Category Archives: ISRAEL

A rare 6,000-year-old elephant ivory vessel was unearthed near Beersheba

A rare 6,000-year-old elephant ivory vessel was unearthed near Beersheba

A rare 6,000-year-old elephant ivory vessel was unearthed near Beersheba

A recent excavation near Beersheba in southern Israel uncovered an ivory vessel crafted of elephant tusks dating to the Chalcolithic period (around 4,000 BC). The find is the first Chalcolithic ivory vessel discovered in Israel.

Although the ship was originally disassembled, careful restoration work at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) laboratories has brought it back to its former glory.

The vessel is of a type known to researchers as an amphoriskos, a small jar. This rare find sheds light on ancient trade connections between the Holy Land and Egypt some six millennia ago

The diameter of the ivory container is approximately 8 inches. Its exquisitely designed and skillfully crafted small matching handles are arranged symmetrically around its lower body and neck.

The find is the first Chalcolithic ivory vessel discovered in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said and was likely either imported from Egypt or carved locally from ivory imported from there.

The broken ivory vessel deposited within the large basalt bowls.

The rare item was discovered in 2020 at Horvat Raqiq, an archaeological site near Beersheba in southern Israel, during infrastructure work to lay a water pipe, the IAA told The Times of Israel.

More than just artifacts were discovered during the excavation at Horbat Raqiq; it also uncovered an old settlement with underground buildings etched into the Loess ground. Emil Aladjem discovered the edge of a basalt vessel during the last stages of the dig, which prompted additional investigation.

Three imposing vessels were found within the excavation site after an extended search. Among them, nestled within layers of soil, lay the shattered remnants of the ivory vessel, carefully interred in antiquity – a testament to its significance.

“This find deepens our understanding of the Chalcolithic period and of the cultural exchange ties of our region with both neighboring and distant cultures,” the researchers said.

“The vessel is well-made and makes maximum use of the original tusk – which was a most precious material. If it was manufactured here, it reveals the high standard of craftspeople who dwelt here, who knew how to treat ivory, and also knew elephant anatomy.”

IAA researchers, specialists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and ivory conservationist Olga Negnevitsky collaborated to analyze and restore the ivory vessel, which was a difficult and drawn-out process.

The vessel is to be presented to the public on Thursday in Jerusalem at the annual Israel Prehistoric Society conference, along with other recent prehistoric discoveries.

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

One of the most interesting and mysterious scrolls discovered in the Judean Desert is a scroll called the “Horoscope.” This scroll shed light on the ancient practices of astrology and mysticism in a discovery that has intrigued historians and archaeologists alike.

The artifact offers a unique peek into the beliefs of a secretive sect that thrived thousands of years ago.

This ancient text reveals a worldview in which a person’s birth date not only indicates their zodiac sign but also determines their physical characteristics and the balance of light and darkness within their soul.

This unique composition was written in Hebrew in the reverse direction – from left to right- and contains signs in Greek, Aramaic, and ancient Hebrew script, as well as code.

“From the writing style, it seems the text was intended only for those who were supposed to know how to read it,” says Dr. Oren Ableman, a scroll researcher in the Judaean Desert Scrolls Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The texts were apparently secret, comprehensible only to the leadership of the Scrolls sect.”

ANDREAS CELLARIUS, 1661: Astrological aspects, such as opposition, conjunction, etc., among the planets.

The scroll presents an intriguing theory in which a person’s physical attributes are determined by the degree of light or darkness in their soul. Each date on the calendar is associated with a particular amount of light or darkness, and thus, the amount of good or evil, or light or darkness, in the soul of the person born on that date.

The “Horoscope” scroll also hints at a rigorous initiation process for new members of the community, who identified themselves as “children of light.”

“It seems to have been a kind of manual for crafting a ‘horoscope,’ using one’s birth date to determine their personality and physical features. New members had to prove their suitability to join the ranks of the righteous. This, in effect, suggests that a person could believe in the sect’s beliefs and customs but still be rejected because they were not born on the right date, or their head shape did not fit,” says Dr. Ableman.

