Just off the road leading north from Shaharut, set against stark desert scenery, a smattering of stones stick out of the surrounding sands. Though arranged in patterns that at first may seem entirely inscrutable, these stones comprise the archaeological site known as the Tiger Temple. This open-air site, typical in style of many desert temples, has been dated by historians to the late Neolithic Period; most believe that the ritual site was in use as early as the sixth millennium BCE and continued to serve as a temple for 4,000 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that the temple was used by some semi-nomadic society that inhabited the region long ago; information about that society, though, is limited.
The site consists of small stone monuments, round altars, and large shapes and images formed by stones placed across a large area of ground. These images feature tigers hunting and devouring an oryx and give the temple its name. The tigers, identifiable by their raised tails and by the dark stones used to depict their stripes, are actually thought by most historians to be tigresses symbolizing goddesses of fertility. For this reason, they face east, the direction associated with life, creation, and the sunrise. The oryx, depicted as the tigresses’ headless prey, faces west and symbolizes death. Little else is known about the significance of the site; researchers believe, though, that it sits in the desert as remnants of some ancient and complex mythology that was in circulation as early as 2,500 years before the advent of writing.
The Tiger Temple is located in the eastern section of the Ovda Valley. In this area, hundreds of ancient sites have been identified, some of them as old as 10,000 years. Many existing sites have not yet been surveyed, and only a small percentage of them have been signposted. The eastern portion of the Ovda Valley constitutes the region most densely populated with archaeological sites in all the Negev and Sinai deserts.