Mount Sinai has been found: 20 years of Biblical Archaeology in the desert of Exodus. The real Mount Sinai has been found by Prof. Emmanuel Anati at Har Karkom.
Emmanuel Anati:
Gordon Franz:

not a single mountain had been located before with clear archaeological evidence of having been a holy mountain

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Fig. 187. Small orthostat buried in the soil, partially supported by small pebbles at its base. It is located along the trail that climbs from the Paran Desert to site HK 86b. (Site 86b; photo GC92: CLXII-37; WARA W06045).


Fig. 188. Detail of the palaeosoil with remains of flint alignments. The soil is covered with flakes and blades from the early phase of the Upper Palaeolithic. (Site HK 86b; photo EA93: XVII-21; WARA W06046).


Fig. 189. A flint nodule in the form of a bird retouched in the tail and base with flaking. Finely incised lines define the eyes and beak. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: XXXV-16 E.A. 1994, fig. 95; WARA W06047).


Fig. 190. Zoomorphic flint nodule retouched on the upper and lower edges, and with a large flake on the right side. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXXI-4 E.A. 1994, fig. 94; WARA W06048).


Fig. 191. Flint nodule with three hammered dots, which probably indicate the eyes and mouth of an anthropomorphic face. (Site HK 86b; photo EA93: XXXV-21 E.A. 1994, fig. 96; WARA W06049).


Fig. 192. Flint nodule with a resemblance to a female body. The only modification by human hands is a thin, incised line around the protuberance that seems to indicate the left breast. (Site HK 86b; photo EA 92: CXIV-6; WARA W06050).


Fig. 193. Flint nodule with signs of ancient polishing, which has a vague quadruped form. On it, the engraving of a zoomorphic figure with a lighter patina certainly was added in a much later period. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXVIII-6; WARA W06051).


Fig. 194a/b. Photograph and tracing of a flint nodule with a natural form of a human face, completed by man with secondary retouching, some flaking, and thin lines to complete the eye. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXX-23; drawing: HK Archive. E.A. 1994, fig. 90; WARA W06052, W06053).


Fig. 195. Flint implements of the Karkomian culture from sanctuary HK 86b: blades and retouched flakes, scrapers, and points. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXXIV-9; drawings by Ida Mailland: HK Archive. E.A. 1994, fig. 92-93; WARA W06054).


Fig. 196. Flint implements of the Karkomian culture from sanctuary HK 86b: blades and retouched flakes, scrapers, and points. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXXIV-9; drawings by Ida Mailland: HK Archive. E.A. 1994, fig. 92-93; WARA W06055).


Fig. 197. Flint implements of the Karkomian culture from sanctuary HK 86b: blades and retouched flakes, scrapers, and points. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXXIV-9; drawings by Ida Mailland: HK Archive. E.A. 1994, fig. 92-93; WARA W06056).


Fig. 198. View of the two 'breasts,' the two summits of Har Karkom, site HK 86b. The white marks on the hammada are hut floors of site HK 149. (Photo EA93: XVI-13; WARA W06057).


Fig. 199. The great trail from Africa to Asia, showing the flow of Palaeolithic migrations as they traversed the Sinai Peninsula. Har Karkom is along this primordial route of Homo sapiens. (HK Archive; WARA W06058).


Fig. 200. The pass that joins Wadi Karkom, next to which is the well of Beer Karkom. On the hill that dominates the scene on the left, traces of the walls of BAC-period fortified settlements are visible. In the background, between the wadi and the slopes of the mountain, are remains of settlements. In the left foreground the motor vehicle road appears. On the right are traces of the ancient trails that lead to the mountains of the Central Negev. (Site BK 400; photo EA99: XXXIV-3; WARA W06059).


Fig. 201. An aerial view of the plateau of Har Karkom with the silhouetted sphinx on the ridge in the foreground, beyond which the trail climbing from site HK 2b to site HK 23b is visible. (Site HK 330; photo EA99: XXXIII-11; WARA W06060).


