Archaeological Mysteries of Biblical Lands

This is a brief look at four mysterious discoveries related to Bible Archaeology. Three of the four are outtakes from previous posts. The final mystery concerning the 'Kites' of Israel Jordan and Egypt is new to this site but fits this category nicely. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Gobekli Tepe

Just north of Syria in Southern Turkey archaeologist have been excavating a site which they believe represents the earliest religious center ever discovered. The excavations began in 1994 and have thus far uncovered at least four monumental stone circles. These circles somewhat resemble the well-known ‘Stonehenge’ but pre-date that monument by as much as 7,000 years. Archaeologist who are unearthing these huge stones place the age of the monuments at between 8,000 and 10,000 B.C. or approximately 7,500 years before the advent of agriculture.

While the stone monuments pre-date any form of agriculture, there is another interesting fact concerning these excavations. Thus far no residential remains have been discovered associated with these monuments. It appears these monuments were not a part of any village and were used by people who had not yet begun to function as a community. It is also clear these structures were spiritual or religious centers and appear to disprove the theory man did not develop religion until after they began to gather into communities and were concerned with pleasing a divine being while still nomads.

The monuments at Gobekli Tepe are thought to have been in use by their builders/worshippers for over 1,500 years. The sites were then filled with sand and the people seem to have simply walked away, never to return. Filling in this 20 acre site would have taken a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources to accomplish. It is unclear why the site was abandoned, why it was deemed necessary to bury the site, or even who these builders and worshippers were. Much more work remains to be done as only 10 percent of the site has been excavated, but it seems doubtful we will ever find all the answers to the mystery of Gobekli Tepe.

Underwater Structure in Sea of Galilee

The discovery of the ancient submerged structure in the Sea of Galilee was announced in late 2013. The age, origin and use of the structure remains shrouded in mystery. Scientist discovered the structure using sonar but no true excavations have been conducted. The nature of the structure and its depth make easy examination difficult but efforts are underway to raise funding for further study. There are several questions concerning this structure as it relates to Biblical Archaeology. First, how old is the structure, who built it, what was it used for and does it support or conflict any information found in the Bible? Answers to some of these questions are problematic at best.

Currently scientist have no idea who constructed the underwater structure, nor do they agree on how the structure was made. One theory is the structure was made while the area was dry land and the lake later rose to cover the structure and surrounding area. Others theorize the structure is actually intended to attract and support aquatic life. The Sea of Galilee has a long history of an economy based on fishing which is referenced to several times in the New Testament. Other stone fish hatcheries have been discovered in the Sea but nothing of this size. Most are no more than four meters across and are very close to shore. If indeed the structure was intended as a fish sanctuary/hatchery it was most likely constructed while the lake was at its current level. If this second theory is correct, and it certainly seems the most plausible theory, it drastically changes the difficulty of construction.

Who is Buried in the Pella Tomb?

In Pella a Byzantine era church was discovered and in the north apse was discovered a stone lined tomb. This is significant for a number of reasons. In a Byzantine church the north apse was almost exclusively reserved for the tomb of a martyr. Secondly, the tomb was dated to the late first century, perhaps around 80 A.D. This places the tomb in the proper time frame for the Christians who Eusebius said fled to Pella. It is also extremely interesting that it appears the Byzantine church was built around the tomb. The layout of the church seems to have been designed as to accommodate and thus not disturb the tomb below. This seems to signify the builders of the church felt the person buried in the tomb was not only a martyr, but someone of significant importance to warrant a church being constructed around the tomb. But just who was buried in the tomb remains a mystery.

While the tomb itself was dated to the late first century A.D. the skeletal remains found inside were dated differently. Carbon dating of the remains gave a date in the sixth century, some five hundred years too late for the remains to belong to a first century Christian. While the remains were tested, the issue of the age of the remains is till a point of debate. Dr. Bourke points out the bones were severely damaged, as if they had been subjected to a harsh chemical. It is possible there was a natural chemical reaction within the tomb which caused this damage and Dr. Bourke believes this may have rendered the original carbon dating results invalid. Attempts are currently underway to have the remains re-tested using more modern and hopefully more reliable dating methods. If the original dating is found to be in error, it is felt the age of the remains will likely match the age of the tomb, placing them around 80 A.D.

Very little is known about the tomb’s occupant. It is known the remains were those of a man who was considerably taller than the average man in those days. He was not only a tall man but apparently a very large man as well. It is also believed he was well advanced in years at the time of his death. If in fact he was buried in the tomb in 80 A.D. and was between 70 and 85 years of age, he would have been in his mid to late thirties during the time Jesus was alive. Was this man an important figure in the early church? Did he know and follow Jesus during His lifetime? Was he martyred for his faith in Christ? These are questions we simply do not have the answers to. We do know that the tomb was felt to be important enough that a church was designed and built around it. The tomb was also located at a position within the church normally reserved for a martyr. While we may never know the identity of the occupant of the Pella tomb, one thing is very clear. At the time the church was planned and constructed this person was believed to have been a very significant figure to the people of Pella and most probably a significant figure in the early Christian church. Excavations at Pella continue so we can only hope additional clues as to the identity of the occupant of the tomb may be forthcoming .

Kites of Israel, Jordan and Egypt

Early in the 20th century archaeologist discovered a series of low stone walls located in the deserts of Jordan, Israel and Egypt. These walls are only visible from the air and were nicknamed 'kites'. The walls date back to at least 300 B.C. and have puzzled experts for decades. Who built them and why remains a mystery although recently some scholars have recently announced they may have found the purpose of the kites.

It is now believed the walls were meant to funnel wild animals into a pit where they could be killed in a much more efficient manner. Rather than chase the animals across the desert they were allowed to come or be driven to the hunters. Scholars point out if this theory is correct it now seems ancient man knew a great deal more about animal behavior than previously known. The kites, while simple in design, were not simple to build. Some of the kites stretched as far as forty miles ( 64 kilometers) across the desert. Simply walking forty miles into the desert is no simple task, but add to this the fact they were transporting or gathering stones for construction complicates the process considerably.

The theory the kites are intended to entrap animals seems to fit the evidence and makes sense, but it remains only a theory of a fascinating mystery which has perplexed the experts for decades.

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