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Is That a Rock Pile or a Monument?

s200_ido.wachtel.jpgA massive pile of stones in a roughly crescent shape sits on a hillside in Galilee, Israel, about 8 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee. Recently, Ido Wachtel (pictured at right), a doctoral student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem interpreted it to be a monument constructed before the pyramids of Egypt were built (about 5,000 years ago). Live Science reported the monument, and provided a photo gallery of it from different angles.

Many readers, though, might wag their heads at that interpretation. It just looks like a disorganized rock pile. It’s out there all by itself. There was no ancient city near it (the nearest one was Bet Yerah ("house of the moon god") about 18 miles south, a day’s walk. It’s too far to have been a city wall. And it would have taken a huge amount of work to build:

The structure is about 150 meters (492 feet) long and 20 m (66 feet) wide at its base, and is preserved to a height of 7 m (23 feet), Wachtel’s research found.

"The estimation of working days invested in the construction [of] the site is between 35,000 days in the lower estimate [and] 50,000 in the higher," Wachtel said in the email.

If the lower estimate is correct, it means a team of 200 ancient workers would have needed more than five months to construct the monument, a task that would be difficult for people who depended on crops for their livelihood. "We need to remember that people were [obligated] most of the year to agriculture," Wachtel said.

We can apply William Dembski’s "Design Filter" to this case. Did it form by chance? There are lots of rock piles on mountainsides all over the world, so finding this one does not seem that out of the ordinary. Did it form by natural law? We would have to know if these stones are native to that area: are there other piles of the same stones nearby, or does it appear certain that these stones had to be transported to their current location? Could the stones have rolled into position from higher up? Did the shape of the hill determine how they would naturally form a crescent?

We don’t know enough about this pile of rocks to question Wachtel’s conclusion that it is more than a natural phenomenon — that it was intelligently designed for a purpose. It doesn’t appear he can state definitively who made it, or why, but that’s OK: intelligent design is not asking about the identity of the designer. ID just wants to distinguish between natural causes and intelligent causes.

It appears Wachtel has gone beyond ID theory to speculate about the designers:

"The proposed interpretation for the site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population," Wachtel wrote in the summary of a presentation given recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

The structure’s crescent shape stood out in the landscape, Wachtel told Live Science in an email. The shape may have had symbolic importance, as the lunar crescent is a symbol of an ancient Mesopotamian moon god named Sin, Wachtel said.

That’s getting speculative. He doesn’t even know who the designers were, let alone their religion or their purpose for it. How could a crescent-shaped pile of rocks on a hill many miles away from the nearest population center do anything to assert authority or property rights?

Some American towns celebrate their identity by marking the first letter of the name on a hillside overlooking the city. A town named Clifton, for instance, might have a big "C" on a nearby mountain. Usually, though, such markers are not 18 miles away. It’s not clear the builders would have been near enough to see the crescent very often.

An even more unusual monument (if it is a monument) lies underneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee, as we reported last year. This new article mentions it:

Another stone monument, a giant cairn that weighs more than 60,000 tons, was discovered recently beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Its date is unknown, but like the crescent-shaped structure, it is located close to Bet Yerah.

That one looks even less like a designed structure. It’s only an irregularly-shaped pile of "unhewn basalt cobbles and boulders" on a slope. Would the people of ancient Bet Yerah have gone to even more trouble to build that one? Neither structure looks like it definitively passes the Design Filter.

Stonehenge, by contrast, does pass. No natural law would carve stones that large and stand them up in a circle so that they align with the sunset at solstice. ID could have also made a prediction that other structures would be found to corroborate the design inference. Sure enough, they have: radar has recently uncovered a huge surrounding complex of buildings and monuments under the visible Stonehenge. Archaeologist Chris Gaffney at The Conversation shows a map of the additional finds and describes how geophysicists helped archaeologists find them with ground-penetrating radar and other technologies.

So here we see intelligent-design science at work in archaeology. One should be careful before making a design inference. You should realize that the "identity of the designer" is a separate question that requires other evidence. But the ability to distinguish between natural causes and intelligent causes can motivate research, yield major discoveries, and stimulate investigation of follow-up questions.

Image source: Hebrew University.

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