Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a rare temple and religious figurines dating back to the Judaean period nearly 3,000 years ago, Israel's Antiquities Authority said on Wednesday.
The discoveries were made at Tel Motza, outside Jerusalem, during archaeological work taking place ahead of new highway construction in the area.
"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea," the dig directors said in a statement.
Anna Eirikh, one of the directors, told AFP that the discoveries were rare evidence of religious practice outside Jerusalem during the Judaean period.
Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist Anna Ririkh displays on December 26, 2012 a clay figurine used for religious rituals and practices, dated to the early monarchic period (9-10th century. BC) of the Judaean monarchy, uncovered in Tel Motza near Jerusalem during rescue excavations.
"What we can say for sure is the figurines served for religious purposes, and that Tel Motza was a Judaean kingdom," she said.
The findings date to the 9-10th century BC, when the First Temple would have already been built in its Jerusalem location.
The Jews of that era seemed to have kept some of the prevalent pre-Judaism practices alongside the mainstream worship in the Jerusalem temple, she said.
"It's very interesting to see these religious artifacts and temple so close to Jerusalem, a walking distance," she said. "We know very little about religious practice during the Judaean kingdom, there are two or three more sites of worship, and this is the closest to Jerusalem."
The items discovered, near an altar of a temple, include ritual pottery vessels, fragments of chalices and figurines of animals.