The discovery of the scroll has reignited interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Judean Desert sects, serving as a reminder of humanity’s enduring quest for knowledge and the mystical.

Rare 2,800-Year-Old Assyrian Scarab Amulet Found In Lower Galilee

Rare 2,800-Year-Old Assyrian Scarab Amulet Found In Lower Galilee

Erez Avrahamov, a 45-year-old inhabitant of Peduel, made an incredible discovery while hiking in the Tabor Stream Nature Reserve located in Lower Galilee. He stumbled upon an ancient seal shaped like a scarab that dates back to the First Temple period.

Rare 2,800-Year-Old Assyrian Scarab Amulet Found In Lower Galilee

This ancient artifact is as unique as it is stunning. Avrahamov initially mistook it for a bead or an orange stone lying on the ground. However, upon closer inspection, he realized it was intricately engraved, resembling a scarab or beetle.

Recognizing its potential significance, Avrahamov promptly contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority to report this extraordinary discovery.

Nir Distelfeld, an Inspector from the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, swiftly realized Avrahamov had stumbled upon something extraordinary. He instructed him to carefully examine the other side of the scarab – the flat side – to see if it bore any engravings.

The scarab, an ancient sacred symbol, has a rich history that dates back to the late Paleolithic era when beetle-shaped ornaments were common. By the time of Egypt’s Old Kingdom in the 3rd millennium B.C., scarabs had evolved into aesthetically pleasing objects with deep shamanic symbolism. They played a significant role in early animal worship.

The Egyptian name derives from the verb “to become” or “to be created”, as the Egyptians saw the scarab as a symbol of the creator god. This is corroborated by archaeological findings from King Den’s reign during Dynasty I.

Just as Christians revere the cross today, Egyptian pharaohs profoundly respect dung beetles – likely viewing them as sacred symbols.

”The scarab, made of a semi-precious stone called carnelian, depicts either a mythical griffin creature or a galloping winged horse. Similar scarabs have been dated to the 8th century BCE.” Distelfeld adds that, “the beautiful scarab was found at the foot of Tel Rekhesh, one of the most important tells in Galilee.

The site has been identified as ‘Anaharat’, a town within the territory of the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:19),” Professor Emeritus Othmar Keel of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland explained.

Scarabs were crafted from various stones, including semi-precious ones like amethyst and carnelian. However, most were made from steatite – a soft talc stone with a grayish-white hue, typically coated with a blue-green glaze. This glaze could only withstand dry climates like Egypt’s.

Hence, scarabs discovered in Israel seldom show remnants of it. This particular scarab’s deep orange color is uncommon and visually captivating in this scenario.

According to Dr. Itzik Paz, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who excavated at Tel Rekhesh, the discovery of this significant artifact from Tel Rekhesh, dating back to the Iron Age (7th–6th centuries BCE), is truly noteworthy.

During this period, a large fortress was present on the tell, seemingly under Assyrian rule – the same empire that led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The scarab found at the base of the tell could potentially indicate an Assyrian (or maybe even Babylonian) administrative presence at that location.

The griffin design on the seal is a recognized theme in ancient Near Eastern art and frequently appears on Iron Age seals. If we can accurately date this seal, it might provide a direct connection to Assyrian influence in the Tel Rekhesh fortress – an incredibly significant find!

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the finding of a well-preserved basket with a capacity of about 100 liters dating back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, approximately 10,500 years ago.

Israel discovers a 10,500-year-old basket from the Stone Age
A well-preserved basket dates to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, approximately 10,500 years ago, is seen in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.

“It is an amazing artifact, 10,500 years old, huge, intact, the only basket from that time found intact in Israel, and maybe in this size, the only one in the whole world,” Chaim Cohen, IAA archaeologist, told Xinhua.

