The discovery near Motza, Israel
The main highway running east to west across Israel’s width is Highway One. It connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, near Jericho.
In 2012, highway contractors working 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem near the town of Motza uncovered a Neolithic town, home to perhaps 3,000 people at one time.
A new thing, an interstate highway, led to a discovery of an old thing, a town.
Tel Motza is now the largest Neolithic site in Israel. Archaeologists define a Tel as “a mound or small hill that has built up over centuries of occupation.” Excavators dig down through the layers until they find a bottom layer.
Archaeologists uncovered stone tools made of flint—arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives—as well as human bones, clay figurines, grain silos, and a temple.
Radiocarbon dating on the artifacts found in Level 6, the bottom level, fall between 8600 and 8200 BC, which means that families were living at Motza 10,000 years ago.
To put this into context, Biblical scholars place Abraham near 2000 BC, Moses near 1400 BC, and David and his son Solomon, who built Jerusalem’s Temple, near 1000 BC.
Motza was a flourishing town several millennia before any Israelites arrived, and, according to language scholars, perhaps well before any Canaanites arrived.
I find it tragic that archaeologists failed to find any historical records. Unknown and unnamed countless numbers of people lived and died at Motza, generation after generation, and no one knows much about them.
The writer James Michener remedied this absence of historical records at a Tel by writing a massive book of almost 1000 pages, that he titled, “The Source.”
In each chapter, Michener tells a fictional story of the men and women who lived at each of the several levels at Tel Makor, which means “the source,” as time sped by.
To stare at the photos of Tel Motza and think back to human existence 10,000 years ago puts our lives into context. How tiny is one human being’s life! At most 100 years.
What can we speculate about the multiple generations who lived at Motza?
First, I would like to believe that they were concerned about how to best raise the next generation, their children, how to steer their boys and girls onto the right path.
Second, they paid homage to previous generations, to their parents and to their grandparents, burying them with decency and respect.
Third, the fact that they built a temple indicates that the ancient ones practiced a religion, one that connected the generations together into a faith and a moral code.
Fourth, the grain silos indicate that they were concerned about food, and the numerous stone walls point to a concern about shelter.
As for the stories, the histories, the biographies, we can only guess, a tragedy.
This month of September I celebrate another birthday, one decade ends and another begins. After 35 years of reading, writing, and thinking about the past, and churning out biweekly columns for that long, I wonder, “Is doing history worthwhile?”
One historian who answered that question five years ago is Peggy K. Liss, historian of Spain and Latin America, who died on March 17, 2023, at 95 years of age. She said, “Yes, it is. The human past seems indispensable to anchoring the present.
“Without a reliable history, the resulting vacuum invites nostalgia for a past that never was. The past we know is sloppy. What we historians do is straighten up a selected part of it as best we can.”
A novelist, Alison Acheson, who wrote a fictional tale about life in London in 1526, wrote, “If history does have some particular shape, it might be less a circle, and more some spirally sort of thing to get tangled in.”
Harry Truman used to say, “The only thing new in the world is the history that you have never read.” To Harry’s words I would add, “something new in the world would be the history that was never written, that never can be written.”
For an example, think upon that history at Motza, a town from ancient Israel.