we started a research project to locate and document dolmen art throughout the Land of Israel. We surveyed dozens of dolmens in Upper Galilee and the Golan in an attempt to uncover the world of this mysterious culture that existed more than 4000 years ago, and left behind only dolmens as evidence of their rich culture,” he added.
Among the most striking discoveries, a dolmen in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve was found to be adorned with the figures of seven animals with horns, engraved in a complicated composition on the walls of the burial chamber. “It is clear that the way they are positioned meant something to the artist,” Berger commented.
The hope is that those antelopes, mountain goats and cows, as well as the even more cryptic geometric figures and the human face spotted in a dolmen in Kiryat Shmona, will help shed light on the enigmatic people who created them.
“To date, many dolmens were identified in Israel and in neighboring countries, but we knew almost nothing about the civilization of these super-builders beyond the remains of the enormous structures they left behind as evidence of their existence in the region,” Berger said. “The engravings in the rock open a window, for the first time, to the culture behind the construction of these dolmens.”