Mt. Sinai was a sacred site long before Moses came to it, if the theories of archaeologist Emmanuel Anati are correct. Anati, who has been discovering and excavating archaeological sites and recording rock art in the Har Karkom area since 1980, believes that this mountain in Israel’s southern Negev desert is the location of Biblical Mt. Sinai.a

In 1992, the 19th expedition to Har Karkom made what may be the most extraordinary discovery yet at this remarkable site. On the eastern ridge of the Har Karkom plateau, they found a group of artifacts that Anati interprets as the remains of a religious sanctuary dating to the initial phase of the Upper Paleolithic period (30,000 years ago). The finds lay in the open in an area of about 30 to 40 yards by 15 to 20 yards, at the entrance to a trail leading down to the desert floor.

The most striking of the objects are some anthropomorphic standing stones of flint. Fifteen of these monoliths remain standing, while 25 to 30 have fallen (or have been moved from their original location). Measuring a little more than 3 feet high, the monoliths were apparently chosen for their naturally anthropomorphic quality and then slightly retouched to enhance the effect. The style of the stone-flaking technique used is similar to that used by the Near Eastern Aurignacian culture of 30,000 years ago. The interplay of natural shape and human modification can be seen in the photo: The stone that rests as a head on the monolith at center features a naturally shaped “nose” and two “eyes” that have been gouged out by humans. Some of the monoliths, however, appear to have been redressed far more recently, probably within the last 2,000 years, judging by the relatively light patination on the surfaces where they have been worked.

The site also contains numerous flint implements in the style of the Near Eastern Aurignacian culture and about 220 naturally anthropomorphic flint pebbles (also occasionally retouched) found on the ground throughout the sanctuary area.

One of the site’s most baffling features is a series of pebble drawings, perfectly preserved arrangements of pebbles into parallel rows and ovals on the ground. Anati suggests that their preservation may be the result of having been long covered with a sand dune.

Previously discovered cult sites in the Har Karkom area date mainly from the Chalcolithic period (4500–3100 B.C.) and Early Bronze Age (3150–2200 B.C.) and include standing stones, altars, stone platforms, circles, tumuli and a small temple. The area is also famous for its more than 35,000 examples of rock art. Recently, an especially remarkable discovery was added to the the rock-art inventory. Created by pecking with a pointed stone, this petroglyph shows a lizard, center, surrounded by five snakes and two scorpions. The petroglyph’s images and location, above a pool of water, strongly recall a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy, as translated by Anati: “[God] led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its serpents, poisonous lizards and scorpions… [and] brought you water out of the flinty rock…” (8:15).

It was this abundance of cult sites, as well as discoveries such as the foregoing, that led Anati to conclude that Har Karkom is the Biblical Mt. Sinai. The paleolithic finds, however, suggest an astounding revision in our understanding of Mt. Sinai’s significance. According to Anati, the finds indicate that “Har Karkom may have been a sacred mountain almost since the first appearance of modern humans.” If so, we can better appreciate why Moses led the Israelites to the site.

Professor Anati will return to Har Karkom in 1993 and will lecture on his discoveries during a trip to the United States in February 1993.