Israeli archaeology's newest tool, the drone, revealed an intriguing find during a pass over the Lachish region during the recent Sukkot holiday.
The compact aircraft discovered what excavation directors—Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University, and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority—called "a rare and exciting find."
The structure, in what was the town of Horvat Amuda, is one of only a handful of its kind in Israel. Archaeologists said that it is most likely a 2,200-year-old Idumean palace or temple, the IAA said in a press release.
Two stone incense altars were discovered at the site. One of them bore the engraved image of a bull standing in what appears to be a columned temple. According to the archaeologists, the bull was one of the deities worshipped by the Idumeans.
In addition to the altar, archaeologists also uncovered fragile pottery vessels, including painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps.
In the Hellenistic period, Horvat Amuda was one of the agricultural resource villages for the neighboring Idumean capital of Maresha. The Idumeans, originally a Semitic people hailing from what is now southern Jordan, settled in the Judean hills and created Maresha as a center for their religion and commerce.
Archaeologists believe the structure was intentionally dismantled around 112 B.C. when Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus I sacked Maresha. The residents later converted to Judaism and assimilated into the Judean population. (The most famous Idumean is probably King Herod from the Bible.)
Also discovered at the site were numerous underground passages cut by residents of nearby Beit Guvrin for escaping from the Romans during the time of the second Jewish Revolts in A.D. 132–135.
The dig is sponsored by the IAA and Beit Lehi, a U.S.-based Mormon non-profit organization, which sponsors excavations in the Land of Israel. Archaeology students from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University and a group of U.S. volunteers helped in the excavations the Times of Israel reported.