VE Day Reader: A Polish Girl’s Holocaust Diary

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

A teenage Jewish girl living under the Nazis in Poland during 1943 feared she was “turning into an animal waiting to die”, according to her diary, which documents the final months before her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Rutka Laskier, 14, the same age as the Dutch teenager Anne Frank, wrote the 60-page diary over a four-month period in Bedzin, Poland. The diary, published by Israel’s Holocaust museum, documents the steady collapse of the ghetto under the weight of the Nazi occupation and deportations, as well as the first loves, friendships and jealousies of an adolescent girl growing up during the war.

News of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and the brutal killings of Jews, filtered through to her.

Writing on February 5 1943, she said:

“I simply can’t believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy.

“The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, he would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with the butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”

Later she wrote: “The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter. I’m turning into an animal waiting to die.” Her final entry is brief: “I’m very bored. The entire day I’m walking around the room. I have nothing to do.”

The last entry is dated April 24 1943, at which point she hid the notebook in the basement of the house her family were living in, a building that had been confiscated by the Nazis to be part of the Bedzin ghetto. In August that year, the teenager and her family were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and it is thought she was killed immediately.

The diary was found after the war by Stanislawa Sapinska, a Christian whose family owned the house lived in by the Laskiers, and who had met Rutka several times during the war.

Ms Sapinska, now in her late 80s, took the diary and kept it secret for more than 60 years until one of her nephews last year convinced her to present it to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and archive in Jerusalem.

“She wanted me to save the diary,” Ms Sapinska told the Associated Press. “She said ‘I don’t know if I will survive, but I want the diary to live on, so that everyone will know what happened to the Jews’.”

The diary was authenticated by Yad Vashem, which has now published it as Rutka’s Notebook, in Hebrew and English. Rutka’s father, Yaakov, was the only member of the family to survive the camp. He moved to Israel and had a new family. He died in 1986.

His daughter in Israel, Zahava Sherz, who has written a foreword to the diary, knew nothing about Rutka before the journal surfaced. “I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka,” said Dr Sherz, 57. “I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled and I immediately fell in love with her.”

Diary entry from February 20 1943

“I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time. There is an Aktion [a Nazi arrest operation] in town. I’m not allowed to go out and I’m going crazy, imprisoned in my own house. For a few days, something’s in the air. The town is breathlessly waiting in anticipation, and this anticipation is the worst of all. I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell.

“I try to escape from these thoughts, of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it’s over, you only die once. But I can’t, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day. That means waiting for Auschwitz or labour camp. I must not think about this so now I’ll start writing about private matters.”

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Thursday Reader: Discoveries – Black Plague Skeletons in London, Alexander the Great-Era Treasure in Israel

Recent discoveries of more skeletons and ancient treasure come on the heels of what may describe 2015 as the Year of Archaeology.

These two adult skulls were among thousands uncovered at the Bedlam burial ground, which was used during the Great Plague in 1665. The remains will be removed over the next week by a team of archaeologists. Credit: PA

These two adult skulls were among thousands uncovered at the Bedlam burial ground, which was used during the Great Plague in 1665. The remains will be removed over the next week by a team of archaeologists.
Credit: PA

Archaeologists began excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam Hospital cemetery disturbed by London builders. The skeletons of a mother and her child buried side-by-side are among those which are to be excavated from an ancient burial ground after being disturbed during construction for London’s Crossrail.

Other skeletons at the burial site include that of a mother and her two children (above). Most of the remains are unidentified since the site did not keep its own burial records when it was used between 1569 and 1738. Credit: Reuters

Other skeletons at the burial site include that of a mother and her two children (above). Most of the remains are unidentified since the site did not keep its own burial records when it was used between 1569 and 1738.
Credit: Reuters

Skeletons of a mother and child (this and following image) are among those which are to be excavated from the Bedlam burial ground, which is the site for the new Liverpool Street station that will serve London's Crossrail network Credit: Reuters & PA

Skeletons of a mother and child (this and following image) are among those which are to be excavated from the Bedlam burial ground, which is the site for the new Liverpool Street station that will serve London’s Crossrail network
Credit: Reuters & EPA

london2

Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam burial ground, which is at the site of the new Liverpool Street station that will serve the cross-London rail network.

