Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli archeologists have unearthed a "rare and mysterious" Bronze Age dolmen in the Galilee hills, the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Sunday.
An IAA statement said that the capstone of the basalt chamber weighed a whopping 50 tonnes and its underside bore about 15 intricate carved designs.
"This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East," the authority quoted Uri Berger, one of its archaeologists, as saying.
"The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the centre of an arc," Berger said.
"No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery."
The statement did not say when the table-like structure was discovered adjacent to a kibbutz in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel, but dated it to the Middle Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago.
It said the object was flanked by four other smaller dolmens and the whole was covered by an enormous mound of rocks weighing a total of about 400 tonnes.
"What we have here is a huge monumental structure," the statement added.
"It bears witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region" during the period.
It added that the scale of building would have required a large amount of manpower that must have been housed and fed during construction, but said much remains unknown.
"The circumstances surrounding the construction of the dolmens, the technology involved in it and the culture of the people who built them are still one of the great mysteries of the archaeology of Israel," it concluded.