Some people’s impression of Israel is Stones and Bones. And indeed, for a country which has built with stone for millenia, and who celebrates her residents of the past, stones and bones is not a far-fetched description of Israel. Four-thousand years ago, stones and bones were also important.
In the fields outside of Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee, Moshe Kagan explored and mapped the unique bronze-age. table-like structures called dolmens in the 1950’s. Dolmens have been found from Korea to Ireland and consist of a millenia-old megalithic stone table surrounded by a heap of stones. They most often are found in dolmen fields – concentrations of many dolmens located near each other. Their use is unknown but most associate them with tombs.
Recently, Professor Gonen Sharon of Tel Chai College in Kiryat Shmoneh went to the dolmen field in Kibbutz Shamir to examine one especially unique dolmen. Unlike the thousands of dolmens found in the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, this one is especially huge – a large central dolmen stands in a field of stones (tumulus) which includes 4 smaller dolmens. The stones gathered around the central monument spread in a 20 meter radius and weigh an estimated 400 tons. The table stone of this particular dolman weighs about 50 tons!
Besides its size, researchers recently have discovered another feature not found in any other dolmens in Israel – artistic engravings. Professor Sharon entered the 2 x 3 meter central chamber of the large central dolmen in the Kibbutz Shamir field and looked up. Meeting his eye was an arc of 15 drawings. No parallels for the shapes he saw have been found in the middle east and their significance is unknown.
This dolmen field has been dated to the intermediate Bronze Age (2200-2000 B.C.E.) during which we see a general decline of society. The large cities of the Middle Bronze Age disappear and, until recently, the current theory was the civilization took a step back. This dolmen, its size, its organization and now its art, is starting to paint a different story. To erect such a monument, a society would need to have some sort of complex government and economy as well as some knowledge of engineering and architecture, which are generally not present in small nomadic groups.
The discovery of the engravings leaves more questions in its wake. Who made the engravings and for what purpose? And if, indeed, this dolmen is a tomb, then who was the leader who was ensconced in this eternal monument? and what role did he/she have in this mysterious time in history?
“The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know.”