In the Golan dolmens shed light on a little-known culture

Dans le Golan, des dolmens mettent en lumière une culture méconnue

THE GOLAN heights | The discovery unexpectedly engravings carved on a dolmen in the region of the syrian Golan heights, occupied by Israel, gives a new insight into the presence of a mysterious society that flourished there thousands of years ago, say archaeologists israelis.

In a clearing in the nature reserve Yehudiya, huge stones covered with slabs of dark basalt to form a small burial chamber, surrounded by grass yellowed by the sun.

This building complex is one of the thousands of dolmens scattered in the north of Israel and in the Golan heights — annexed by israel in 1981 — that have been erected there are about 4 000 to 4 500 years, to the bronze age intermediate.

If the identity and beliefs of those who built these monuments remain largely obscure, these discoveries of cave art can help bring a new light.

“There are about two years old, one of the rangers who was on his daily round has looked inside (the dolmen) and saw something engraved on the wall,” says Uri Berger, of the Authority, israeli antiquities (IAA).

She has contacted the IAA and “when we looked inside, we saw that it was not just traits or stains on the wall, but rock art,” adds the archaeologist.

On one of the rocks, we distinguish six horned animals of different sizes: three oriented towards the East and three towards the West. Two of them — probably a male and a female, according to Mr Shepherd — face. On another wall, an animal horn is facing the herd.

“Weird shapes”

These zoomorphic representations, gone unnoticed since the beginning of the study of the dolmens there are close to 200 years in the Levant, were the first reported in the region and are considered important discoveries by Uri Berger and his partner Gonen Sharon of the faculty of archaeology of Tel-Hai (northern Israel).

Until then, we didn’t know that the society that lived in this region at the time was in the making. And these animals seem to have been important for the inhabitants.

Importance it remains, however, to define, say the archaeologists, who have published an article in late June in the scientific journal Asian Archaeology.

It is the teacher Sharon that must be the previous discovery of rock art on the dolmens, in 2012, near kibbutz Shamir, in Upper Galilee, at the edge of the Golan heights.

Come and hike with her children, Gonen Sharon, sitting in the shade of the largest of the 400 dolmens that are scattered across a wide field, looking up the huge slab and note of the “odd shapes” that seemed not of natural origin.

When examined, they revealed a series of entries that look like tridents.

“It was the first form of rock art discovery on the dolmens in the Middle East”, according to Mr. Sharon.

This discovery has sparked new interest in the dolmens and their many mysteries among archaeologists, some of whom have resumed their research on three small dolmens surrounded by stones arranged in circles, near the town of Kiryat Shmona (northern Israel).

On the cornerstone relatively rounded the largest of the three dolmens, engraved lines create the image of two eyes closed, and a mouth distorted the face of the sky.

“The grooves do not seem to have been of service,” explains Gonen Sharon as if to underline that it is of art. “For us, it looks like a face.”

“Why?”

The dolmens have “shaped the landscape of the north of Israel, says Uri Berger.

But they have also been the object of theft, robbing, in large part, of components that may provide clues about their authors.

Small pieces of ceramic, spear points, daggers, and jewelry, and some of the bones, have been found in the dolmens, “but this remains very rare,” says Sharon.

The discoveries of rock art “closer to the researchers of civilizations as they try to understand,” said Mr. Berger.

They also highlight new questions: “Why are these animals? Why on this dolmen and not another? That is what makes it special?”, asks the archaeologist.

For Mr. Sharon, these engravings suggest that this was the culture at the time, such a “letter from the past”.

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