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Israel’s oldest gate offers glimpse into ancient urbanization

The excavation at Tel Erani unveiled not only the 5,500-year-old gate but also a portion of a fortification system dating to the Early Bronze Age.

The 5,500 year-old gate at Tel Erani, near the Kiryat Gat industrial zone, Aug. 15, 2023. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority.
The 5,500 year-old gate at Tel Erani, near the Kiryat Gat industrial zone, Aug. 15, 2023. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/ Israel Antiquities Authority.

Israeli archaeologists excavating near Kiryat Gat’s industrial zone prior to the laying of a water pipe have uncovered a city gate dating back more than five millennia, the oldest such structure ever found in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday.

The discovery “adds another important piece … to our archaeological knowledge,” said IAA Director-General Eli Eskosido. “Together with the cooperation of the Mekorot Water Company, it was decided to move the water pipe in order to preserve the ancient gate.”

The excavation at Tel Erani unveiled not only the gate but also a portion of a fortification system dating to the Early Bronze Age.

According to the IAA, the discovery provides valuable insights into the development of urban centers and their strategic defense in ancient times.

“This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze Age has been uncovered,” said excavation director Emily Bischoff. “In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mud bricks had to be manufactured and the fortification walls had to be constructed. This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”

Tel Erani is a 150 dunam (37 acre) site whose origins are associated with the ancient Philistines. The city, located on the present day outskirts of Kiryat Gat, was destroyed in the sixth century BCE, presumably by the Babylonians.

“The tel site was part of a large and important settlement system in the southwestern area of the country in this period,” explained Yitzhak Paz, a IAA specialist in the Early Bronze Age. “Within this system we can identify the first signs of the urbanization process, including settlement planning, social stratification, and public building. The newly uncovered gate is an important discovery that affects the dating of the beginning of the urbanization process in the country.”

Paz said that previous excavations suggested urbanization began at the end of the fourth millennium BCE, “but the excavations carried out at Tel Erani have now shown that this process began even earlier, in the last third of the fourth millennium BCE.”

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