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Y 'Monumental' mystery under Sea of Galilee

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Some 2,000 years ago, the Sea of Galilee in Israel became famous as the Bible says Jesus and His apostle Peter walked on top of the water in a spectacular miracle.

Now, a mysterious find from beneath the surface is bringing new attention to the ancient body of water.

Scientists have discovered a massive, “monumental” structure on the sea’s floor, leaving experts puzzled as to what it actually is and how and when it became located there.

Scientists are probing a giant, cone-shaped pile of boulders on the floor of Israel's Sea of Galilee. The arrow points to a 4-inch fish swimming beside the boulders. (courtesy Shmuel Marco)

The structure is basically a cone-shaped pile of boulders with an estimated weight of 60,000 tons, which is heavier than most of today’s warships.

Its height is nearly 32 feet, with a diameter of approximately 230 feet. In comparison, the outer stone circle at the well-known Stonehenge monument in Britain has a diameter just half of that. Additionally, the tallest stones of Stonehenge don’t reach as high as the Sea of Galilee structure.

The mysterious structure is cone-shaped, about 230 feet (70 meters) in diameter and nearly 32 feet (10 meters) tall. It weighs an estimated 60,000 tons. (courtesy Shmuel Marco)

“Close inspection by scuba diving revealed that the structure is made of basalt boulders up to 1 meter long with no apparent construction pattern,” the researchers explain in the latest edition of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

“The boulders have natural faces with no signs of cutting or chiseling. Similarly, we did not find any sign of arrangement or walls that delineate this structure. The boulders are bare without any overgrowth. In contrast with the sandy terrain surrounding it, Tilapia fish teem around the structure and between its blocks, probably taking advantage of the hiding places and shelter that it offers.”

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A sonar mapping of the sea’s southwestern portion first detected the structure in the summer of 2003, and divers have since investigated the site in person.

“The shape and composition of the submerged structure does not resemble any natural feature. We therefore conclude that it is man-made and might be termed a cairn,” the researchers say.

The circular structure was first detected in a sonar survey in the summer of 2003. (courtesy Shmuel Marco)

They explain there are questions that remain to be answered with certainty, including precisely when it was built, its purpose and use, and if it had been built as an underwater installation or on land during low lake levels and later submerged.

“The purpose and usage of the structure may be connected to how it was built,” the researchers say. “A possible interpretation for the structure is related to the fact that it attracts fish and thus may be interpreted as a part of a marine-based economy. If so, the structure must have been built as an underwater structure. Stone-built installations that are thought to be ancient fish nurseries are well known in the Sea of Galilee. They are found near the shores at regular intervals.”

“An alternative scenario is that the structure was built onshore, when the water level was lower than today. The submergence could have occurred either because of tectonic movement or because of rising water levels.”

The New Testament says both Jesus and Peter walked atop Israel's Sea of Galilee. (courtesy Benjamin McPherson)

Because of the massive size of the structure, the scientists conclude “the effort invested in such an enterprise is indicative of a complex, well-organized society, with planning skills and economic ability.

“The possible relation of the submerged stone structure to the ancient settlements along the shores of the Sea of Galilee is of great importance. Flourishing settlement systems existed along the shores in the Bronze and Iron Ages, between the 4th and the 1st millennia B.C. Urban centers such as Bet Yerah, Tel Hadar and Bethsaida were the prominent settlements in biblical periods.

“The only period in this region for which megalithic structures can be connected to settlement sites is the Early Bronze Age, between the late 4th and the late 3rd millennia B.C. The monumental site of Khirbet Beteiha, located some 30 kilometers north-east of the submerged stone structure, comprises three concentric stone circles, the largest of which is 56 meters in diameter.”

Researcher Yitzhak Paz, of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University, told LiveScience he hopes soon an underwater expedition will set out to excavate the structure, searching for artifacts to try to determine its date with certainty.

He said the Israel Antiquities Authority has a research branch capable of excavating it.

“We will try to do it in the near future, I hope, but it depends on a lot of factors,” he said.

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