Israel Museum

Solemn assemblage of anthropoid clay coffins awaits premiere as the star attraction of the Dayan Collection exhibit at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum

The coffins—more than 20 in all—are called “anthropoid” because of the humanlike facial features on the coffin lids and the overall shape of the coffins themselves. Modeled on Egyptian examples, the crude effigies range from the “naturalistic” features of the gentleman at center, to the stylized or grotesque features of the open mouthed person to his right.

Excavated from Deir el Balah, a site south of Gaza on the coastal plain, the sarcophagi date to the 14th–13th centuries B. C., a time when Egypt’s New Kingdom empire may have extended into southern Canaan.

Who was buried in these effigies? Conjectures range from Egyptian civil and military officials assigned to garrison the farflung outposts, to the Philistines, or to the Canaanites.