Archaeologists Find Massive, 5,000-Year-Old Lunar Monument In Israel

Kevin Bostic

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the full purpose of a massive, lunar crescent-shaped stone monument that's been buried for thousands of years. The new find is longer than a football field, and it may even be older than the Great Pyramid at Giza.

This week, LiveScience pointed out the discovery of the true nature of a stone monument located about eight miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee.

The stone formation itself has been known to those living in the area. They call it by its Arabic name, Rujum en-Nabi Shua'ayb, but it is also called the "Jethro Cairn," a nod to the Druze prophet Jethro.

Initially, researchers believed the monument was part of a city wall, but further excavation revealed that it was bigger and older than previously believed, and that it had a totally different purpose than first thought.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem doctoral student Ido Wachtel has been researching the stone formation, and he found that there are no city remains beside what was thought to be a city wall. Instead, the structure, which has a volume of 500,000 cubic feet and a length of about 492 feet, appears to be a standalone monument.

"The proposed interpretation for the site," Wachtel wrote in a presentation given to the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, "is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population."

It was, in effect, a way of signaling to passersby that, "Hey, you're entering our turf."

And just whose turf did the monument mark? Current speculation points to a community that worshipped Sin, an ancient Mesopotamian moon god. Researchers note that the lunar crescent was Sin's symbol, and that other contemporaneous cultures used similar means to mark off their own territory.

Just a day's walk from the crescent monument, researchers have found the remnants of an ancient town called Bet Yerah, or "House of the Moon God." Wachtel believes that residents of Bet Yerah may have constructed the monument as a way to mark the borders of their settlement.

If that's the case, the monument likely would have been constructed over the months. For a team of 200 ancient workers – probably about all that an agriculture-based society of the time would have been able to spare – construction of the monument would have taken at least 35,000 working days to build. That's on the low end of current estimations, which range as high as 50,000 working days.

"We need to remember that people were [obligated] most of the year to agriculture," Wachtel said.

And just how old is the monument? The dating process for such things can be tricky sometimes, but researchers believe it dates to between 3050 B.C. and 2650 B.C. That would mean it could be older than Egypt's pyramids. It would also be older than Stonehenge.

[All images via LiveScience.]