Ancient Egypt's Israeli Beachhead

Archaeologists have reported uncovering a 5000-year-old Egyptian-style tomb in southern Israel. The tomb, the first of its kind, offers fresh evidence that early Egyptian civilization had a foothold in ancient Palestine.

Thomas Levy of the University of California, San Diego, David Alon of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and colleagues excavated the tomb at a site called Tell Halif in the northern Negev desert. They had previously found abundant evidence of an Egyptian settlement during the Early Bronze I era (3500 to 3000 B.C.), including pottery, administrative seals, and a pottery shard with the symbol of King Narmer, the pharaoh who supposedly unified Upper and Lower Egypt.

Finding the tomb in addition to all the other relics was "pretty amazing," says Levy. The structure--a 10-meter-long, stone-lined passage leading to a cave--held only one body, that of a young woman, which, he says, suggests that it may never have been completed. The tomb is "a very exceptional find because the tomb structure is unique to Palestine," says archaeologist Joe Seger of Mississippi State University.

The tomb and the Bronze-Age relics "point to a very strong Egyptian presence that we didn't know existed before in this part of southern Israel," says Levy. "We now have enough data to make a major study of Egypt-Canaan relations." A paper on the excavation has been accepted for publication early next year in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

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