Used from 1569 until at least 1738, including during the Great Plague in 1665, the burial site – also known as Bethlehem and the New Churchyard – was opened after graveyards around London started to overflow.

A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week, to excavate the skeletons and gather any other remains at the burial site. The skeletons (pictured above) will then be reburied on consecrated ground. Credit: PA

A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week, to excavate the skeletons and gather any other remains at the burial site. The skeletons (pictured above) will then be reburied on consecrated ground.
Credit: PA

Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons (pictured) from the ancient Bedlam burial ground. Credit: PA

Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons (pictured) from the ancient Bedlam burial ground.
Credit: PA

It was situated in close proximity to Bethlem Royal Hospital – the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe – and was used to bury London’s poor and religious non-conformists as well as inmates from the asylum.

The site, which was uncovered by Crossrail workers who are in the process of building a new ticket hall above the burial ground, is thought to contain the remains of a former lord mayor of London, a notorious criminal and political activists.

The skeletons will be excavated over the next four weeks by a team of 60 archaeologists who will work in shifts, six days a week.

Bones and skeletal remains could be seen at the Bedlam burial site today as workers began excavating them. Credit: Reuters

Bones and skeletal remains could be seen at the Bedlam burial site today as workers began excavating them.
Credit: Reuters

Archaeologists at the new Livepool Street station (pictured) are expected to finish on site in September. Credit: PA

Archaeologists at the new Livepool Street station (pictured) are expected to finish on site in September.
Credit: PA

The remains were uncovered during Crossrail construction work, which is set to be completed by 2019. Credit: Reuters

The remains were uncovered during Crossrail construction work, which is set to be completed by 2019.
Credit: Reuters

They will carefully remove the remains and record evidence for what may prove to be, in archaeological terms, London’s most valuable 16th and 17th Century cemetery site.

After the excavation, the workers will then dig through medieval marsh deposits and Roman remains including a road that runs under the site, which has already yielded several interesting Roman artifacts such as horseshoes and cremation urns. The skeletons will then be reburied on consecrated ground.

Archaeologists are expected to finish on site in September, after which construction will proceed on a new eastern ticket hall by contractor Laing O’Rourke.

“This excavation presents a unique opportunity to understand the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th century Londoners. The Bedlam burial ground spans a fascinating phase of London’s history, including the transition from the Tudor-period city into cosmopolitan early-modern London. This is probably the first time a sample of this size from this time period has been available for archaeologists to study in London. Bedlam was used by a hugely diverse population from right across the social spectrum and from different areas of the city.

– Jay Carver, Crossrail lead archaeologist

The archaeological excavations at Liverpool Street are being undertaken by Museum of London Archaeology on behalf of Crossrail. Scientific analysis of the remains will help provide new insights into the lives and deaths of early modern Londoners.

Bedlam burial ground was established in 1569 to help parishes cope with overcrowding during outbreaks of the plague and other epidemics.  As well as being used to bury those who were struck down with disease, it also became the site for those who passed away at the nearby Bethlem Royal Hospital – which is thought to have been the world’s first mental asylum.

Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street station site have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons. Credit: PA

Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street station site have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons.
Credit: PA

However, with mental patients showing no physical symptoms of illness, determining which of the remains belonged to those treated at the hospital will be near impossible for experts.

Earlier this year, Crossrail-led research identified the names and backgrounds of more than 5,000 people buried at the site. Names include Sir Ambrose Nicholas, who was lord mayor of London in 1575, and Dr John Lamb (also known as Lam or Lambe), an astrologer and adviser to the First Duke of Buckingham.

