The Neo-Assyrian Empire invasion of Israel in 738 BCE brought with it war and destruction — and taxes, the trademarks of imperial rule. But because an army marches on its stomach, along with heavy tariffs came an impressive spate of agricultural infrastructure in its conquered territories.
An impressively large 2,700-year-old water system was recently exposed at Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavations near Rosh Ha-Ayin, in central Israel, with the help of students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology studies. The excavation precedes the construction of a new residential neighborhood initiated by the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a fundamental necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 mm [20 in], the region’s winter rains would easily have filled the huge reservoir. On its walls, near the entrance, human figures were identified, crosses, and a vegetal motif that were probably carved by a passersby in a later period. Overall, seven figures measuring 15–30 cm [6-12 in], most with outstretched arms and a few appear to be holding some kind of object.
The water system was found to be nearly 20 meters [66 ft] long and reaches a depth of over four meters [13 ft]. The excavations reveal that the reservoir was built beneath a large structure with walls that are all nearly 50 meters [164 ft] long. Some of the potsherds found on the floors of the rooms probably belonged to vessels used to draw water from the reservoir. It is highly likely that the structure and the reservoir were built at the end of the Iron Age (late eighth or early seventh century BC), but whereas the building was abandoned during the Persian period the reservoir was still in use until modern times.
In recent years, a number of other farmsteads built at the end of the First Temple period have been discovered near Rosh Ha-Ayin. They were probably erected after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 720 BC, when the Assyrian empire dominated the region. The establishment of farmhouses in this area is interesting, given the fact that many regions within the decimated kingdom of Israel remained desolate. Some scholars believe that the establishment of the farmsteads was motivated by the empire’s wish to settle the area, which lay on an international route and near the western border of the Assyrian empire. According to IAA excavation director, Gilad Itach, “The structure exposed in this excavation is different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads. Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls, and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads.”
High school students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology track participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin excavations as part of the Ministry and the IAA’s new educational program, which is designed to connect students with the past and train the archaeologists of tomorrow. Students opting for this track as part of their chosen matriculation assessment join an excavation for a week. They experience the various tasks involved in the excavation, discuss the research questions and archaeological considerations, and document the dig in the excavation journal as part of their research work.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Rosh Ha-Ayin Municipality, the IAA has plans for the site to remain an open area accessible to the public adjacent to the new residential neighborhood.