As far as we know, this is “the oldest basket in the world” that has been found completely intact, and therefore its importance is immense, said Cohen.

A staff member shows fragments of the new discovered Dead Sea Scroll in a lab in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.
Rare Jewish coins from about 2,000 years ago are seen in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021.

IAA researchers believe that they can learn a lot about people who lived on earth about 10,500 years ago, just from that one item looking almost brand new.

“The time this basket was made is long before ceramics was invented, and ceramics is the last language of archeologists,” noted Cohen.

Examining the basket will help researchers better understand those ancient people, how they made tools, and from which materials they made them, said Cohen.

IAA professionals even believed that one of the people who made this basket was right-handed, and the other one was left-handed. Moreover, they used a unique technique.

The basket, with two lids at the top, was found in Muraba’at Caves in the Judean Desert above the Dead Sea. It was buried inside a cave under almost three feet of soil. It was exceptionally well preserved due to the high temperatures and extreme aridity of the region.

“People who made the basket buried it underground, leaving the top on the floor level of that period, and we assume that it was buried there to preserve things, maybe food or grains, to the next season,” said Cohen.

The basket was presented on Tuesday to the local and international press at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Besides, ten other unearthed ancient finds were also presented.

Among them were fragments of a 2,000-year-old biblical scroll that were found also in caves in the Judean Desert.

Dr. Oren Ableman, a curator researcher in the Dead Sea scrolls unit of IAA, told Xinhua that “this is the first time in over 60 years that we have discovered copies or fragments of a biblical book in a controlled excavation.”

“And this enables us to have a better picture of the past and understanding of how the text of the Bible as we know today has developed over time,” added Ableman.

Additional exhibits included a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a mummified female child, arrows, spearheads, woven fabrics, rare Jewish coins from about 2,000 years ago, and some other notable relics.

All these artifacts were unearthed by Israeli archeologists during the past three and a half years in a mission in hundreds of caves at high hills.

Archaeologists discover 800-year-old ‘treasure tunnels’ built-in Israel by the Knights Templar Christian warriors

Archaeologists discover 800-year-old ‘treasure tunnels’ built-in Israel by the Knights Templar Christian warriors

The secrets of the Knights Templar have been unearthed by archaeologists in Israel.

A set of ‘lost’ tunnels leading to a treasure tower were discovered, which the legendary warrior monks would have used to transport their gold around 800 years ago.

Remnants of the soldiers’ extravagant headquarters were also uncovered in the ancient city of Acre, on the coast of Israel.

Archaeologists discover 800-year-old ‘treasure tunnels’ built-in Israel by the Knights Templar Christian warriors
Researchers found a new network of secret tunnels buried underneath the Israeli city of Acre.

Years of excavations have unearthed historical relics left by the Knights Templar order, which was disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312 following conflicts between France’s King Philip IV and the crusading monks.

As part of a new documentary series by National Geographic called Lost Cities, archaeologist and show host Albert Lin and his team utilize light detection and ranging technology known as LiDAR.

This innovative tool allows researchers to detect hidden artifacts underneath the Earth’s surface through aerial scanning to produce accurate 3D maps.

According to IFL Science, Lin’s team scanned an area in the port of Acre, where the Knights Templar’s fortress headquarters stood some 800 years ago. The LiDAR survey found a sprawling network of tunnels, and what appears to be a guardhouse, buried underneath today’s modern city of Acre.

Researchers believe these tunnels may have connected the Knights Templar’s fortress with the city’s port, allowing the Templars to carry treasure safely to their treasure tower.

“These warrior monks are the stuff of legend, and so is their gold,” Lin said in the documentary. “During the Crusades, the Knights Templar battle for God, gold, and glory. Somewhere in the modern city of Acre lies their command center, and possibly their treasure.”

The city of Acre was once controlled by the Knights Templar for about 100 years after they lost their headquarters in Jerusalem to the Muslim ruler Saladin in 1187. Following the recent discovery, researchers suspect that the Templars’ gold could still be buried somewhere in these underground tunnels.