Lamb was said to have been stoned to death by an angry mob outside a theatre in 1628 following allegations of rape and black magic. Others identified in the research, carried out by 16 invited volunteers, include victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques’, noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January 1661.

To date, Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning many years of London’s past across more than 40 construction sites. It is the UK’s largest archaeology project. Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street site in 2013 and 2014 have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons and numerous artifacts.

Bedlam – Synonym for Chaos

Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe.

Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe.

The Bedlam burial ground, also known as the New Churchyard, was situated near the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital which opened during London’s response to the plague crisis in the 16th Century.

The burial site was the first in London which was not associated with a parish church and it did not keep its own burial records. Instead, the City’s parish churches recorded which of their parishioners were buried at Bedlam in their own records.

The graveyard, built on Bethlem Hospital’s vegetable patch in the 1560s after churchyards around the city started to overflow, was used to bury London’s poor and religious non-conformists as well as inmates from the asylum.

Bethlem Royal Hospital, which quickly became pronounced ‘Bedlam’ by Londoners, was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe. It was founded by Goffredo de Prefetti, who had been elected Bishop of Bethlehem, and was originally located just outside the London city wall, on the site of what is now Liverpool Street station.

By 1403, the majority of its patients suffered mental health issues. Others suffered from epilepsy, learning disabilities and dementia. Due to the hospital’s reputation as the principle treatment center for the insane, a bastardized version of its name – ‘Bedlam’ – came to signify madness and chaos more generally.

Although it is sometimes thought to have treated its patients cruelly, most were free to walk around the grounds. Inside the single-storey building that housed 12 cells, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard, inmates were manacled and chained – and treated as a tourist attraction by Londoners who paid a penny to stare at them.

Patients, usually poor, were given treatments including restraint, dousing with water, beatings and isolation. Conditions inside Bedlam were depicted by William Hogarth in his 18th century drawings A Rake’s Progress, charting the decline of a merchant’s son from wealthy heir to asylum inmate, via debtor’s jail.

In 1674, the hospital’s governors decided that the institution should move a few hundred metres to the west to Moorfields, with the area’s open space thought to be healthier than its original premises.

Bethlem moved again in 1815, to St George’s Fields in Southwark, which is now the site of the Imperial War Museum. A final move came in 1930 when the hospital relocated to the suburb of Bromley. It is now run by the NHS and is considered to be a leading psychiatric hospital.

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Treasures From the Era of Alexander the Great

Included in the 2,300-year-old cache were two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings and a small stone weight. Credit: CLARA AMIT/ THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Included in the 2,300-year-old cache were two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings and a small stone weight.
Credit: CLARA AMIT/ THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

A rare cache of jewelry and silver coins, minted during the reign of Alexander the Great, has been discovered in a stalactite filled cave in northern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday.

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours.

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours. Skeletons Shed Light on Ancient Earthquake in Israel. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers, Hen Zakai, spotted two ancient silver coins. On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed an arm raised Zeus sitting on his throne.

The archaeologsts believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century B.C. at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great.

Alongside the coins, the spelunkers found the remains of a cloth pouch with three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings, probably made of silver, a small stone weight, and a clay oil lamp. Dating from the Hellenistic period, the lamp contained some agate stones that were part of a string of beads.

“The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander,” the IAA said in a statement.

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers first spotted two ancient silver coins. On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed Zeus sitting on his throne. The archaeologists believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century BC at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers first spotted two ancient silver coins.
On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed Zeus sitting on his throne.
The archaeologists believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century BC at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great.
Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

At that time, the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander the Great’s successors who fought for the control of the king’s empire after his death in 323 B.C.

“Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it,” the IAA said.

As archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority this week-end entered the cave, they discovered evidence of human habitation that occurred there over extended periods, from the Chalcolithic period 6,000 years ago to the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago.

