4,000-Year-Old Fortifications of Stone Age city discovered in China

4,000-Year-Old Fortifications of Stone Age city discovered in China

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Chinese archaeologists have uncovered fortifications surrounding the Shimao ruins – the largest Neolithic Chinese city ever discovered – including two huge beacon towers.

The Shimao ruins , located in China's Shaanxi Province, were first discovered in 1976. Until last year, they were believed to be part of a small town, however, archaeologists realised that the ruins were part of a much larger city extending over an area of 4.25 square kilometres. It contained a central area with inner and outer structures and walls surrounding the outer city. Remains of palaces, houses, tombs, sacrificial altars and handicraft workshops are scattered around the site. The discovery of many important remains like the earliest preserved murals, partial jade ware and large quantities of pottery shards indicated that the Shimao site played an important core position in the Chinese northern cultural sphere.

The latest discovery relates to two square towers, which were once part of the city wall, the largest of which measures 18 metres long, 16 metres wide, and 4 metres high. The towers are the largest known structures of their kind dating back to Neolithic China.

According to archaeologists, the ancient city was built about 4,300 years ago and was abandoned roughly 300 years later during the Xia Dynasty, the first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical chronicles.

The find has had a significant impact in changing historical studies about Chinese civilisation.

    4,000-yr-old “Lost” City Discovered – Gateway to Mesopotamia’s First Great Empire

    A team of French archaeologists has discovered the remnants of an ancient lost city at Kunara, close to the Zagros mountains, in present-day Iraqi Kurdistan.

    At the time the city would have stood on a strategically-important position, “at the gates” of the Akkadian Empire, which is ancient Mesopotamia’s first grandiose empire, archaeologists said.

    According to the French team, the recently found city likely belonged to the mountainous pre-Iranian people known as the Lullubi. Dated to the latter part of the 3rd millennium BC, the so far unnamed city may have even served as the capital of the Lullubi.

    Territory of the Lullubi in the Mesopotamia area. Photo by Jolle CC BY-SA 4.0

    In ancient Mesopotamian scriptures, these mysterious people from the mountains are referred to as barbarians. A limestone artifact depicting one of the Akkadian rulers, Naram-Sin, displayed at the Louvre Museum, shows how he cherishes his victory over the Lullubi. Only a few other mentions in literature exist about these people, perhaps until now. According findings, published in the journal of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) on March 19, 2019, six excavation campaigns were carried out on the site of Kunara, between 2012 and 2018.

    King Anubanini of Lullubi, holding an axe and a bow, trampling a foe. Anubanini rock relief, circa 2300-2000 BC. Sar-I Pul, Iran. Photo by Koorosh Nozad Tehrani CC BY-SA 2.0

    Stone foundations of considerable size found both in the upper and lower excavation layers have been dated to circa 2,200 BC. Among the findings are also a number of clay tablets, containing small cuneiform signs each clay retaining a rectangular form and extending about four inches on the sides. This suggests the Lullubi, just like other advanced civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, were well versed with literacy needed for trading.

    CNRS cuneiform specialist Philippe Clancier said in a statement that the scribes who created the tablets “had a firm grasp of Akkadian and Sumerian writing, as well as that of their Mesopotamian neighbors.” Some of the tablets were found to provide information about large repositories which would have supported the city’s extensive agricultural activities. An irrigation system was also in place to aid the growth of crops.

    More than that, the tablets used a so far unregistered unit of measurement, different from the Mesopotamian gur. The Lullubi rather used a unit of their own to detail trading, a strong indication they functioned independently. The mighty Akkadians overshadowed the Lullubi, however. But as the leading archaeologist on the team, Aline Tenu, said in a statement, “the city of Kunara provides new elements regarding a hitherto unknown people that has remained at the periphery of Mesopotamian studies.”

