Mysterious tomb offerings challenge the imagination
BAR readers suggested some imaginative, useful and even humorous functions for the puzzling clay tootsie-rolls that were found at Biblical Lachish (“Mystery Find at Lachish,” BAR 05:05).
There is a difference, however, between the Lachish tootsie-rolls and the archaeological stumpers which follow. The Lachish tootsie-rolls are unique. There are no parallels. They have not been found at any other site. But the archaeological puzzlers described here have been found at many sites and have therefore already engaged the attention of numerous archaeologists and scholars. But still we are without solutions.
Can BAR readers stretch their imaginations once again?
These stumpers were all found in a recent excavation near Akko on Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast. An industrial stone quarrying company was excavating when workers hit some ancient tombs. The company immediately notified the Department of Antiquities which then dispatched Sarah Ben-Arieh and Gershon Edelstein, two Department archaeologists, to supervise the scientific excavation of the tombs.
Ben-Arieh and Edelstein uncovered five undisturbed tombs from the 14th century B.C. (Late Bronze Age). Each of the graves contained from one to three skeletons. Each skeleton was laid in an extended position, sometimes with one hand across the chest.
The grave goods, as they are called, were extremely rich and varied. The excavators found not only large quantities of pottery, but also jewelry, weapons and seeds. Cylinder seals were found near the chests of the skeletons, so we can easily guess that they were worn on a string (long since disintegrated) suspended from the neck of the deceased.
The Late Bronze Age (the archaeological period just before the Israelite settlement in Canaan after the Exodus) was a time of great international trade. It was a prosperous period. People traveled and traded with each other and used imported goods, especially in the coastal areas. This prosperity is amply reflected in these tombs. The finds included many weights, which might well have been considered particularly appropriate to bury with people who had been international traders. Even more reflective of this ancient international community were the imported goods. The archaeologists found several gold and silver rings from 037Egypt. The head of one gold ring is a scarab containing a stylized head of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. A silver ring contains the name Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1,417–1,379 B.C.) written in hieroglyphics.
The two archaeologists also found a superbly executed Mitannian cylinder seal in which a four-winged, nude, armless goddess faces a nude hero who is subduing a bull. This seal undoubtedly came from Mesopotamia. Other seals came from Cyprus and Egypt.
The large quantity of pottery found in the tombs was of both local manufacture and foreign import. In addition to Palestinian pottery of the period, the archaeologists found large quantities of beautiful Cypriot, Mycenean (Aegean), Syrian, and Egyptian pottery.
Gold headbands, gold beads, game pieces, spindle whorls, and a whetstone to sharpen knives were also uncovered.
Some of the bronze objects were not hard to identify. There was a beautiful collection of daggers, spearheads and 038javelin heads, as well as a large collection of arrowheads. A bronze ceremonial trident—too pliable to be used—was also found. The most outstanding bronze piece was an ancient mirror. The mirror disk and the handle were cast separately The mirror was inserted into a groove in the handle and secured with a rivet. The handle is shaped in the form of a nude female figure, with one hand across her breast, just like some of the skeletons found in the tombs. Above the nude woman’s head is a papyrus umber. Her only jewelry is a three-strand necklace. (See illustration.) A similar mirror has been found in Egypt.
The archaeologists were unable, however, to identify the function of several other bronze objects—these are the stumpers.
The strangest was an object bent in the shape of a double “S.” A round bronze wire is flattened in the center where the two S’s are joined; the ends of the two S’s are pointed. Similar objects, sometimes described as belt buckles, have been found in tombs at Megiddo, Lachish, and Gezer. However, the size, the shape, and the pointed ends all contradict this conjecture. What is it?
A second stumper is a small fan-shaped object with a handle. Four examples were found in these tombs. Three 039were cast as one piece. In the fourth, the handle was cast separately On the outer edge of the fan, a split is cut toward the middle of the fan. Remains of wool fibers and plants were found on two of these objects. The fans are about 17 cm (6.75 inches) wide and 7 cm (2.75 inches) from the edge to the handle. The handles are about 6 cm (2.25 inches) long. Similar objects have been found at Megiddo, Abu Hawam (in Egypt) and at Ras Shamra-Ugarit in Syria. One guess is that the fan-shaped objects were used as decorative heads on the ends of long wooden spears. What do you think?
The third stumper is a bronze pin 8 cm (3.25 inches) long with round caps on either end. The heads or caps were cast separately and they are not identical. The socket in one of the heads matches that of the pin. The fit is very tight. Indeed, in order to put the pin on, you have to support the soft bronze pin to keep it from bending. The socket of the second head is larger and thus easier to affix. This second cap had a hole in it originally so the flattened end of the pin came through. Similar pins have been found at Lachish, Ras Shamra-Ugarit and El Arabah in Egypt. The purpose of the object remains unclear.
Can BAR readers help?
(For further details, see “Tombs Near the Persian Garden,” Sarah Ben-Arieh and Gershon Edelstein (and others), Atiqot XII (English Series), 1977.)
BAR readers suggested some imaginative, useful and even humorous functions for the puzzling clay tootsie-rolls that were found at Biblical Lachish (“Mystery Find at Lachish,” BAR 05:05). There is a difference, however, between the Lachish tootsie-rolls and the archaeological stumpers which follow. The Lachish tootsie-rolls are unique. There are no parallels. They have not been found at any other site. But the archaeological puzzlers described here have been found at many sites and have therefore already engaged the attention of numerous archaeologists and scholars. But still we are without solutions. Can BAR readers stretch their imaginations once again? These […]