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Sha’ar HaGolan (archaeological site) *

Yarmukian_Culture_-Sha'ar_HaGolan,_zoomorphic_figurine Photo: Yosef Garfinkel

Sha’ar HaGolan is a Neolithic archaeological site near Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan in Israel. The typical site of the  extinct Yarmukian culture, it is notable for the discovery of a significant number of artistic objects, some of the earliest pottery in the Southern Levant, and first roads in Israel. The Sha’ar HaGolan Neolithic Yarmukian village was inhabited by the people who abandoned their nomadic lifestyle in favor of permanent settlement, marking the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

Early Pottery Vessels, Yarmukian Culture Photo: Gary Todd

The First Yarmukian Settlement

The first Yarmukian settlement was unearthed at Megiddo during the 1930s, but was not identified as a distinct Neolithic culture at the time.

Sha’ar HaGolan, excavations 1998 Photo: Yosef Garfinkel
Photograph of the excavations of 
Yosef Garfinkel , carried out between 1989-1990 and 1998-2004 Photo: Yosef Garfinkel

The Sha’ar HaGolan Discovery

When the members of Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan dug fishponds in their fields in 1943, they accidentally uncovered a prehistoric site. In the past it was not possible to conduct large scale excavations at the site, since it was covered by fish-ponds and olive trees. Later, on economic grounds, the fish ponds and the olives grove fell into disuse. As a result, it has become possible to conduct excavations at the largest prehistoric art center in Israel. The site is located south of the Sea of Galilee, on the bank of the Yarmuk River which flows into the Jordan just south of the site. The site was excavated under the direction of Professor M. Stekelis (1949–1952) and Professor Yosef Garfinkel (1989–90, 1996–2004) both of of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The unique culture found there became known as the Yarmukian or Shaar Hagolan Culture and uncovered the impressive remains of a neolithic village, dating to 5,500 – 5,000 BCE.

Sha’ar HaGolan, flint arrowhead
Photo: Yosef Garfinkel
Sha’ar HaGolan, flint axe Photo: Yosef Garfinkel

Yarmukian Architecture

The second expedition uncovered large courtyard houses (where the main part of the building is disposed around a central courtyard), ranging between 250 and 700 m² in area – over hundreds of dunams (one dunam = 1/4 acre).The courtyard house makes its first appearance at Sha’ar HaGolan, giving the site a special significance in architectural history. This is an architectural concept still found among traditional Mediterranean societies. Monumental construction on this scale is unknown elsewhere during this period. The houses consist of a central courtyard surrounded by several small rooms.

Several buildings with rectangular and circular rooms were uncovered: the foundations consist of courses of fieldstones topped with courses of loaf-shaped, sun-dried mudbricks; the walls are sturdily constructed; the floors are beaten earth; and the ceilings were of straw and mud over wooden frames.

Sha’ar HaGolan, courtyard buildings Photo: Yosef Garfinkel 

Yarmukian Streets

The houses were separated by streets, which constitute evidence of advanced community planning. The dig uncovered a central street about 3 m wide, paved with pebbles set in mud, and a narrow winding alley 1 m wide. These are the earliest streets discovered in Israel and among the earliest streets built by man.

Yarmukian Well

A 4.15 m well dug to the local water table indicates a knowledge of hydraulics.

Sha’ar HaGolan, clay figurine Photo: Yosef Garfinkel
Sha’ar HaGolan, well Photo: Yosef Garfinkel

Yarmukian Economy

The abundance of artifacts found in the village is indicative of a developed mixed-economy culture of fishing, hunting and grain-cultivating. Flint tools were widely used. The potters of Shaar Hagolan produced a variety of sophisticated, well-fired vessels round open shapes for bowls and closed forms for jars, many with flat bases on which they stood firmly. The artifacts include the first pottery cooking pots found in the Israel. The greatest technological innovation in Shaar Hagolan Neolithic was the manufacture of pottery. This industry, which appears here for the first time in Israel, gives the stage its name from the pottery Neolithic. Pottery vessels of different shapes and sizes were introduced to different household needs.

Sha’ar HaGolan, pottery Photo: Yosef Garfinkel

Yarmukian Art

The outstanding characteristic of the Yarmukian culture is its art. The artistic and cultic objects include engraved and incised pebbles and small stone and clay figurines. Anthropomorphic statu- ettes of clay were assembled from separately made body parts. Around 300 stone and clay figures were found at the site. This also includes the remains of a number of buildings which also featured architectural innovations that were not thought to have existed at the time of Sha’ar HaGolan’s height. Many of the figurines seem to be abstract, yet still markedly human, images of what may have been prehistoric gods and goddesses. One of the houses has resulted in approximately 70 figurines made of stone or baked clay. No other building of the Neolithic gave that many prehistoric figurines.

Exotic Objects Found

Exotic objects discovered during the excavations include sea shells from the Mediterranean, polished stone vessels made of alabaster (or marble), and blades made from obsidian from Turkey. The presence of obsidian points to trade connections extending over 700 km.

The Museum of Yarmukian Culture –

מוזיאון התרבות הירמוכית ע”ש יהודה רות

The Yehuda Ruth Museum of Yarmouk Culture is a museum dedicated to Yarmouk culture located in Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan. The museum is named after its founder Yehuda Ruth, who was also the first to discover finds belonging to this culture in 1941 while performing earthworks for the kibbutz’s fish ponds. One of the largest archeological sites in Israel belonging to the Neolithic period. Go on a fascinating journey back in time to the late stone age era, visit the Yarmukian Culture museum at kibbutz Shaar Hagolan. This site was one of the important cultic and artistic centers in the Ancient Middle East, where the very beginnings of agriculture and pottery occurred. The Museum of Yarmukian Culture at kibbutz Shaar Hagolan is well known all over the world for the number and quality of items on its display. 

Yarmukian Culture Museum Photo: Hanay
Yarmukian Culture Museum  Photo: Hanay

The first settlers in the kibbutz found in its territory various archeological finds that they used to keep in boxes under their beds. During the War of Independence, the settlement was occupied and the collection remained in boxes, the place was occupied by the Syrian army, and the contents of the boxes with the archaeological finds were thrown on the floor of the room but not looted. After the kibbutz residents returned to it, they reorganized the findings. One of the figurines called “Venus Figurine” was burned and has since been painted black. In 1950, a museum was opened in one of the kibbutz shelters, which centralized all the finds collected over the years by the kibbutz members, making it the first museum of prehistory in the Land of Israel. In the 1970s, the museum moved to its current location on the eastern side of the kibbutz in a place overlooking the archeological site and the Yarmouk after which the culture was named. The building was built with the reparations money from Germany that the kibbutz members received. Anthropologist Robert Ardrey described the museum’s collection in his books “Territorial Commandment” and “Hunters as Humans.”

Yarmukian Culture – Pebble incised   Photo: Hanay
Yarmukian Culture- Lower body of clay figurine  Photo: Hanay
Yarmukian Culture – Knives Photo: Hanay
Woman figurine carved in soft limstone  Photo: Hanay
Yarmukian Culture Museum  Photo: Hanay
Yarmukian Culture Museum Photo: Hanay

Opening Hours

Sunday9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Tuesday9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Wednesday9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Thursday9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Friday9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Saturday10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Tel’ +972-4-6677386 WAZE: Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan Jordan Valley 15145

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