World War I Battlefield Excavated Near Rosh HaAyin

World War I
Some of the bullet cartridges, shell fragments and other artifacts found at the Rosh Ha’ayin excavation. (Assaf Peretz)

Evidence of fierce battles between the British and Ottoman armies in the form of dozens of bullet cartidges, shell fragments and military items from World War I was recently exposed in an archaeological excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority near Rosh Ha’ayin.

The excavation was carried out in conjunction with paving an access road between Rosh Ha’ayin and the Afek Industrial Park, funded by the Rosh Ha’ayin municipality.

The first rifle cartridge was discovered by a member of the Melach Ha-Aretz pre-military preparatory program who participated in the project.

“Yitzhak Kalontarov approached me curiously with an artifact in his hand,” said Yossi Elisha, director of the excavation. “I was surprised to discover that it was a rifle cartridge, and I was even more surprised when it turned out to be a World War I cartridge.

“As archaeologists, we expect to discover ancient artifacts, whereas here we have a relatively “young” one hundred year old artifact, but we were all drawn to the fascinating story of the battle.

In addition, two military outposts were discovered that were used by the Ottoman army. One was located inside an ancient field tower and the other was adjacent to an agricultural terrace.”

According to Elisha, “these finds constitute evidence of one of the major battles that was fought in Palestine between the British forces and the Turkish forces during the First World War.”

The fighting on the site was part of the Battle of Megiddo that took place on September 19, 1918. Two battalions, 1/4 and 1/5 of the British Norfolk Regiment, attacked the ridge where the excavated site is located, in order to assist another battalion that attacked the Ottoman fortifications. Finding a British cap insignia inside the Ottoman outpost vividly illustrates the historical event.”

Alexander Glick, a weapons expert at the IAA, reconstructed the battlefield in accordance with the finds: “The British forces shelled the Turkish positions with their 18 pounder guns, which were the standard field artillery piece in the British Army during World War I. Fragments of artillery shells and shrapnel balls were found in the excavation. It seems that the Turkish forces sustained serious casualties from this barrage. Nevertheless, they responded with massive light arms fire aimed at the British forces, as can be seen from the bullet cartridges of the Mauser rifles that were discovered in the Turkish positions. It is interesting to note that the rifles and cartridges were manufactured in Germany and were supplied shortly before the battle, evidence that the Turks were dependent upon their German allies for weapons and ammunition.”