1,100-year-old prank? Or important symbol? Handprint uncovered along moat in Israel

An ancient moat could contain a lot of logical artifacts. Weapon fragments used to defend the city or dropped coins, perhaps. Excavations in Israel, however, uncovered a much more perplexing find.

Archaeologists in Jerusalem dug along an existing street ahead of construction work, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a news release from Thursday, Jan. 26. Underneath the street, they unearthed part of a moat constructed around 900 A.D.

On one wall of the moat, archaeologists found an “intriguing” and “mysterious” handprint carving, the release said.

The moat’s defensive purpose was clear. “The moat, surrounding the entire Old City… was to prevent the enemy besieging Jerusalem from approaching the walls and breaking into the city,” excavation director Zubair Adawi said in the release.

A section of the centuries-old defensive moat.
A section of the centuries-old defensive moat.

Armies attempting to invade Jerusalem had quite a challenge ahead of them, explained Amit Re’em, Jerusalem region director at the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the release. “Armies trying to capture the city in the Middle Ages had to cross the deep moat, and behind it, two additional thick fortification walls, while the defenders of the city on the walls rained down on them fire and sulfur.”

“As if this wasn’t enough,” Re’em said, “there were secret tunnels in the fortifications, some of them uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists in previous excavations, whereby the city defenders could emerge into the moat and attack the enemy by surprise, and then disappear back into the city.”

But the purpose of the handprint carving? Archaeologists don’t know. The handprint could be a 1,100-year-old “local prank” or an important symbol, the release said. “Time may tell.”

A researcher holds his hand against the carving.
A researcher holds his hand against the carving.

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