The Knights Templar monks were trained as skilled fighters with the objective of protecting and advancing Christianity through the means of warfare. The order also successfully raised a tremendous amount of funds to fuel the Crusades.

Uncovering the lost treasure belonging to a religious order of soldier monks from the time of the Third Crusade is an appealing prospect, no doubt.

But researchers have not found any evidence to confirm the existence of gold belonging to the Knights Templar in the city of Acre. Thus, plans to excavate the newly discovered tunnels have yet to be made.

Acre was controlled by the Knights Templar for about 100 years during the 12th century.

Following the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt, Pope Gregory VIII called upon Europe’s three Christian monarchs — the rulers of France, Germany, and England — to conduct another crusade to take back the Holy Land.

The first major battle of the campaign was at Acre, located on Jerusalem’s coast. Although the Third Crusade was unsuccessful, it did result in a treaty deal granting safe passage for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.

LiDAR technology has been proven to significantly improve methods of scouting hidden artifacts without the need for archaeologists to conduct excavations.

A separate team of researchers in Cambodia recently uncovered a lost city of the Khmer Empire using LiDAR technology.

The ancient site was located deep in the mountainous Cambodian jungles where landmines still covered the fields, making it impossible for archaeologists to have conducted examinations of the site physically.

With LiDAR-driven discoveries popping up around the world, we’re sure to uncover more hidden treasures buried underneath the Earth’s surface—even though those treasures might not all be made of gold.

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David
An ancient pig skeleton is seen in Jerusalem, having been discovered in a building dating back to the First Temple.

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the complete skeleton of a piglet in a place and time where you wouldn’t expect to find pork remains: a Jerusalem home dating to the First Temple period.

The 2,700-year-old porcine remains were found crushed by large pottery vessels and collapsed walls during excavations in the so-called City of David, the original nucleus of ancient Jerusalem. The team of archaeologists behind the discovery reported their findings in a study published in the June edition of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The find of swine adds to previous research showing that pork was occasionally on the menu for the ancient Israelites and that biblical taboos on this and other prohibited foods only came to be observed centuries later, in the Second Temple period. It also ties into broader questions about when the Bible was written and when Judaism as we know it was born.

This little piggy wasn’t bacon

The animal’s skull clearly identifies it as a domestic pig, as opposed to a wild swine, and its presence indicates that pigs were raised for food in the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, says Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University and at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The fact that the skeleton was found intact suggests that this specific piglet, less than seven months old, was not eaten, but died accidentally when the building was destroyed at some point in the eighth-century B.C.E, Sapir-Hen and colleagues report.

First Temple period structures near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem’s City of David, where the pig skeleton was found along with the “butchered” remains of many other types of animals.

But there can be little doubt of what the piglet’s ultimate fate would have been having its home not collapsed for as yet unclear reasons. In addition to large storage jars and smaller cooking vessels, the room where the pig was unearthed also hosted dozens of animal bones from sheep, goats, cattle, gazelles, as well as fish and birds, the archaeologists report.

Most of these remains were burnt or showed signs of butchery, meaning the animals had long been dead and eaten when the building was destroyed, Sapir-Hen says.

This suggests that this room was where meals were prepared or eaten,” she says. “So this pig was just waiting for its turn.”

We don’t know the cause of the building’s collapse, as there is no known major destruction event in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E., says Joe Uziel, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who led the dig. It may have been destroyed by an earthquake or a more localized event, he speculates.

In any case, the structure was rebuilt and continued to be in use until around 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, Uziel says. The building had at least four rooms and was located in a fairly central area near the Gihon spring, the main source of water for the city at the time. Constructed with rough fieldstones, it was probably a private home, although the fact that bullae, or seal impressions, were unearthed in another room suggests it may have also had an additional, administrative function, Uziel says.

