Early Bronze Age Gate Discovered at Tel Erani

The ‘oldest known gate’ found in the Holy Land
The ancient gate at Tel Erani
Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

The Israel Antiquities Authority (iaa) on Tuesday published the discovery of a stone gate at Tel Erani, dated to the Early Bronze Age IB (around 5,500 years ago), making it the earliest known gate found in Israel (a title previous held by Tel Arad).

Excavations were sparked by the Mekorot Water Company’s plans to lay a new water pipe. The company has now agreed to move the pipe to a different location.

Ancient vessels found at Tel Erani
Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

The gate is preserved to a height of around 1.5 meters, consisting of a large monolithic stone-and-mudbrick passageway that led into the ancient city; it is flanked by twin towers. Archaeologists also discovered a portion of a 7-to-8-meter-wide fortification system, along with smaller finds, such as a complete alabaster jar, juglets and red-colored bowls.

Excavation director Emily Bischoff said:

This is the first time that such a large gate dating to the Early Bronze Age has been uncovered. In order to construct the gate and the fortification walls, stones had to be brought from a distance, mud bricks 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.

Ancient vessel found at Tel Erani
Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

It was formerly believed that urbanization in Israel began around 5,200 years ago. Due to these new findings at Tel Erani, however, experts are pushing that timeline back 300 years.

Dr. Yitzhak Paz, an iaa archaeologist specializing in the Early Bronze Age, said:

Tel Erani, which is about 150 dunams (37 acres) in size, was an important early urban center in this area in the Early Bronze Period. The tel site was part of a large and important settlement system in the southwestern area of the country in this period. Within this system we can identify the first signs of the urbanization process, including settlement planning, social stratification and public building. 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 millenium b.c.e., but the excavations carried out at Tel Erani have now shown that this process began even earlier, in the last third of the fourth millenium b.c.e.”

Working within the gate passageway at Tel Erani
Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

City gates served a major function in ancient sites. Not only did a gate restrict access, but an impressive gate would have conveyed the message to visitors that they were entering an established and well-organized city. According to Martin-David Pasternak of the iaa, “at the end of the Early Bronze Age, the Egyptians themselves arrived here and settled the tel, and they reused the gate.” Eli Eskosido, director of the iaa, concluded, “The discovery of the most ancient city gate known in the country adds another important piece … to our archaeological knowledge.”

Let the Stones Speak