Fig. 202. View of the rectangular profile of Har Karkom, from the Paran Desert. (Photo ISR 82: EA-18; WARA W06061).


Fig. 203. Aerial view of the Wadi Paran. (Photo ISR 87 DA VI-21; WARA W06062).


Fig. 204. One of the paths, on the plateau, which leads towards the summit of the mountain, next to an engraved rock. (Site HK 45; photo ISR 86: AA LXI-6; WARA W06064).


Fig. 205. 'The thinker'. Rock engraving of the period IV a. (Site HK 83; photo ISR 83:XXXIII-32; WARA W06063).

Mount Sinai has been found.


The facts and considerations presented in the previous chapters will have permitted the reader to formulate views on different aspects of research and analysis: archaeological, palaeoclimatic, palaeogeographic, historical, ethnological, exegetic, psychological, and philosophical. The raw material described so far may stimulate thought and debate, but in synthesis, what can we draw from twenty years of archaeological research at Har Karkom? One thousand, two hundred previously unknown archaeological sites and the resultant comparative research reveal some fundamental trends.

Har Karkom was a paramount cult centre and a sacred mountain beginning in the Palaeolithic Age, reaching its peak of religious activity in the third millennium BC. It was then a true "Mecca" for the desert people. If the epic accounts described in the books of Exodus and Numbers rely on a historical background, and if indeed an exodus from Egypt took place with stops at Mount Sinai and at Kadesh-barnea, the chronological context may refer only to the BAC period, and more precisely to phase BAC IV (2350-2000 BC). Har Karkom was a primary sacred mountain in that period, and the topography and archaeological evidence of its plateau appear to reflect the location and character of the biblical Mount Sinai. The documentation provided by archaeology at Jericho and Ai and other archaeological sites mentioned in the Bible, the parallels with Egyptian literature, and the finds at Har Karkom all seem to imply that the biblical accounts of Exodus may have a historical background. True to the character of mythical accounts, the stories may have undergone some degree of transformation and elaboration over years of transmission. One should not forget to acknowledge that storytellers and troubadours from various generations may have had a role in the final compilations of the texts which reached us. In contrast to the widespread tendency of dismissing the Bible as a historical source, in our view, this narrative, popularised though it may have been, was and is founded on real historical occurrences, as corroborated by the archaeological discoveries at Har Karkom.

The epic story of Joshua, which started at Jericho and Ai, probably marked the beginning of the middle Bronze Age. This was the time in which the age of Moses ended - an age that culturally, ethnologically and historically belonged to the early Bronze Age. From a palaeo-ethnological view, the different types of societies described, of nomadic, semi-nomadic, and sedentary people, seem to illustrate the long development of a Semitic people's political structure from a patriarchy to a tribal organisation, to a confederation of tribes, to the first attempts at territorial administration of a nation. From the wandering of the tribes in the desert of Exodus to the conquest in Jordan, and then expanding to west Palestine, these stages reflect a long evolutionary process that appears to fit the archaeological and historical sequence provided by documentation external to the Bible.

The biblical narrative of the exit from Egypt, the nomadic life in the desert, the theophany of Mount Sinai, the long permanence at Kadesh-barnea, the war against the king of Arad, the conquest and settlement of Jordan, the epic age of the battles of Joshua and the prolonged gradual penetration into western Palestine, reflect, in our view, a long sequence of historical and archaeological periods that cover a period of time of at least one thousand years, from before 2200 BC to 1200 BC.

In our view, the missing periods at Har Karkom and elsewhere in the Negev and Sinai, in the second part of the middle Bronze Age and the late Bronze Age, are posterior to the age of Exodus. In the age of the Tel el-Amarna letters and of the Habiru, the children of Israel were already in the Palestinian area, mainly as tribal groups of pastoral semi-nomads based on both sides of the Jordan Valley, moving in the free territories between the sedentary towns and their agricultural land.

