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Archaeologists Discover Ruins of 3,100-Year-Old Canaanite Temple in Israel

The remains of a previously unknown Canaanite temple, dating from the 12th century BCE, have been uncovered in the north-eastern corner of the site of Tel Lachish in Israel.

The ruins of the 3,100-year-old Canaanite temple at Tel Lachish, Israel. Image credit: Fourth Expedition to Lachish.

The ruins of the 3,100-year-old Canaanite temple at Tel Lachish, Israel. Image credit: Fourth Expedition to Lachish.

Lachish was one of the most important Canaanite cities in the Land of Israel during the Middle and late Bronze Ages. Its people controlled large parts of the Judean lowlands.

The city was built around 1800 BCE and later destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 BCE. It was rebuilt and destroyed twice more, succumbing for good around 1150 BCE.

The settlement is mentioned in both the Bible and in various Egyptian sources and was one of the few Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE.

During the 2010s, the intensive excavations were conducted at the site of Tel Lachish by the Fourth Expedition to Lachish, under the co-direction of Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Michael Hasel and Dr. Martin Klingbeil of the Institute of Archaeology at Southern Adventist University.

“This excavation has been breath-taking,” Professor Garfinkel said.

“Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel. What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.”

The layout of the newly-discovered temple is similar to other Canaanite temples in northern Israel, such as in Nablus, Megiddo and Hazor.

The front of the compound is marked by two columns and two towers leading to a large hall.

The inner sanctum has four supporting columns and several unhewn ‘standing stones’ that may have served as representations of temple gods.

The Lachish temple is more square in shape and has several side rooms, typical of later temples including Solomon’s Temple.

In addition to these ruins, the archaeologists unearthed a trove of artifacts including, bronze cauldrons, Hathor-inspired jewelry, daggers and axe-heads adorned with bird images, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs.

Near the temple’s holy of holies, the team found two bronze figurines. Unlike the winged cherubs in Solomon’s Temple, the Lachish figurines were armed’ smiting gods.’

“Of particular interest was a pottery sherd engraved with ancient Canaanite script,” the researchers said.

“There, the letter ‘samek’ appears, marked by an elongated vertical line crossed by three perpendicular shorter lines. This makes it the oldest known example of the letter and a unique specimen for the study of ancient alphabets.”

“Only time will tell what treasures still remain to be uncovered in the ancient city of Lachish.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Levant.

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Itamar Weissbein et al. The Level VI North-East Temple at Tel Lachish. Levant, published online January 16, 2020; doi: 10.1080/00758914.2019.1695093

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