August 20, 2023

Workers chanced upon the oldest city gate in Israel during excavations to lay a new water pipe.

The stone and mudbrick structure formed part of the fortifications around the ancient city of Tel Erani, in southern Israel, and is believed to be 5,500 years old.

Archeologists have spent many decades exploring the area, but the new discovery indicates the city dates back even earlier than originally thought.

Remains of the gate were found during test drillings to prepare for the laying of a new 11-kilometer water pipeline to the nearby city of Kiryat Gat.

Water workers unearth Israel’s oldest city gate
The ancient gate at Tel Erani. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

Mekorot, the national water company, has diverted the pipeline as a result of the find, and has been funding a month-long excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Before the Tel Erani discovery, the oldest known gate in the country was at Tel Arad, near the southern city of Arad, and estimated to be 5,200 years old.

The Tel Erani gate, or passageway, was built into the city’s heavily fortified walls, which were up to eight meters thick.

Urbanization in antiquity

This find provides evidence that urbanization was already taking place during the early Bronze Age, as people moved from rural areas seeking the security of city dwelling.

“This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze Age [around 3100-2900 BCE] has been uncovered,” said Emily Bischoff, director of the IAA excavation at Tel Erani.

Water workers unearth Israel’s oldest city gate
Emily Bischoff, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

“In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mudbricks had to be manufactured and the fortification walls had to be constructed. 

“This was not achieved by one or a few individuals. The fortification system is evidence of social organization that represents the beginning of urbanization.”

Her team has uncovered the 1.5-meter high remains of two stone towers flanking the gate, with rows of mudbricks between them.

Water workers unearth Israel’s oldest city gate
Excavations at Tel Erani. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Other parts of the city walls, surrounding a city that covered 150 dunams (37 acres) have been uncovered in previous excavations.

An organized settlement

“It is probable that all passersby, traders or enemies, who wanted to enter the city had to pass through this impressive gate,” said IAA researcher Martin-David Pasternak.

“The gate not only defended the settlement, but also conveyed the message that one was entering an important strong settlement that was well-organized politically, socially and economically.”

Water workers unearth Israel’s oldest city gate
Archeologist Martin-David Pasternak. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Yitzhak Paz, IAA specialist in the Early Bronze Age period, said: “The newly uncovered gate is an important discovery that affects the dating of the beginning of the urbanization process in the country.

“The extensive excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority over recent years have led to dating the beginning of urbanization to the end of the fourth millennium BCE.

“But the excavations carried out at Tel Erani have now shown that this process began even earlier, in the last third of the fourth millennium BCE.”

Water workers unearth Israel’s oldest city gate
Ancient vessels found at Tel Erani. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

Mekorot says work on the now-diverted $24 million pipeline will start later this year, designed to increase supplies to Kiryat Gat in general and Intel’s vast semiconductor factory in particular.

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