A monument in Galilee, Israel may have served a different purpose from what was once thought, and is being heralded as an advance for archaeologists studying ancient life in the region. The crescent-shaped artifact is believed to be around 5,000 years old.
The stone structure is buried just beneath the surface of the of the ground, stretching 492 feet in length and 66 feet across at its widest point.
Archaeologists once believed the monument, located eight miles from the Sea of Galilee may have marked the borders of an ancient city. Instead of city walls, the massive artifact may have served to mark territory, according to new research.
Ido Wachtel of Hebrew University investigated the structure, in order to determine its original purpose. He believes the stone artifact may have been connected to the town of Bet Yerah, which once stood 18 miles from the monument. In ancient times, this distance would have taken a day to complete. This suggested to Wachtel that it was unlikely to be a fortification, since it would have been too far from the city to be effective.
Bet Yerah translates as "House of the Moon God" and Wachtel believes the crescent-shaped structure may have also served a symbolic purpose. At the time, followers of the Mesopotamian moon God Sin were found in the area, and the monument may have served to mark the boundaries of the ancient city.
"The proposed interpretation for the site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population," Wachtel said.
Dating of the material places construction of the monument between B.C.E. 3050 and 2650. This would make the Israeli structure older than the pyramids of Egypt, or Stonehenge in England.
The volume of the massive stone structure is measured at almost 500,000 cubic feet. An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 work days were needed to construct the ancient monument, according to Wachtel. That would have meant at least 200 workers were required, over five months, to build the structure. These workers would have unable to farm or tend crops for that time, a rarity in an agricultural society.
Bet Yerah was designed on a grid, much like Manhattan in modern times. The people there traded with residents of Egypt. Archaeologists are uncertain what ancient residents there called the city, as the earliest record of the name Bet Yerah is found in 1,500 year-old rabbinic texts.
Wachtel presented the results of his study of the monument at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.