A number of significant archaeological sites are found along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, located in the North of Israel. While conducting a geophysical survey, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University found an ancient structure deep beneath the waves of the southern Sea of Galilee as well.
The research team, led by Prof. Shmulik Marco of TAU’s Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, stumbled upon a cone-shaped monument, approximately 230 feet in diameter and 39 feet high. The monument, which weighs an estimated 60,000 tons, was built on dry land approximately 6,000 years ago according to initial findings. It was later submerged under the water.
The study, published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, suggests that the building blocks for the structure were probably brought from more than a mile away and arranged according to a specific construction plan. Dr. Yitzhak Paz of the Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University notes that the site resembles early burial sites in Europe and was likely built in the early Bronze Age. There might be a connection to the nearby ancient city of Beit Yerah, Paz believes. Beit Yerah was the largest and most fortified city in the region.
The initial goal of the survey was to uncover the origins of alluvium pebbles found in this area of the Sea of Galilee. They believed the pebbles were deposited by the ancient Yavniel Creek, a precursor to the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee. The researchers observed a massive pile of stones in the middle of an otherwise smooth basin while using sonar technology to survey the bottom of the lake.
This pile of stones aroused their curiosity. Prof. Marco went diving to learn more, revealing that the pile was not a random accumulation of stones, but a purposefully-built structure composed of three-foot-long volcanic stones called basalt. The closest deposit of basalt is more than a mile away, leading Marco to believe that they were brought to the site specifically for this structure.
The team used the accumulation of sand around its base to estimate the age of the structure. By noting that the base is now six to ten feet below the bottom of the Sea of Galilee due to a natural build-up of sand, and taking into account the rate of accumulation, the team deduced that the monument is several thousand years old.
To further study the artifact, the research team plans to organize a specialized underwater excavations team. They will be trying to learn more about the origins, including an investigation of the surface the structure was built on. Hunting for artifacts surrounding the structure will help to more accurately date the monument and give clues to its purpose and builders. Prof. Marco says that the answers might illuminate the geological history of the area as well.
“The base of the structure — which was once on dry land — is lower than any water level that we know of in the ancient Sea of Galilee. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that water levels have been steadily rising,” he says.
The Sea of Galilee is a tectonically active region, meaning the bottom of the lake, and therefore the structure, may have shifted over time. The team intends to investigate further to increase the understanding of past tectonic movements, the accumulation of sediment, and the changing water levels throughout history.
Image 2 (below): An underwater photo shows the structure is made of basalt boulders. Photo: Shmulik Marco.