Numerous pottery vessels were discovered in the cave and some even merged with the limestone sediments.

“The finds in the cave will allow the researchers –- archaeologists and geologists alike –- to accurately date both the archaeological finds and the process of stalactite development,” the IAA said.

The treasure trove, which promises to shed light on the lives of ordinary people in Israel during the late 4th century BC, follows another significant finding. Last month amateur scuba divers stumbled across a trove of nearly 2,000 gold coins that sat on the bottom of the Roman-era port of Caesareafor about 1,000 years.

“After the gold treasure from Caesarea, this is the second time in the past month that citizens have reported significant archeological finds and we welcome this important trend,” Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said.

“Thanks to these citizens’ awareness, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority will be able to expand the existing archaeological knowledge about the development of society and culture in the Land of Israel in antiquity,” he added.

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Friday Reader: Richard III and the Mystery Woman

Thursday Reader: Ancient Skeletons in Paris and a Rare Roman Tombstone in England

Sacred Sunday: Biblical Archaeology in Middle East Being Destroyed By ISIS

The recent unearthing of the largest cache of gold coins ever discovered in Jerusalem, comprising 264 coins that date back to the end of the Byzantine period in the 7th century CE. (Photo courtesy of the City of David Foundation)

The recent unearthing of the largest cache of gold coins ever discovered in Jerusalem, comprising 264 coins that date back to the end of the Byzantine period in the 7th century CE. (Photo courtesy of the City of David Foundation)

Where human culture began at the cradle of civilization. the Islamic State is destroying the heritage of mankind.

At a time when many archaeological sites and antiquities throughout the Middle East are being looted and destroyed, the City of David Foundation hosted its annual conference late last year to enable the general public to experience some of the most important archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem in recent years.

A special portion of last year’s conference was devoted to the theme “Jerusalem of Gold,” highlighting several never-before-seen golden artifacts.

“The people in ancient times, like today, used gold for the most important things in life. It shows what they held dear and what was most important to them,” Ahron Horovitz, senior director of Megalim, the City of David’s Higher Institute for Jerusalem Studies, told JNS.org.

The main themes of the artifacts on display related to war, beauty, and holiness or sanctity. Among the golden artifacts is the largest cache of gold coins ever discovered in Jerusalem, comprising 264 gold coins that date back to the end of the Byzantine period in the 7th century CE. The coins were found in the “Givati Parking Lot dig” conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David neighborhood.

The coins are unique in that they were minted in Jerusalem, not in Constantinople—the Byzantine imperial capital—and were likely made in preparation for the Byzantine war against the Persians.

This golden medallion featuring inscriptions of a menorah, shofar, and Torah scroll was on display for the very first time during the the City of David Foundation's annual conference on Sept. 4 in Jerusalem. The medallion was found in the Ophel excavation south of the Temple Mount and was believed to have been hung on a Torah scroll as a breast plate. (Photo courtesy of Eilat Mazar and the City of David Foundation)

This golden medallion featuring inscriptions of a menorah, shofar, and Torah scroll was on display for the very first time during the the City of David Foundation’s annual conference on Sept. 4 in Jerusalem. The medallion was found in the Ophel excavation south of the Temple Mount and was believed to have been hung on a Torah scroll as a breast plate. (Photo courtesy of Eilat Mazar and the City of David Foundation)

“The coins were found stacked one on top of another and were never dispensed,” Horovitz said. “There may be a story of intrigue here as to why they never were used, such as it being stolen.”

Additionally, a golden medallion featuring inscriptions of a menorah, shofar, and Torah scroll are on display for the very first time. The medallion was found in the Ophel excavation south of the Temple Mount and was believed to have been hung on a Torah scroll as a breastplate.

The discovery of the Jewish medallion, dating back to the time of upheaval in Jerusalem during the Persian-Byzantine wars, was a surprise for archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who unearthed the artifact. There are normally not many Jewish items found from that period.

