The exciting discovery of ancient carvings deep inside a dolmen near Kibbutz Shamir, in upper Galilee, took the archaeological world by storm as the first documentation of rock art in the Middle East.

This archaeological treasure lay hidden in a tomb of massive proportions, measuring 65 feet in diameter, deep beneath 400 tons of rock.

The abstract engravings - of great value because of their singularity - were found engraved on the ceiling of the tomb's central burial chamber, and were described to be "mysterious" in nature.

Dating back to the so-called "Dark Ages" - the Intermediate Bronze Age in the Southern Levant - the gigantic dolmen was uncovered by Israeli archaeologists from Tel Hai College, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"What makes this dolmen so unique is its huge dimensions, the structure surrounding it and most importantly the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling," said the archaeologists.

The thrilling discovery, featured March 2 in the journal PLOS One, offers a rare glimpse into the lives of people who lived in that region more than 4,000 years ago.

The Not-So-'Dark Ages'

The megalithic burial mound (or tumulus) is one of the more than 400 tomb structures still remaining from the Intermediate Bronze Age but stands out through its imposing size and detail work.

According to Gonen Sharon, professor of Galilee Studies at Tel-Hai College and also the archaeologist who discovered the ancient rock art, the findings near Kibbutz Shamir suggest the 4,000-year-old civilization that left them behind was more advanced than previously thought.

The lack of monumental buildings and low number of settlements from this era initially led scientists to presume the people of that time were mostly nomadic.

However, the scale of the newfound burial structure, as well as the attention to detail poured into its construction, point to a more elaborate type of social organization.

"A complex governmental system was needed to recruit laborers for building such a monumental structure and for supplying their needs during the operation," explained Sharon. "It also needed to possess the architectural knowledge and dexterity for the complex stonemasonry involved."

Mysterious Stone Carvings

Upon entering the tumulus, archaeologists stumbled upon a series of burial chambers built at the corners of the structure, culminating with a central rectangular chamber, which seems to have served as a family tomb.

Here they found the remains of two adults - male and female - along with a young child.

Yet the central chamber had more to offer, as Sharon was elated to come upon 14 abstract engravings on the ceiling, under the massive capstone.

The engraved shapes depict straight lines converging toward the center of an arc. Most of the engravings are clearly visible and seem to be abstract, but 3D scans revealed they resemble arrows or anchors.

"No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery," said IAA archaeologist Uri Berger.

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