    Akkadian Empire soldiers on the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, circa 2250 BC. Photo by Rama CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

    The excavations of the Kunara site are widening the perspectives. The occupants of the lost city likely maintained strong economic relationships with regions remote to them — to the north toward Anatolia and beyond to the Caucasus region, and to the east where the ancient Iranians extended.

    A variety of artifacts such as stone tools carved from obsidian, carnelian, and basalt suggest the possibility the city indeed connected to those far-flung territories.

    “The city must have even been fairly prosperous, as rare stones such as obsidian were used to produce entirely commonplace tools,” said Tenu.

    Caucasus. Photo by Bourrichon CC BY-SA 4.0

    That the city belonged to an advanced society is evidenced by bones belonging to different animals including lions and bears. Animals of this type were especially prized at the time, and their remnants found around Kunara may be proof of lavish offerings and royal hunting practices. The remains of goats, sheep, and other livestock additionally implicate a developed farming system.

    Further analysis of the artifacts collected in the field will hopefully offer more insight about this intriguing and seemingly wealthy city, as well as the political relations it had with the vast empire it neighbored.

    More excavations are set to continue in the area, which until relatively recently has remained closed to scientific research due to the persistent tensions and conflicts in the Middle East.

    China's great flood: tests on children's bones support 4,000-year-old legend

    Analysis of the crushed skeletons of children have revealed that an earthquake 4,000 years ago could be the source of a legendary “great flood” at the dawn of Chinese civilisation.

    A Chinese-led team found remnants of a vast landslide, caused by an earthquake, big enough to block the Yellow river in what is now Qinghai province, near Tibet.

    Ancient sediments indicated the pent-up river formed a vast lake over several months that eventually breached the dam, unleashing a cataclysm powerful enough to flood land 2,000km (1,200 miles) downstream, the scientists wrote in the journal Science.

    The authors put the Yellow river flood at about 1920 BC by carbon dating the skeletons of children in a group of 14 victims found crushed downstream, apparently when their home collapsed in the earthquake. Deep cracks in the ground opened by the quake were filled by mud typical of a flood and indicated that it struck less than a year after the quake.

    The flood on Asia’s third-longest river would have been among the worst anywhere in the world in the past 10,000 years and matches tales of a “great flood” that marks the start of Chinese civilisation with the Xia dynasty.

    “No scientific evidence has been discovered before” for the legendary flood, lead author Wu Qinglong of Nanjing Normal University told a telephone news conference.

    In traditional histories, a hero called Yu eventually tamed the waters by dredging, “earning him the divine mandate to establish the Xia dynasty, the first in Chinese history,” the scientists wrote.

    Their finds around the Jishi gorge from about 1900 BC would place the start of the Xia dynasty several centuries later than traditionally thought, around the time of a shift to the bronze age from the stone age along the Yellow river.

    Some historians doubt the Xia dynasty existed, reckoning it part of myth-making centuries later to prop up imperial rule. Written records date only from 450 BC.

    The evidence of a massive flood in line with the legend “provides us with a tantalising hint that the Xia dynasty might really have existed”, said one of the authors, David Cohen of National Taiwan University.

    Deluges feature in many traditions, from Hindu texts to the biblical story of Noah. In pre-history, floods were probably frequent as ice sheets melted after the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, raising sea levels.

    Neolithic Noodles Unearthed in China

    Archeologists in northwest China have found the remains of a bowl of millet noodles prepared about 4,000 years ago. The find bolsters the theory that millet was one of the first domesticated plants.

    The 4,000-year-old noodles are so well-preserved, they almost look edible. K.B.K. Teo, E. Minoux et al. hide caption

    The 4,000-year-old noodles are so well-preserved, they almost look edible.

    From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

    Italians like to think they made the first noodles, but the Chinese maintain they invented the dish about 2,000 years ago, and Arab cooks argue that the honor belongs to them. Well, now scientists have weighed in. A team of archaeologists at a site in northwest China turned up a bowl of noodles that was prepared in the Stone Age. NPR's Jon Hamilton has details.