Mazar estimated that the medallion originates from the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE. That year, many Jews helped the Persians conquer Jerusalem from the Byzantines, only to have the Persians turn against the Jews and ally with the Byzantine Christians later on, leading to the Jews’ expulsion once again.

“These finds tell us about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem in the late Byzantine period, which we didn’t know much about,” renowned Israeli archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, who spoke at the City of David conference, told JNS.org.

“The artifacts help us understand that there was a strong messianic desire of the Jewish people at that time; many of them likely came from abroad in hopes of construction of the Third Temple,” he said.

Horovitz said the artifacts highlight the special bond Jews have with Jerusalem, as well as Jewish continuity in the holy city.

“It shows us that the Jews have a very special bond and connection with Jerusalem that continues to today,” he said. “So when modern day Israelis come and see these artifacts, they can feel that they are part of Jerusalem from a long time ago.”

Another golden artifact on display was an earring made of gold inlaid pearls and emeralds that dates back to the Roman period. A copy of this earring was given to First Lady Michelle Obama by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when she visited Israel in 2013.

Finally, one of the most unique and rare items on display was a golden bell discovered by Eli Shukron, an Israeli archaeologist and former director of City of David excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Throughout the years, Shukron has made a number of very significant finds from the period of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in and around the City of David, including the Pool of Siloam  (mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testaments), tunnels leading from the Western Wall, an ancient pilgrim road to Jerusalem, and the legendary citadel captured by King David when he conquered the city from the Jebusites.

One of the items Shukron discovered during his excavations of one of the Western Wall tunnels was a golden bell believed to have been part of the official vestments of the high priests of the Jewish Temple.

Described in Exodus 28:31-35, the priestly robe, also known as the “ephod,” was a sleeveless purple-blue or violet garment worn by the high priests that was fringed with small golden bells alternating with pomegranate-shaped tassels of blue, purple, and scarlet wool.

The golden bells were a necessary part of the ephod and needed to ring when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies.

“At first I just thought it was a ball and didn’t realize it was the golden bell from the high priests until I shook it and heard the ringing,” Shukron told JNS.org. “No other artifact from the high priests like this has ever been discovered before.”

The City of David conference came amid a perilous time for Middle East archaeology, as sites from North Africa to Iraq have come under assault by Islamic fundamentalists and looters taking advantage of the breakdown of central governments.

“I think it is an atrocity. Islamic fundamentalist groups are on an ongoing crusade to destroy antiquities because they consider it against their religion, or they fear that their religion will be undermined by excavations that will show things that they are not happy about.”

– Ahron Horovitz, senior director of Megalim, the City of David’s Higher Institute for Jerusalem Studies

The situation for artifacts is particularly dangerous in Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State jihadist group has taken over large swathes of territory.

According to a report by The Guardian in June, Islamic State looted about $36 million in antiquities from the al-Nabuk region in Syria.

Reports indicate that much of the illegal smuggling, which is taxed by the Islamic State, is done by local Syrians and Turkish nationals, who then smuggle the artifacts across the border into Turkey and sell them to international antiquities traffickers on the black market.

Meanwhile, in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was conquered by the Islamic State in June, the terror group has already destroyed important religious sites such as the Tomb of Jonah (the famous biblical prophet who was swallowed by a whale), and has threatened the Mosul Museum, which contains numerous artifacts from the nearby ancient city of Nineveh.

The frightening situation in the Middle East stands in stark contrast with Israel, which has one of the most robust and highly regulated antiquities departments in the world and is eager to preserve the country’s diverse past.

Nevertheless, the City of David Foundation, which works with the Israel Antiquities Authority in excavating important areas in Jerusalem, has come under intense scrutiny from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which has called on the City of David to halt historical excavations.

“We should think about proper care of the cultures of the past,” Barkay said. “Instead of condemning these acts of looting that go on all the time in these Arab countries, UNESCO is obsessed with excavations and acts of preservation in Jerusalem because of political reasons.”

