“My goal was to gain some archaeology experience and put my ceramic background to use,” says student Megan Webb of her decision to join the University of Washington (UW) Tel Dor Excavations and Field School last season. “I had no idea I would be part of such an incredible and rare find.” That find was a small gemstone—less than half an inch long—bearing a detailed portrait of Alexander the Great. Her discovery has received international news coverage.
Webb, a ceramics major from Philadelphia University, decided to join the Tel Dor dig after examining BAR’s Dig Issue and its comprehensive Digs Web site (www.biblicalarchaeology.org/digs).
Professor Sarah Stroup, founder and director of the UW Tel Dor field school, appreciates having such careful volunteers on her team. “We always list ourselves in the BAR Dig Issue, and it is through this that many of our volunteers find us—including Megan. The fact that a student made this rare discovery makes it all the more satisfying.” Webb found the inscribed carnelian gem while excavating a public structure from the Hellenistic period.
The portrait on the tiny gemstone depicts the famous Greek conqueror in surprising detail, given its size—from his deep-set eyes, prominent nose and strong chin to his wavy hair and headpiece or diadem. It was the unusual style of his crown that helped experts identify the figure as Alexander the Great because so few rulers have been shown wearing it. The fact that it came from a secure, scientific excavation makes it even rarer and assures scholars of its Hellenistic context. The stone was probably worn in a signet ring by a wealthy resident of Dor. (For another portrait of Alexander, see “Under the Influence.”)
Dor was a major Mediterranean seaport on the coast of Israel that submitted to Alexander’s rule in 332 B.C.E. as he passed through to Egypt. It remained a Hellenistic center until it was conquered by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus around 100 B.C.E.a