Feb 23, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

The Home That Cults Built—Storm God Temple Found in Israel

Oct 15, 2014 08:34 PM EDT

After excavating a large complex found in the Israeli archaeological site of Tel Burna, archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be a 3,300 year-old complex, once run and inhabited by an ancient cult.

The vast courtyard, spanning 52 feet by 52 feet, found amongst the Tel Burna site indicated to archaeologists that the site may be the location of an even larger cult complex. And artifacts discovered within the complex revealed a possible use for the grounds. Researchers uncovered connected cups, fragments of masks, large ceramic jars and burnt animals bones typically found in sacrificial ritual sites. Though much is not known or fully uncovered at the Tel Burna site, archaeologists are gaining a better understanding as more evidence comes out of the ground.

Looking to what deity the cult would have worshipped, researchers have narrowed down their best educated guesses to a God of local folklore dating back more than three millennia. "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" project researcher at Tel Burna, Itzhaq Shai says. Though they believe archives document Baal's importance significantly in the region, the researchers have still not ruled out other deities, such as the war goddess Anat.

Artifacts currently undergoing analysis may also help archaeologists reveal what happened in the epicenter of cult activity, perhaps even shedding light on what rituals took place. Looking at the large ceramic vessels, known as "pithoi", researchers believe that trace evidence left behind in the human-sized jars may give them a better understanding of the rich cult culture living in and around the site.

"The pithoi were likely used as storage for tithes brought to the cultic complex, although this is also being further analyzed through residue analysis" Shai says.

While the Tel Burna site lies in a relatively secluded site in the Shephelah, alongside the banks of Nahal Guvrin, recent discoveries found at the site reveal that ancient Canaanites may have interacted with local civilizations in an important way; sharing not only technological innovations, but religious icons as well.

The interconnected cup, believed to be imported from Cyprus, was the first clue in the assertion made by archaeologists. And many subsequent finds have backed their claims. Recently discovered were chalices, seals, figurines that blended animal and human morphology, and even a Egyptian scarab inscribed with ancient hieroglyphs. 

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