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Rare Canaanite temple unearthed

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed a rare Canaanite Temple at Lachish in southern Israel, together with gold artifacts, cultic figurines, and the oldest known etching of the Hebrew letter “Samech.”

The team of archaeologists led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Michael Hasel at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee have opened a window onto the Canaanite society that inhabited the Land of Israel during the era prior to the Israelite conquest of the land after a 40-year sojourn in the desert.

An aerial view of the Canaanite temple discovered in Tel Lachish. (C. Amit/IAA)

Garfinkel and his team revealed, for the first time, extensive ruins of a Canaanite temple dating to the 12th century BCE that they uncovered in the National Park of Tel Lachish, a large Bronze Age-era town near the present day Israeli city of Kiryat Gat.

Lachish was one of the most important Canaanite cities in the Land of Israel during the Middle and late Bronze Ages. Its people controlled large parts of the Judean lowlands.

The city was built around 1,800 BCE and later destroyed by the Egyptians around 1,550 BCE.

It was rebuilt and destroyed twice more, succumbing for good around 1,150 BCE.

The town is mentioned in the Bible as well as in various Egyptian sources, and was one of the few Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE.

“This excavation has been breath-taking,” said Garfinkel. “Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel.

“What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.”

A bronze cauldron discovered in Tel Lachish being restored. (T. Rogovski)

The layout of the temple is similar to other Canaanite temples in northern Israel, among them Nablus, Megiddo and Hazor.

The front of the compound is marked by two columns and two towers leading to a large hall.

The inner sanctum has four supporting columns and several unhewn “standing stones” that may have served as representations of temple gods.

The Lachish temple is squarer in shape and has several side rooms, typical of later temples, including Solomon’s Temple.

In addition to these archaeological ruins, the team unearthed a trove of artifacts, including bronze cauldrons, Hathor-inspired jewelry, daggers and ax-heads adorned with bird images, scarabs and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs.

Near the temple’s holy of holies, the team found two bronze figurines. Unlike the winged cherubs in Solomon’s Temple, the Lachish figurines were armed “smiting gods.”

Of particular interest was a pottery shard engraved with ancient Canaanite script. There, the letter “Samech” appears, marked by an elongated vertical line crossed by three perpendicular shorter lines.

This makes it the oldest known example of the letter and a unique specimen for the study of ancient alphabets.

“Only time will tell what treasures still remain to be uncovered in the ancient city of Lachish,” the researchers said.

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