An archaeologist retrieves the skull of a piglet from a First Temple period building in Jerusalem’s City of David at the site where the “articulated” pig skeleton was also found.

The excavation also yielded an elegantly carved bone pendant and a human figurine. Together with the great variety of animals found alongside the pig, all of this indicates the house was occupied by an upper-class family, the archaeologist says.

The importance and central location of the house suggest that pig husbandry and pork consumption may have been a rare treat, but still very much part of “mainstream” food habits, he says. In other words, it doesn’t look like this was something done secretively by, say, a poorer household that may have been desperately in need of a quick meal.

At this point, we have to wonder how to square the idea that pigs were infrequently but openly raised in Jerusalem with the biblical injunction that: “The swine, though he divides the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8

It’s the Levantine economy, stupid

While domesticated pig bones are rarely found in Jerusalem and in most of the Levant, they are not entirely absent, Sapir-Hen notes. In excavations from the First Temple period in Jerusalem and in other sites from the Kingdom of Judah, swine bones constitute up to 2 per cent of the animal remains unearthed, she says.

Already back in the 1990s, archaeologists also observed that pig bones were much more frequent in the coastal strip that was inhabited by the Philistines. Scholars thus concluded that a dearth of pig bones identified a site as Israelite and that the biblical ban on partaking in pork was already known and observed in the First Temple period.

But more recent research by Sapir-Hen and others has shown that the picture is much more complex. For one thing, the near absence of pig bones is not unique to Israelite sites of the Iron Age, the period that roughly corresponds to the First Temple era. Swine is equally scarce in most of Canaan during the preceding era, the Late Bronze Age, a time before the writing of the Bible or the formation of ancient Israel.

This dearth then continues in the Iron Age, not only in Judah but in many of its neighbours, including sites linked to the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Arameans, Sapir-Hen notes. Even when it comes to the supposedly pork-loving Philistines, the situation is actually more nuanced.

While the diet of Philistine city-dwellers did include a larger proportion of pigs, which were seemingly imported from Greece, swine bones are almost absent from their rural settlements, in keeping with the dietary habits of the rest of the Levant. Equally puzzling is the fact that in the Kingdom of Israel, Judah’s northern neighbour, a pig is rare in the early Iron Age, but it increases to up to 8 per cent of the animal mix at urban sites in the eighth century B.C.E.

All of this indicates that the tendency to eschew pork in the Iron Age cannot be linked to a specific ethnic identity or to the biblical prohibition, Sapir-Hen concludes. Pigs were only a small part of the Levantine diet most probably because other animals, especially goats, sheep and cattle, were more suited to the local environment and economy.

Pigs can be raised in an urban environment, as they require less space, but they also need a nearby water source: it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Jerusalem piglet was found near the city’s spring. This may explain why, throughout the Levant, swine occurrences only tend to rise at times and in places where populations increase and are concentrated in larger urban settlements, whether in Philistia, in the Kingdom of Israel or, to a lesser extent, in the more built-up sections of Judah’s capital, Jerusalem.

Gods, figurines and shrimp

Figurine and bone pendant found in the building where the piglet’s remains were found

This also gels with a growing body of research on the Israelite religion in the First Temple period. While scholars believe that parts of the Bible were already compiled at the tail end of this era, it is generally agreed that the holy text we know today only reached its final form after the Babylonian exile, in the Second Temple period.

Whenever the Bible was actually written, archaeological finds have shown that, in practice, First Temple-period Judaism was very different from the religion it would later become. While the ancient Israelites believed in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, they also worshipped other deities, including Asherah, who was thought to be God’s wife. They liberally made figurines and other graven images, ostensibly banned by the Second Commandment.

Additionally, a study published just last month in the Tel Aviv journal of archaeology looked at the finding, at archaeological sites throughout Israel, of bones from scaleless and finless fish, which are also prohibited by the Bible’s dietary rules. The research showed that catfish, sharks and other non-kosher fish were commonly consumed in Jerusalem and Judah during the First Temple period, and only for the late Second Temple period is there clear evidence that Jews were eschewing such banned seafood.