    About 4,000 years ago, someone in the village of Lajia, along the Yellow River, was apparently getting ready to eat a bowl of noodles. Then a massive earthquake hit. Kam-biu Liu of Louisiana State University explains what happened next.

    Mr. KAM-BIU LIU (Louisiana State University): The bowl of noodles was dropped and overturned with the noodles inside. And then the bottom of the overturned bowl was then sealed by the layer of flood sediment.

    HAMILTON: Liu says that's because the massive earthquake triggered an equally massive flood. The village of Lajia was entombed in silt and debris.

    OK, skip forward a few thousand years. Archaeologists have discovered the ancient buried village of Lajia and are sifting through the ruins. Liu says that after digging down through about 10 feet of silt and clay, they uncover something that looks like an overturned bowl.

    Mr. LIU: They turn it over, you know, expecting that there is anything inside, but then after they open or remove this overturned bowl, they found the noodles. What is amazing about it is that it almost looked as if, you know, this is a fresh bowl of noodles, almost looked like, you know, it is edible.

    HAMILTON: The clay had created an airtight seal that preserved the neolithic noodles for 4,000 years. The noodles turned to powder soon after being uncovered, but not before archaeologists took a picture. Gary Crawford is an anthropologist at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. He says this discovery defied all odds.

    Mr. GARY CRAWFORD (University of Toronto at Mississauga): It's exciting because noodles just shouldn't be preserved at archaeological sites. They're really quite delicate.

    HAMILTON: Crawford says the find, reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature, also confirms that ancient cultures were quite sophisticated when it came to processing foods.

    Mr. CRAWFORD: We know that they've been steaming food for a long time because we find ceramic steamers at sites this old and even older. And so we just assumed they were maybe boiling grains, making porridges or something. But now this adds another dimension to what they were cooking.

    HAMILTON: It required a technique that's still used by Chinese cooks today.

    (Soundbite of kitchen activity)

    HAMILTON: At the Chinatown Express restaurant in Washington, DC, a chef works behind a window facing the sidewalk. He kneads and twists a slab of dough, stretches it into a thick rope about four feet long and folds the rope in half so as to make two thinner strands. Then he stretches them. Soon there are dozens of strands thin enough to send to the kitchen on a plastic tray.

    (Soundbite of ambient noise in restaurant)

    HAMILTON: These neo-noodles are made from wheat. Laboratory tests showed that the paleo-noodles found in China were made from millet. But they're still noodles, and Gary Crawford says the discovery may help settle the debate about who invented this culinary classic.

    Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I've always been on the side of China being the originator of noodles, so this sure lends support to that argument.

    HAMILTON: The woman behind the counter at Chinatown Express is pretty underwhelmed, though. She says she's always assumed that Chinese noodles hadn't changed much since the Stone Age.

    Unidentified Woman: Unless they're fried, it's same thing, same thing that I make here. It's just in the style, only different in style. Maybe someone do them fat, more skinny, you know.

    HAMILTON: She's more impressed that the prehistoric noodles survived so long. Here, handmade noodles rarely last more than a few minutes. Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

    (Soundbite of ambient noise in restaurant)

    NORRIS: To see a picture of the ancient noodles, go to our Web site,

    Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

    NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.

    4000-year-old skulls show women were sacrificed in ancient China

    A grave protected by plaster after it was found in what appears to have been a mass grave at the Shimao Ruins, the site of a neolithic stone city in Shenmu county in northern China's Shaanxi province.

    Beijing: Archaeologists have unearthed skulls of over 80 young women in the ruins of the largest Neolithic Chinese city, suggesting they may have been sacrificed more than 4,000 years ago.

    The skulls were found in two groups at the Shimao Ruins in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

    Majority of the skulls belong to young women, which suggests the outbreak of mass violence or ethnic conflict in the region since ancient people were prone to use their enemies or captives as sacrifices, scientists said.