He added, “UNESCO should deal with salvaging the heritage of mankind instead of political matters.”

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Sacred Sunday: Israel’s Immense 5,000-Year-Old Stone Monument

monument-1

About 8 miles (13 kilometers) northwest of the Sea of Galilee, a newly identified crescent-shaped monument was built about 5,000 years ago. Credit: Image Copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth

A lunar-crescent-shaped stone monument that dates back around 5,000 years was identified in Israel the middle of this month (September 15, 2014)

Located about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northwest of the Sea of Galilee, the structure is massive — its volume is about 14,000 cubic meters (almost 500,000 cubic feet) and it has a length of about 150 meters (492 feet), making it longer than an American football field. Pottery excavated at the structure indicates the monument dates to between 3050 B.C. and 2650 B.C., meaning it is likely older than the pyramids of Egypt. It was also built before much of Stonehenge was constructed.

Photo credit: Google Earth

Credit: Image Copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth

Archaeologists previously thought the structure was part of a city wall, but recent work carried out by Ido Wachtel, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, indicates there is no city beside it and that the structure is a standing monument.

“The proposed interpretation for the site 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,” Wachtel wrote in the summary of a presentation given recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

The structure’s crescent shape stood out in the landscape, Wachtel said in an email. The shape may have had symbolic importance, as the lunar crescent is a symbol of an ancient Mesopotamian moon god named Sin, Wachtel said.

An ancient town called Bet Yerah (which translates to “house of the moon god”) is located only a day’s walk from the crescent-shaped monument Wachtel noted. As such, the monument may have helped mark the town’s borders. While the monument is located within walking range of the city it is too far away to be an effective fortification.

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Used by permission

Massive structure

The structure is about 150 meters (492 feet) long and 20 m (66 feet) wide at its base, and is preserved to a height of 7 m (23 feet), Wachtel’s research found.

“The estimation of working days invested in the construction [of] the site is between 35,000 days in the lower estimate [and] 50,000 in the higher,” Wachtel said in the email.

If the lower estimate is correct, it means a team of 200 ancient workers would have needed more than five months to construct the monument, a task that would be difficult for people who depended on crops for their livelihood. “We need to remember that people were [obligated] most of the year to agriculture,” Wachtel said.

Bet Yerah

At the time this monument was built, the site of Bet Yerah was located only 18 miles (29 km) away.

Bet Yerah was a large town with a grid plan and fortification system, according to a study detailed in 2012 in the Journal of Near Eastern Archaeology. Its inhabitants traded with the early kings of Egypt, as seen from several artifacts, including a jug with a hieroglyphic inscription.

The name Bet Yerah indicates that it was associated with the moon god. However, it’s uncertain whether the town actually bore this name 5,000 years ago. In the 2012 journal article, researchers said the name “Bet Yerah” was recorded in 1,500-year-old Jewish rabbinic texts and may date back much earlier.

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Use by permission

Photo credit: Ido Wachtel. Used by permission

Megalithic landscape

Other large rock structures have been found not far from the crescent-shaped monument. One structure, called Rujum el-Hiri, isin the Golan Heights (an area to the east of the Sea of Galilee) and has four circles with a cairn at its center. The date of this structure is a matter of debate; recent research by Mike Freikman, an archaeologist with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggests it may predate the crescent-shaped structure by several centuries.

Another stone monument, a giant cairn that weighs more than 60,000 tons, was discovered recently beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Its date is unknown, but like the crescent-shaped structure, it is located close to Bet Yerah.

Wachtel’s work at the crescent-shaped monument was conducted as part of his master’s thesis.Today, people living in the area call the monument by its Arabic name, Rujum en-Nabi Shua’ayb, and it is sometimes referred to as the “Jethro Cairn,” a reference to the Druze prophet Jethro, who plays an important role in local folklore.

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