Stone houses and artifacts dating back 7,000 years have been discovered in Jerusalem, demonstrating that the settlement existed even longer than had been supposed. The houses showed various stages of building, indicating that they had been in use for centuries.
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The discoveries are the oldest known remains of human habitation in Jerusalem. Previous discoveries from Chalcolithic-era Jerusalem had included pottery sherds and bones, but not signs of housing.
It had had been widely assumed that the Jerusalem area had been inhabited for 4,000 or 5,000 years.
The homes and artifacts were found by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the neighborhood of Shuafat, in north Jerusalem, in the course of a "salvage excavation" ahead of building a new road.
Lurking just a meter below the surface of the ground, the archaeologists discovered walls, still standing up to a level of five stones, as well as pottery sherds, flint tools, gemstone beads and much more, dating to the early Chalcolithic era, around 5,000 BCE.
Israel has a vast array of archaeological remains going back to the dawn of mankind and before. Remnants from the Chalcolithic era, when man began to develop copper (chalcos in Greek) use to augment his stone tools (lithos in Greek), are common in this area.
In Jerusalem specifically, however, at Abu Ghosh, Motza Junction, and the Holyland compound, Chalcolithic finds had been discovered, but they were sparse, probably because the city and its surroundings have been populated throughout, with constant cycles of building and destruction. Stones used in the walls of ancient homes would have been repurposed, for example - why quarry new ones if old ones will serve.
In the nearby City of David (by the Old City of Jerusalem), for instance, sherds from the Chalcolithic era had been found, but no dwellings.
Prehistoric Jerusalem simply got rolled over by history, explains Ronit Lupo, director of the Shuafat excavation for the IAA. "On completion of the excavations at Shufat, it is quite evident that there was a thriving settlement in the Jerusalem area in ancient times," she said, adding that the homes had been built to high standards that wouldn't have shamed more modern builders.
The flint tool discoveries show what the prehistoric locals had been doing 7,000 years ago, Lupo says: "Small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building, borers and awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported. The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community."
Mortars and pestles had been in use for millennia by the time this hamlet was erected in Shuafat. Huge ones carved out of boulders and bedrock going back more tham 11,000 years have been found all over the Levant.
The flint sickles found in Shuafat bore the kind of glazing created by use in harvesting grain, a practice developed in the region thousands of years earlier. (Even the production of olive oil was already known in that era.)
Vegetarians, the ancient Jerusalemites evidently were not. "We also recovered a few bones of sheep/goat and possibly cattle; these will be analyzed further in the Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories, permitting us to recreate the dietary habits of the people who lived here 7,000 years ago and enhancing our understanding of the settlement’s economy,” Lupo added.