In other words, biblical prohibitions that are considered signposts of the Jewish faith today were unknown, unheeded or non-existent back in the First Temple period. And it seems that, from time to time, the ancient Israelites were not averse to literally bringing home the bacon.

Smashed pottery vessels in the room where the pig was found

2,300-Year-Old Greek Bronze Mirror Discovered in Israel

2,300-Year-Old Greek Bronze Mirror Discovered in Israel

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered what they believe to be the remains of an ancient Greek courtesan. The cremated remains of a young woman were found in a burial cave alongside a perfectly preserved bronze box mirror on a rocky slope close to Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, not far from Jerusalem.

The tomb is believed to date back to some time between the late 4th century and early 3rd century BCE, according to a joint study carried out by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Guy Stiebel, from the department of archeology and the Ancient Near East at Tel Aviv University, told CNN in a phone interview that the find is “very significant.”

The high-quality mirror was found to be perfectly preserved.

“It’s almost like bringing back to life a woman who passed away 2,300 years ago,” he said of the research, which he compared to a “jigsaw puzzle or riddle.”

He and his team believe this could be the first discovery of the remains of a hetaira, as courtesans were known in Ancient Greece.

“If we are correct with our interpretation, it appears that this burial points to the very unique circumstances of what we call a hetaira, a Greek lady who accompanied one of the Hellenistic government officials, or more likely a high general,” he said.

In the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, the Hellenistic age refers to the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 30 BCE. Stiebel told CNN that he and his team believe the woman would have been among the first Greeks to arrive in the region.

Liat Oz, the director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, described the mirror found in the tomb alongside the remains.

“This is only the second mirror of this type that has been discovered to date in Israel, and in total, only 63 mirrors of this type are known around the Hellenistic world,” she said in a news release about the discovery.

2,300-Year-Old Greek Bronze Mirror Discovered in Israel
Researchers say the mirror is incredibly rare, with just 63 discovered in the Hellenistic world.

“The quality of the production of the mirror is so high that it was preserved in excellent condition, and it looked as if it was made yesterday.”

Folding box mirrors such as this were documented in tombs and temples in the Greco-Hellenistic world, the researchers noted. They were usually decorated with engravings or reliefs of idealized female figures or goddesses.

Stiebel said a woman of high status might have received such a mirror as part of a dowry, but this was unlikely to have been the case in this instance, as married women rarely left their homes in Greece.

Alternatively, he said, she might have been a courtesan, as they often received gifts from men. Likening the hetairai to Japanese geishas, Stiebel explained that the women were regarded as “muses.”

He said: “Women in society were breaking glass ceilings in very strict and male-oriented Greek society, and we do know that they served not only as sexual escorts but were similar to geishas and provided an element of culture. For that they were given gifts and part of the economy of gifts in Ancient Greece had to do with mirrors.”

The fact that the remains were cremated also hinted at the woman’s origins, Stiebel said.

UNESCO designates ancient Jericho ruins as World Heritage Site, sparking Israeli ire

“Cremation is alien to this country and the religion,” he said, explaining that cremation is not only forbidden in Judaism but would not have been practiced by the Persian empire either, which occupied the region at that time.

“The tomb was found in the middle of nowhere, not near any village, farm, or settlement, which suggests that she would have been connected with one of the military campaigns and dated to the time of Alexandra the Great or slightly later.

“We are suggesting that maybe she was with one of the generals.”

Stiebel went on to explain the significance of the four iron nails found with the mirror and remains.

“Nails were used to protect the deceased and also to protect living people from the dead. The bodies were literally nailed down to ensure they would not come back to the world of the living,” he said.

Stiebel told CNN that the team is continuing with further research in order to “zoom in” on the finer details of the mirror.

He said, “We hope to shed more light on the origin of the production of the art and maybe shed more light on the history of the owner of the mirror, the general who bought it, or where she came from.”