The archaeological finds at Har Karkom concern many periods, but in the frame of this long sequence of the Israelites's formative period, if the finds are confirmed as pertinent, they would only concern the presence of the tribes in the fourth phase of the BAC period. The later sanctuaries from the Iron Age, the Hellenistic period, and more recent times, may testify that a notion of sanctity persists around this site. We do not know if the later sanctuaries had any connection to previous events or if they may have been used for commemorating them. The same kind of problems concern the older sanctuaries found at Har Karkom. Could the Neolithic sanctuary to the north of Har Karkom be connected with previous and successive aspects of this mountain's sacredness? For the time being it does not seem possible to give satisfactory answers to these questions. All we can say is that sequential episodes of cult activity occurred on this mountain over the course of millennia. It is difficult to say whether they represent a continuity of traditions or culturally and chronologically distinct events.

Another open query concerns the possible relations between the two main phases of intense cult activity on the mountain in the BAC period. As a working hypothesis, it may be supposed that if the later phase (BAC IV) belongs to the "epoch of Moses", the preceding (BAC II) may refer to the "epoch of the Patriarchs". The dedicatory monuments to the moon god Sin may well reflect Mesopotamian influences in a period when Mesopotamian tribes were moving towards the Palestine area. This period may possibly find a historical memory in chapter fourteen of Genesis referring to the kings of Elam coming to claim the tributes of their colonies near the Dead Sea. In Phase IV of the BAC period, on the other hand, elements of material culture indicate relations with Egypt, and this may well fit as the framework of the Biblical traditions of Exodus.

Are there common denominators among the various periods in which this mountain was a cult high place? The discovery of the Palaeolithic sanctuary throws new light onto Har Karkom, and perhaps it may contribute to the understanding of a story that is deep-rooted and complex. In the BAC period, the habitation sites were at the foot of the mountain while the plateau was reserved for cult activities. On the other hand, in Palaeolithic times the living sites were on the plateau, and many of them have been well preserved. Hut floors, common areas, flint workshops, hearths, and many other elements allow the reconstruction of the sites and a step toward understanding the people's society. The wealth of material culture allows the definition of periods, phases, and sub-phases during which such camping sites were occupied.

In each period, climate, vegetation, soil surface, and resources may have been different. Ever since the Lower Palaeolithic period, anthropoid beings first and homo sapiens later left their traces on the Har Karkom plateau to remain for millennia. Har Karkom, with over two hundred Palaeolithic sites, is the major concentration of Palaeolithic remains thus far recorded in the Sinai and Negev regions. One gathers the impression that in Palaeolithic times the plateau was a major centre of assembly.

Har Karkom has always been a prominent source of high quality flint, one of prehistoric man's most valued resources. Further, Har Karkom is located along one of the main migration ways between Africa and Asia. Here flint tools have been found of African typology, from both the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, which were made from local flint.

In the early phases of the Upper Palaeolithic homo sapiens left behind many remains, such as several camping sites concentrated in an area of a few square kilometres. In the middle of this area is site HK 86B, called the "Palaeolithic sanctuary," which holds today, as in the distant past, a commanding view of the Paran Desert's boundless landscape. From the mountain one can observe below what was in Palaeolithic times a vast bushland, wealthy in game. For the Palaeolithic hunters, this area must indeed have seemed to be a "Promised Land."

Ranging along the cliffs from the sanctuary, a treacherous path leads down the precipice to the Paran Desert. Along this trail flint boulders stand, similar to those found in the sanctuary. Some are still held in situ by small stones that were pressed around them by human hands. The sanctuary was the last stop on the mountain for the hunters who were going to the bush for game, and the first stop as they returned to the mountain. The trail was perhaps something more than an uneasy path to go up and down the mountain; it was the way that connected two different worlds.