    First two groups of skulls were found in two pits, with 24 skulls in each, in front of the east gate of the city ruin while others were unearthed along the eastern city wall, said Sun Zhouyong, deputy head of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

    These skulls are likely related to the building of the city wall, suggesting that ancient religious activities or foundation ceremonies were organised before construction of the neolithic city began, state-run Xinhua news agency said.

    Sun said the skulls will aid research on the religious thinking, construction concepts and cultural activities of people living along the Yellow River Basin over 4,000 years ago.

    The Shimao Ruins were first discovered in 1976 in the shape of a small town, the report said.

    Last year, archaeologists identified the ruins as the largest of their kind from neolithic times after measuring the exact size of the ancient stone city.

    Built about 4,300 years ago, the city was abandoned about 300 years later during the Xia Dynasty, the first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical chronicles.

    Ice Age hunter-gatherers aren’t famous for their architecture skills, but perhaps they should be. In 2014, archaeologists excavated a 25,000-year-old structure in the dense forest 300 miles south of Moscow. It was constructed with the bones of 60-plus woolly mammoths. “The sheer number of bones that our Paleolithic ancestors had sourced from somewhere and brought to this particular location to build this monument is really quite staggering,” archaeologist Alexander Pryor told The New York Times.

    In 1845, Sir John Franklin, a British explorer, attempted to sail into the Canadian Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. The trip wasn’t smooth sailing. Franklin’s ships—the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror—became stuck in ice and then sank in an uncertain location. Their entire crews perished. But thanks to generations of Inuit oral history, researchers were able to locate the Erebus in 2014. Two years later, the Terror was found.

    Britain’s ‘first selfie’ discovered carved into 4,000 year-old stone

    THIS 4,000-year-old Stone Age selfie has been unearthed from one of Britain's spookiest moors.

    Stunned Gordon Holmes, 64, discovered the ancient picture of a face etched into a rock on Baildon Moor in Yorkshire.

    Gordon said: ''I realised that I was looking at a Stone Age selfie.

    "It also shows a stick figure, which I presume is the artist, sitting or standing in the local landscape or round a fire with almost like a speech bubble above their head showing Cassiopeia above him. It is as if he has carved a selfie of himself."

    Ironically, Cassiopeia - which the artist appears to have drawn himself under - is a constellation named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology, who loved bragging about her ravishing looks.

    While the portrait might not be as old as the hieroglyphics drawn by the Ancient Egyptians, it's an incredible marker for British history.

    "I know there could be earlier interpretations of selfies, such as those drawn in hieroglyphics by the Ancient Egyptians, but this stone carving selfie on Baildon Moor may well be the earliest example in Britain," Mr Holmes added.

    Gordon is convinced that the moors hold lots more spooky symbols and etchings that point to mystical workings in ancient Britain.

    The retired design engineer and IT technician has dedicated his life to studying the weathered ancient carvings.

    He added: ''There are many cup and ring stones around the moors, carved into millstone grit.

    A bowl of 4,000 year-old noodle

    In 2002, archaeologists working at a site carbon dated back to 4,000 years stumbled upon a find that proved to be as earth-shattering as the sudden and violent earthquake that helped, ironically, to preserve it.

    Buried beneath 3 metres or 10 feet of sediment in Lajia in Qinghai province (Image 1), the ancient inhabitants of the Qijia culture in the late Neolithic age had no forewarning of Nature’s tectonic upheaval nor the subsequent surge of water that would have swept everyone away following the earthquake.

    With the passage of time, everything dried up. And it was a cover up, literally, that helped preserve the brittle stringy treasure.

    The fist-size clump of noodle survived 4,000 years because the bowl it was in was turned upside down (Image 2). Underneath the noodle was an inverted cone of clay which sealed the upside down bowl, blocking out air from the noodle, trapping and embalming it for posterity.

