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Massive clubhouse of ancient cult found in Israel

"From the finds within the building, we can reconstruct the occurrence of feasts, indicated by several goblets and a large amount of animal bones," said Itzhaq Shai.
By Brooks Hays   |   Oct. 14, 2014 at 4:28 PM

TEL BURNA, Israel, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Archaeologists at the ancient site of Tel Burna, in Israel, have uncovered a massive complex they say likely served as the meeting place for a cult that worshipped one the culture's unique gods. The complex dates to roughly 3,000 years ago.

The buried complex is huge, comprising a number of smaller rooms, most centered around a large, 55-foot by 55-foot, courtyard. Inside the chambers researchers found ceramic jars, called pithoi, nearly large enough to hold a human body. Also present were three connected cups, fragments of face masks, and burnt animal bones -- possible evidence of animal sacrifice.

Researchers say the cult members most could have worshipped any number of gods, but suggest Baal, the Canaanite god of thunderstorms, also known as Hadad, was mostly likely the patron deity. Though the archaeologists say they can't rule out the possibility that a female god, like ancient war goddess Anat, was worshipped by the cult.

"The letters of Ugarit [an ancient site in modern-day Syria] suggest that of the Canaanite pantheon, Baal, the Canaanite storm god, would have been the most likely candidate," Itzhaq Shai, a professor at Israel's Ariel University who is leading the excavation at Tel Burna, recently told Live Science.

Researchers say the combination of masks, goblets and animal bones suggests the complex was a place of worship and celebration.

"From the finds within the building, we can reconstruct the occurrence of feasts, indicated by several goblets and a large amount of animal bones," said Shai. "Some of these animal bones are burnt, probably indicating their use in some sacrificial activity."

The excavators relayed the details of their findings so far to attendees at this year's European Association of Archaeologists meeting in Istanbul.

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