The research will be presented for the first time at an Israeli archaeology conference next month.

Ancient Wooden ‘Coptic Dolls’ May Have Been The Ancestors Of Today’s Barbie Dolls

Ancient Wooden ‘Coptic Dolls’ May Have Been The Ancestors Of Today’s Barbie Dolls

For as long as anyone can remember, children loved to play with various toys, but kids living a long time ago did not have parents who could walk into a shop and buy something entertaining. Yet, there is archaeological evidence that that our ancestors did take the time to carve and build things their children could play with. Sometimes, archaeologists uncover ancient artifacts that may have been used for a number of purposes?

Ancient figurines made in the image of humans were often used during ritual ceremonies or as burial gifts, but could some of these human-like figures have been toys, too?

Ancient Wooden ‘Coptic Dolls’ May Have Been The Ancestors Of Today’s Barbie Dolls
Dolls from excavations in Ramla: (1) Miniature articulated doll; (2) Cloth doll head; (3) Flat articulated doll; (4) Flat articulated schematic doll; (5) Unarticulated schematic doll; (1-5) scale 1:1; (1) Color image courtesy of the Museum of Ramla. © Israel Antiquities Authority

The Term Coptic Dolls

“These bone figurines were first recognized as a homogenous artifact group by Joseph Strzygowski in 1904, although earlier mentions exist. In his volume “Koptische Kunst”, he described 13 “puppen” from the Cairo Museum and was the irst to suggest they were toys rather than cult figurines.

Not all researchers agree. Strzygowski concluded a pre-Islamic origin and dated the dolls between the 4th and 12th centuries.

A fragment with a religious Christian Greek inscription, supporting his pre-Islamic origin thesis, was in a group of figurines that he had purchased in Cairo in 1900-1901 for the Kaiser Friederich Museum. Some of these were published later by Sir Leonard
Woolley (1907) and Oskar Wulf (1909).

Although Strzygowski never actually used the term “Coptic dolls,” it was already attached to them by Woolley, and continues to be used even today. This is probably because Strzygowski, and Gayet before him, published them in volumes titled “Coptic Art.” 1

In the Early Islamic period (7th to 11th centuries CE), a unique type of figurine with human-like characteristics, made of bone, began to appear. Ariel Shatil, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist specializing in dolls and figurines, sheds light on these intriguing artifacts.

“Some researchers speculate that these figurines served as toy dolls, while others suggest they might have been fertility figurines. What is particularly fascinating is that no two dolls were identical; each possessed distinct features, even if they shared the same concept.

These dolls appeared in the Early Islamic period, over a period of about two or three centuries, after which they mysteriously disappeared from the scene,” Shatil explains.

Shatil continues, “Moreover, distinct regional styles emerged. For instance, in the northern part of the country, the figurines had more schematic features, and they were crafted from flat bones such as animal ribs and adorned with dots and circles.

By contrast, in the southern part of the country and in the desert, the figurines were more human-like and realistic.

Most of the figurines are depicted naked, without clothes, but there is a group of figurines wearing garments. The exact purpose of the figurines—whether fertility symbols to encourage procreation or simply toys—remains a subject of debate.”

The picture shows a figurine with schematic features, reflecting Egyptian characteristics, dating to the Abbasid period, uncovered in the excavations carried out next to the Western Wall precinct in Jerusalem. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Originally crafted in the region of Iran and Iraq, one wonders how these figurines found their way to this area. Following the Muslim conquest of the country, artisans were brought in to construct and decorate palaces.

Alongside the monumental art displayed in these palaces, these same artisans introduced or crafted these figurines, producing them in considerable quantities as they gained popularity within all social classes.

“Although predominantly made of bone, there are also ivory figurines, possibly belonging to wealthier families,” Ariel observes. “But, by the end of the eleventh century, these figurines disappeared from the scene, probably due to restrictions imposed in accordance with Islamic law.”