    The small pile of noodle – about 20 inches or 50 centimetres in length - resembles today’s lamian (Image 3).

    The entire community was believed to have been destroyed by the earthquake. The natural catastrophe wiped out the Qijia Culture of the late Neolithic era about 4,000 years ago.

    The archaeological team is of the view the site was abandoned in great haste, as witnessed by the helter-skelter placement of the skeletal remains of the humans. The team also believes that the violent earthquake was followed by massive flooding of the river valley in the same way that a tsunami might produce the same effect along coastal communities. So taken by surprise, there was no chance for the inhabitants to escape to higher ground.

    The Lajia archaeological site is in today’s Minhe County in the province of Qinghai.

    Lajia is some 30 kilometres southeast of the capital Xining in the Huangshui River Valley near the present-day city of Haidong, which has a population of about 1.5 million.

    At the time of the find in 2002, after taking some photographs, the archaeologists took the bowl and the noodle to their laboratory in Beijing. No scientific analyses was made of the finds until two years later.

    In 2004, Professor Lu Houyuan of the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences received information of the noodles from Dr. Yang Xiaoyan, a member of the research project of the Lajia site.

    Professor Lu took parts of the remains of the noodles for phytolith and amylum analyses. The tests examined the starch grains and microscopic mineral particles that form in plants.

    The findings yielded a surprise.

    Unlike modern noodles, the ancient ones were not made from wheat. Instead, they were produced from millet which, along with rice, had formed the foundation of agriculture in ancient China. After comparing the results with the phytolith and amylum of 85 species of plants, Professor Lu confirmed the noodle was made of foxtail millet and broomcorn millet.

    Though wheat is the most common crop in noodle making in China today, millet noodle is still made in some rural villages in north China.

    Speaking to the American website, Professor Lu said that, ‘Archaeological evidence suggests that even though wheat was present in north western China 4,500-5,000 years ago, it wasn't commonly cultivated until much later. It took a long time for wheat to become successfully naturalized in China. It gradually spread from north-western China to the east and to the south of the country.’

    It was only much later, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279), that wheat began to catch on with people in China, finally becoming the second largest staple grain crop after rice.

    Although the finding that the noodle was made from millet was unexpected, it is actually reassuring.

    The earliest grinding stones known to humankind have been found in Upper Paleolithic archaeological sites around the world.

    Very broadly, the Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age dates to between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.

    Professor Liu Li of Stanford University, in a report published in May this year of the US National Academy of Sciences, revealed that three grinding stones were discovered at a roughly 19,500 to 23,000 year-old site in Jixian County, Shanxi. Prior to her findings, agriculture in China was only dated back to about 11,000 years.

    The grinding stones were used to process seeds and tubers. Professor Liu believes that the practices evolved independently between different parts of our world, possibly as a global response to a changing climate as our planet emerged from the ice age.

    The grinding stones were used as a pair of stones. Typically, a handheld stone would be rubbed against a larger flat stone laid on the ground in order to process wild seeds and tubers into flour-like powder.

    Traces and residue of starch grains on the used surfaces of the grinding stones were analyzed and they revealed the types of plants processed by their long departed owners (Image 4).

    The starch analyses of the stones showed traces of grasses, beans, a type of yam, snakegourd root and wild millet seeds, the same types of food that people in the region would domesticate thousands of years later. Domesticated millet, in particular, became the main staple crop that supported the agricultural basis of ancient Chinese civilization.

    As was mentioned in the first part of this two-part article, the first reference to Italian pasta dates back to 1154 in Sicily. Pasta is made from durum wheat which was introduced by Libyan Arabs during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century. It is more than likely that it was the Arabs who introduced pasta to Italy because dried pasta was being produced in great quantities in the Sicilian capital Palermo at that time, namely 1,300 years ago.