The sanctuary itself, atop the plateau, is a breath-taking scene. Flint monoliths attend the site like mute protective spirits with dark, figural shapes in the pale background. Geoglyphs, of stone alignments or of cleared places on the palaeosoil, never wholly reveal their elusive forms to an earth-bound viewer. Collections of pebbles brought into the sanctuary for their refined natural shapes have been retouched by human hands to complete the desired forms. Whatever is seen on the sanctuary site is a choreography in flint. The Palaeolithic sanctuary commands an encompassing view of the desert expanse below, contrasted by the two breastlike summits of the mountain, which give it the shape of a reclining female body. The landscape must have been an important reason for the choice of this mountain as a holy site. An interest in natural and human-like forms is evident in all aspects of the environment, from pebbles to land shapes.

Three main factors show similarities between this Palaeolithic sanctuary and the BAC sites: the conceptual selection of the locality according to the shape of the landscape, the choice of anthropomorphic rocks as receptacle of natural or supernatural powers, and the collection of stones as a sign of sacrality of the site. The same features are found repeated in the cult sites of the Bronze Age more than 30,000 years later. Already, in the oldest known sanctuary, such characteristics seem to express the human need to give reason and significance to the mysteries of the environment, to reach an understanding and develop a dialogue with nature, including that part of nature which is called the supernatural. One of the purposes of the sanctuary seems to have been to make a logic out of nature's shapes. We have gone into a more detailed analysis of this unique Palaeolithic site in the book La religion des origines (1999).

This sanctuary may have been noticed by the BAC people who frequented the mountain, and an obvious question is what they thought of it. What may have been their interpretation of such a collection of silent stone figures balanced between the desert and the mountain? Did they think they had been brought there by man or by some mysterious supernatural power? What was the role of the mountain on which such a place was found?

Another question arises concerning the process of "canonisation" and sanctity of this mountain. How did it start? Was the perceived sanctity of the mountain an uninterrupted process, or was it renewed in each new period? The questions respond to an academic curiosity, but in fact it does not change much of the mountain's story.

Is there a connection between the Palaeolithic sanctuary (HK 86B) and the later cult sites? Whether or not the tradition was uninterrupted or reintroduced each time, a connection is apparent. The story of Moses and the people of Israel, already at the time of Exodus, was based on archetypes. The story of a great migration that gave birth to a nation is well known in the mythologies of different tribes on five continents. The common denominator brings us back to the primordial migration of homo sapiens, who left behind his place of origin in Africa to explore and conquer the world. According to what we know, the entire human race, descended from the earliest homo sapiens, acquired his skills and creativity, his capacity to develop philosophy and religion, when the common ancestors of today's humanity left their primordial territory, which transformed into the myth of the Garden of Eden. Waves of primordial migration left the African "paradise" and crossed the Sinai Peninsula, making it an age-old passage for men in search of their own "Promised Land". Har Karkom seems to show traces of both these earlier primordial migrations and the more specific one that is believed to have given birth to the nation of Israel.

Among the many unsolved puzzles one appears to be particularly challenging: why Har Karkom? What did human beings from different periods find on this mountain that they did not find elsewhere? Forty years after the first discoveries and twenty years after beginning systematic field research and analysis, this puzzle remains unsolved. The Mountain of Sanctuaries has not yet revealed all its secrets

Fig. 158a/b. Rock engraving called 'the eye that watches from the rock.' A large eye has seven lines arrayed from the bottom and seven from the top. (Site HK 36b; photo EA98: LVIII-5; drawing: HK Archive; WARA W06016, W06017).

Cover | Mount Sinai | Sanctuaries | Hypothesis | Exegesis | Testimony | Landscape | Discoveries | Rock Art | History | Conclusions | HK Survey | HK Periods | HK Rock Art | HK Corpus 1-99 | 100-199 | 200-299 | 300-399 | BK Corpus 100-399 | 400-499 | 500-599 | 600-699 | 700-799 | 800-899 | Glossary | Acknowledgements | Emmanuel Anati | Bibliography | Edizioni | CCSP | Images | Links

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