A short jump away from an industrial park filled with modern machinery and factories, a glimpse of the ancient past has emerged. Israeli archaeologists recently stumbled across what they believe to be the oldest city gate in the country. At around 5,500 years old, the researchers say this intriguing relic is helping to shed some light on how and when cities first started to emerge in the area.
The gate was recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at Tell Erani near the Kiryat Gat Industrial Zone during preparations for a vast new water pipe. Prior to this discovery, the record-holder for the oldest gate in Israel was identified in Tel Arad and was dated about 300 years later than this gate.
The gate stands 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches) tall and is flanked by two towers made of large stones that attach to the city walls, which were uncovered in previous excavations. Carving through the middle of the gate is a road built of large stones that leads into the ancient city.
Tel Erani has been part of ongoing excavations since the 1950s. The city stood for centuries, but it appears to have been at its peak during the Early Bronze Age around 3330 to 3050 BCE. Like great cities often do, it eventually fell into ruins around the sixth century BCE, most likely after being invaded by the Babylonians, who also destroyed Jerusalem around this time.
As the oldest city gate ever recovered in Israel, the researchers suggest that bustling urban centers perhaps emerged in this part of the Levant earlier than previously thought.
“This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze IB has been uncovered. In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mudbricks had to be manufactured and the fortification walls had to be constructed. This was not achieved by one or a few individuals," Emily Bischoff, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement sent to IFLScience.
"The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”
Clearly, however, the gate was built to keep some outside force on the other side of the city walls. As such, the archaeologists on the project suggest that the ancient gate is also useful for understanding ancient rivalries and warfare.
“It is probable that all passers-by, traders or enemies, who wanted to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate. The gate not only defended the settlement, but also conveyed the message that one was entering an important strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially and economically,” said Martin-David Pasternak, an early Bronze Age archaeologist with the IAA.
“This was the message to outsiders, possibly also to Egypt, where the process that would lead to the unification of the Lower and Upper Egypt under King Narmer was already beginning. At the end of the Early Bronze Age, the Egyptians themselves arrived here and settled the tell, and they reused the gate."