    On the other hand, from the archaeological discovery in Lajia in Qinghai province in 2002, there is now evidence that noodles were already produced in China from millet 4,000 years ago in the late Neolithic age.

    Stanford University’s Professor Liu Li separate, independent discovery of wild millet seeds from the three grinding stones from the archaeological site in Jixian County, Shanxi, dated to between 19,500 and 23,000 years, further confirms that millet has been a food source in China since very ancient time.

    Perhaps Chinese noodle is even older than 4,000 years old. For now though, that’s old enough to confirm that it was China who first introduced noodles to the world.

    If noodles are cooked on their own, they can be paired with white, rosé or red wine.

    Once we start adding other ingredients to it, the complexion of the wine pairing changes. So, for example, if you stir-fry noodles with seafood, a white wine would be an ideal pairing. On the other hand, if chicken or pork were cooked with noodles, then a white, rosé and red can be a good match since those two are white meats. On the other hand, if noodles are stir-fried with beef, a red would be the perfect pairing.

    Please find pairings with noodle dishes from my book ‘108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired’ at

    These are:
    Chaozhou (Teochew) • Fried Kwei Teow at Page 54

    Fujian (Hokkien) • Mee Xian Stir-Fried with Shrimps at Page 74

    Fujian (Hokkien) • Quanzhou Fried Vermicelli at Page 80

    Guangdong (Cantonese) • Beef Stir-Fried with Hor Fun at Page 84

    Guangdong (Cantonese) • Crispy Egg Noodles with Seafood at Page 100

    Kejia (Hakka) • Stir-Fried Jiu Hoon at Page 172

    Shanghai • Crab Roe & Meat with Flat Mung Bean Noodle at Page 188

    Xinjiang • Xinjiang Noodles at Page 226

    Image 1: The bowl of noodles was buried beneath 3 metres or 10 feet of sediment in Lajia in Qinghai province.

    Image 2: The fist-size clump of noodle survived 4,000 years because the bowl it was in was turned upside down.

    Image 3: The small pile of millet noodle – about 20 inches or 50 centimetres in length - resembles today’s lamian.

    Image 4: Professor Liu Li (left) of Stanford University and an assistant taking traces and residue of starch grains from the 19,500 to 23,000 year old grinding stones.

    Columnist Introduction

    A lawyer by training, CH’NG Poh Tiong also holds a Postgraduate Certificate with Distinction in Chinese Art from the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. He is an Honorary Ambassador of TEFAF – The European Fine Art Fair – Maastricht. CH'NG works principally as a wine journalist and is publisher of The Wine Review, the oldest wine publication in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and China since 1991.

    - Follow us on Weibo @Decanter醇鉴 and Facebook for the latest news and updates -

    All rights reserved by Future plc. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Decanter.

    4,000-year-old Aryan city discovered in Russia

    Russian archaeologists have unearthed some ancient and virtually unknown settlements, which they believe were built by the original Aryan race about 4,000 years ago.

    According to the team which has discovered 20 spiral-shaped settlements in remote Russia steppe in southern Siberia bordering Kazakhstan, the buildings date back to the beginning of the Western civilisation in Europe.

    The Bronze Age settlements, experts said, could have been built shortly after the Great Pyramid, some 4,000 years ago, by the original Aryan race whose swastika symbol was later adopted by the Nazis in the 1930s.

    TV historian Bettany Hughes, who explored the desolate part of the steppe for BBC programme ‘Tracking The Aryans,' said, “Potentially, this could rival ancient Greece in the Age of the Heroes.”

    The remains of the ancient city were explored for the first time around 20 years ago, shortly after the then-Soviet officials relaxed the laws banning non-military aerial photography.

    But, as the region is so remote, the incredible cities remained unknown until now, the archaeologists said. The cities are about the same size as several of the city states of ancient Greece and would have housed between 1,000 and 2,00 people.

    The Aryan's language has been identified as the precursor to a number of modern European tongues. Many English words such as brother, oxen and guest have all been tracked to the Aryans.

