What are they? Petrified Tootsie-Rolls, ceramic hot dogs, toy cigars? Are they perhaps ancient exercise equipment used by pre-Israelite boxers?
Do BAR readers have any better suggestions? If so, send them to us, and BAR will pass them on to the excavators, who readily admit they are stumped by this find of some 278 sausage-like, multi-colored clay hickeys from Biblical Lachish.
The hickeys were recently discovered in Levels VI or V in renewed excavations which began at Lachish in 1973 under the direction of David Ussishkin of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.
Level VI at Lachish represents the densely settled Canaanite city of the 13th century B.C. when Lachish flowered and prospered. That period of its history came to a sudden end, after a fire destroyed the city. According to the excavators, this destruction is attributable to the invading Israelites, as recorded in Joshua 10:31–32:
“From Libnah Joshua and all the Israelites marched on to Lachish, took up their positions and attacked it. The Lord delivered Lachish into their hands; they took it on the second day and put every living thing in it to the sword.”
The archaeological data fits this Biblical description: A large 13th century Canaanite city destroyed by fire; the absence of a fortification wall, thus enabling the Israelites to capture the city on the second day; and a complete desertion of the razed city, explained by the annihilation of everyone who lived there and who was unable to escape. The city remained largely deserted for several hundred years after this destruction.
The city was rebuilt probably in the late 10th century B.C., but little is known of this settlement. The remains of this rebuilding were found in Level V. The excavators suggest that Level V is the city referred to in 2 Chronicles II as having been fortified by Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Again the Biblical description fits the archaeological evidence: The Bible speaks of Lachish as having “defensive forts” commanded by “royal officials” and equipped with food-stores, oil, wine, shields and spears. This picture, the excavators tell us, “fits beautifully” the Level V building known as Palace A.
The unidentified clay hickeys were found in one of these two levels. The archaeologists cannot tell which because most of them were found in ancient construction fill, an unstratified context which makes exact dating difficult. Those found elsewhere may have been strays.
Pieces of 278 of these objects have been found. Nine complete ones were dug up; in one location alone, the archaeologists found 172; in another, nearby locusa, 49 were found. Although others were found in widely separated areas, the concentration of them in two loci is a clear indication that the objects all originated from one place.
The unidentified hickeys are made of clay. The potter simply took a piece of clay and rolled it into shape, as if he were preparing pastry rolls. The ends were then cut and flattened roughly with a hard object, although frequently no effort whatever was made to shape the ends. In some of them there are traces of a center hole through the object near the ends, apparently as a result of the technique of manufacture.
The clay was not burnished—that is, rubbed smooth. Nor was it slipped—that is, dipped in a paint-like coloring. The hickeys are not decorated in 019any way. They are, however, made of varying colors of clay and are about 4 inches long and a half-inch to an inch in diameter.
What are they?
The excavators have looked for parallels all over, but have not come up with much. In Mesopotamian sites clay cones are sometimes used to form decorative wall mosaics. In Egypt two rows of decorative cones were found set in mortar above the entrance to a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. But in both these instances, the cones were all smoothed on the ends, sometimes painted, and the pieces were held together by mortar. At Lachish, the ends of the hickeys were mostly rough, certainly unsuitable for use in a mosaic. Moreover, not a trace of mortar was found on the the Lachish hickeys.
One of the Lachish excavators, Gabriel Barkay of Tel Aviv University has suggested that perhaps the objects were set in wooden doors as a decoration. In Barkay’s search of the literature, he found examples of similarly shaped pieces of white and black glass that were apparently stuck in doors as decorations in a monumental Elamite building found in Iran.
In the entire area comprised of the ancient land of Israel, however, the archaeologists have been unable to find anything even roughly resembling the Lachish hickeys.
Lachish was previously excavated between 1932 and 1938 by an expedition headed by J. L. Starkey. The work came to an abrupt stop, however, when Starkey was murdered by Arab marauders on his way to the dedication of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (The Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem. In 1966 and 1968, Yohanan Aharoni did some limited excavations at the so-called Solar Shrine. But neither Starkey nor Aharoni reported any hickeys.
With appropriate scholarly reserve, Excavation Director Ussishkin has dispassionately concluded, “The function of the clay objects remains obscure for the present.”
What are they? Petrified Tootsie-Rolls, ceramic hot dogs, toy cigars? Are they perhaps ancient exercise equipment used by pre-Israelite boxers? Do BAR readers have any better suggestions? If so, send them to us, and BAR will pass them on to the excavators, who readily admit they are stumped by this find of some 278 sausage-like, multi-colored clay hickeys from Biblical Lachish. The hickeys were recently discovered in Levels VI or V in renewed excavations which began at Lachish in 1973 under the direction of David Ussishkin of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. Level VI at Lachish […]
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A locus is any stratigraphic unit which can be meaningfully isolated (for example, a uniform earth layer, a pit, a wall). This definition is used by H. Darrell Lance, co-editor with William Dever of The Manual of Field Excavation (Hebrew Union College, 1978).