Dig volunteers take a moment to pose on a newly exposed town wall at the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I (c. 1230–1160 B.C.E.) settlement of el-Ahwat, in north central Israel. This, however, is no ordinary town wall. Unlike the circular walls surrounding contemporaneous Canaanite and Israelite settlements, it wavers and twists through its 2,000-foot circuit around the site. The wavy wall proved to be only one of several puzzling remains at the site; excavators wondered at such unusual features as a descending, funnel-shaped plaza in front of the town gate, strangely configured fortification towers along the town’s perimeter, labyrinthine dwellings and, perhaps most outlandish of all, well-built corridors that lead into the city wall. (One such corridor entrance can be seen at the lower left of the wall in this photograph.) These features are not found in the crowded Iron Age towns of the Levant.
For years author Adam Zertal, dig director at el-Ahwat, struggled to make sense of these and other oddities that turned up at the site, including some rather peculiar pottery remains and numerous enigmatic artifacts, such as an exquisitely carved ivory ibex head (inset) and a bronze figurine of a woman’s head (see cover). The aesthetic designs and construction techniques of the ancient builders of el-Ahwat were clearly different from those of other groups in the region. But Zertal could find no hint of the origins of the town’s inhabitants—until he saw the remains of the prehistoric nuragic culture on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. After several visits, Zertal and his team were convinced that the builders of el-Ahwat were connected to the nuraghe dwellers of Sardinia, perhaps by way of the Shardana, one of several tribes of Sea Peoples (the Philistines were another tribe) who migrated from various points west and north into the eastern basin of the Mediterranean at the beginning of the Iron Age.