    Items that have been dug up at the sites include make-up equipment, a chariot, and numerous pieces of pottery.

    The artefacts were daubed in Swastikas, which were used in ancient times as symbols of the sun and eternal life. The Swastika and Aryan race were later adopted by Hitler and the Nazis as symbols of their so-called master race.

    Ancient texts unearthed

    Evidence of ritual horse burials were found at the site, with ancient Aryan texts that describe the animals being sliced up and buried with their masters.

    Ms. Hughes, a visiting research fellow at King's College London, said that ancient Indian texts and hymns described sacrifices of horses and burials and the way the meat was cut off and the way the horse was buried with its master.

    “If you match this with the way the skeletons and graves are being dug up in Russia, they are a millimetre-perfect match.”

    Millennia-Old Rock Art in Israel Offers Window Into Lost Culture

    Archaeologists in northern Israel have discovered 4,000-year-old rock art engraved on the walls of three stone burial monuments, or dolmens, reports Ruth Schuster for Haaretz.

    An analysis of the rock carvings, which depict animals, geometric shapes and what may be a human face, was published last month in the journal Asian Archaeology.

    To date, researchers have excavated hundreds of dolmens in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Unlike those found in Europe and elsewhere, dolmens in this part of the world—known as the Levant—are largely undecorated.

    The structures represent the most conspicuous traces of a largely unknown culture that populated the region between 4,500 and 4,000 years ago, according to a statement from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA).

    “[W]e knew almost nothing about the civilization of these super-builders beyond the remains of the enormous structures they left behind as evidence of their existence in the region,” study co-author Uri Berger, Upper Galilee archaeologist at the IAA, tells James Rogers of Fox News. “The engravings in the rock open a window, for the first time, to the culture behind the construction of these dolmens.”

    In 2012, archaeologists found a panel of rock art engravings on the ceiling of a huge dolmen in a field near the settlement of Shamir. The 14 trident-like shapes represented the first documented instance of rock art on dolmens in the Middle East, says co-author Gonen Sharon, an archaeologist at Tel-Hai College, in a statement quoted by Rossella Tercatin of the Jerusalem Post.

    Following the historic find, Sharon initiated a survey of dozens of dolmens in Galilee and the Golan. The project resulted in the discovery of the decorated dolmens at the center of the new research.

    One of the burial monuments featured in the study has seven horned animal figures carved into its slabs of basalt. According to the Jerusalem Post, the artwork—located in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve—appears to depict antelopes, mountain goats and cows. Another wall in the dolmen’s interior displays three crosses enclosed by rectangles, reports Amanda Borschel-Dan for the Times of Israel. Archaeologists found a small bronze knife made of arsenic copper while excavating the site the implement may have been used to create the rock art.

    The capstone of a dolmen at Kiryat Shemona features three straight lines carved in an approximation of a human face. (Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College)

    Another newly described dolmen is located in the city of Kiryat Shemona. Per the study, three lines carved on the surface of the tomb’s capstone “resemble a humanlike face: [T]he two pairs of short lines mark the eyes and the long line represents the mouth of the figure.” The authors note, however, that this interpretation is just “one of many possible explanations.”

    Sharon tells Haaretz that researchers have long viewed dolmens as crude monuments created by rural nomads. But he sees the structures—some made of individual stones weighing as much as 50 tons—as indicative of a significant capacity for coordinated efforts by at least 100 people.

    “It’s a hierarchical building,” the archaeologist says. “By any criteria this is monumental construction, and it’s just one of more than 400 in just the Shamir area.”

    Speaking with the Times of Israel, Sharon notes that the dolmens and the newly described engravings offer glimpses into the lives of ancient people formerly known only through their stone monuments.

    “This art opened a window, a world beyond the stones,” he adds. “What were their thoughts? Their religion? It allows us to have a look into their beliefs and culture.”

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