The thousands of tourists lounging on the beaches of Lake Kinneret in the north of Israel may be surprised to learn that beneath the surface of the lake's southwest corner sits an impressive rock structure in the shape of a perfect circle. The discovery was made by sonar in the summer of 2003 by Shmulik Marco, a senior researcher in the Geophysics Department of Tel Aviv University. But the mysterious structure, estimated to be about 6,000 years old, has yet to be thoroughly investigated.
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Marco's initial goal was to determine the origin of pebbles in the area. In the distant past the Yavniel stream flowed through the Kinneret region, Marco says, and only later shifted its course further south, flowing into the Jordan River.
The discovery of the giant structure, recently published in the British scientific periodical "International Journal of Nautical Archaeology", brought Marco back to the Kinneret to dive to the lake's floor and photograph the basalt stones. The structure was likely built on dry land that was subsequently submerged in rising waters. The pile of stones, each of which is close to a meter long, arranged in the shape of a cone, weighs close to 60,000 tons.
The overall size of the structure is close to 70 meters in diameter and 10 meters high, all of which sits about eight or nine meters below the water's surface, which brings it to nearly 220 meters below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. The floor of the structure is covered in two to three meters of sediment, which allowed Marco to estimate its age, though the exact dates are still a question mark.
"Since a dig has yet to be carried out at the site, it's hard to date the structure and determine its purpose," said archaeologist Yitzhak Paz of the Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a co-author of the journal article.
The researchers are convinced that the pile of stones is man-made by a large number of people and not a product of natural processes. Paz believes they were part of a well-developed social group; Marco considers it an impressive enterprise, suggesting the builders must have brought the heavy stones from three or four kilometers away. He situates the structure in the early Bronze Age and believes there may be a connection with the nearby ancient city of Beit Yerah, but these conjectures still require more research.
"It was the largest and most fortified city in the area," says Paz of Beit Yerah (also known as Khirbet Kerak), which is 1.5 km away." It had urban planning and paved streets."
Researchers also link the structure to other monument sites in the region, like Khirbet B'tiha at the north of the lake and Rujm al-Hiri (also known as Gilgal Refa'im) in the Golan Heights.
"It also resembles early burial sites in Europe," Paz adds.