Ancient Murder Mystery? Israel Discovers Two Bodies in Centuries-Old Well - The Jewish Voice
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Ancient Murder Mystery? Israel Discovers Two Bodies in Centuries-Old Well

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Two skeletons similar to the ones pictured here have been discovered in an ancient well in Israel’s Galilee region.The Israel Antiquities Authority revealed this past week that archaeologists had unearthed a well dating back to the Neolithic period some 8,500 years ago, in the western Jezreel Valley in the northern Galilee region. Amongst the variety of artifacts found were two stone age skeletal remains; one of a woman around 19 years of age and that of an older man, estimated to be between 30 and 40 years old.

Archaeologists believe that either both of them accidentally fell into the well or were murdered and then dumped inside. “We’re still investigating what happened to the couple. We have to do an autopsy to find out if they were murdered and also look into the artifacts and rocks found over them,” excavation director Yotam Tepper told reporters.

The well is eight meters (26 feet) deep and was used by farmers during the Neolithic period (the last part of the Stone Age) to bring water to the settlement. The numerous artifacts that have been excavated so far from the well indicate that the well ended up being used as a dump after it became polluted.

“What is clear is that after these unknown individuals fell into the well, it was no longer used, for the simple reason that the well water was contaminated and was no longer potable,” Tepper declared. Of the rare archaeological find, Tepper added, “This impressive well was connected to an ancient farming settlement and it seems the inhabitants used it for their subsistence and living. The upper part of the well was built of stones and its lower part was hewn in the bedrock. Two capstones, which narrowed the opening, were set in place at the top of the well.”

Numerous artifacts indicating the identity of the people who quarried it – the first farmers of the Jezreel Valley – were recovered from inside the well and included, among other items, deeply denticulated sickle blades knapped from flint which were used for harvesting, as well as arrow heads and stone implements. The excavation of the accumulations in the well shaft yielded animal bones, organic finds and charcoal, which will enable future studies about the domestication of plants and animals, and will also allow researchers to determine the exact age of the well by means of advanced methods of absolute dating.

“The well reflects the sophisticated quarrying ability of the site’s ancient inhabitants and the extensive knowledge they possessed regarding the local hydrology and geology, which enabled them to quarry the limestone bedrock down to the level of the water table. No doubt the quarrying of the well was a community effort that lasted a long time,” said Tepper.

According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Wells from this period are unique finds in the archaeology of Israel, and probably also in the prehistoric world in general. The two oldest wells in the world were previously exposed in Cyprus and they indicated the beginning of the domestication phenomenon. It seems that ancient man tried to devise ways of protecting his drinking water from potential contamination by the animals he raised, and therefore he enclosed the water in places that were not accessible to them. The wells had another important advantage: quarrying them provided access to an available source of water that was not dependent upon springs or streams.”

Barzilai added that, “Another well, which is about 1,000 years later than those in Cyprus, was previously exposed at the Atlit Yam site in Israel, and now another well from this period has been exposed at the ‘Enot Nisanit’ site. The exposure of these wells makes an important contribution to the study of man’s culture and economy in a period when pottery vessels and metallic objects had still not yet been invented.”

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