Some extraordinary finds from the Iron Age II levels at Timnah are three pottery molds for casting female figurines. These are published here for the first time. They were found on a floor of stratum III, above an artificial fill of a street or a courtyard, and they date to the eighth century B.C.

The three clay molds were formed by pressing lumps of clay on original masters. The masters would have been made of either clay, wood or possibly even ivory.

The potter’s fingerprints can be seen on the backs of the molds. The molds seem to have been made in a rather haphazard manner. After firing, the clay molds were used to make additional figurines of the same form for Timnahites.

Two of the molds are complete, but only the head of the third is preserved. All three depict female figures. The two complete figures are standing nudes in frontal posture.

The broken head (mold and modern cast, top) is the finest of the three. It shows a delicate female face, somewhat fleshy, with a necklace and hairdress that resemble Phoenician prototypes, especially known to us in ivory exemplars. The delicate coiffure on the head of the mold suggests that the original head was sculptured in the round in ivory.

One of the complete figures (mold and modern cast, below) depicts a nude female supporting her breasts with her hands. The face is somewhat distorted, perhaps due to faulty execution in applying the original to the mold. In profile, however, the delicate facial features of this figure are highlighted.

The second complete figure (mold and modern cast, below) shows a nude figure in frontal posture, with arms at her sides. The proportions of this figure are unusual: the head is too large for the slender body, and the hands are too long. The large eyes and the “archaic smile” hint at inspiration from Cypriote or Phoenician sculpture of the Iron Age.

The artistic smile of the figures and the details of their physiognomy are unusual in the art of Iron Age Palestine. No similar works of art are known in Judah, though a few similar heads are known from Philistia (particularly from Tel Sera). The molds may represent a local art form that flourished in Philistia during the eighth century B.C. However, they could also have been made from imported originals, perhaps from Phoenicia. In any case, the group is a significant contribution to the otherwise poorly known art of the Iron Age in the land of Israel.

These figurines must have served in some kind of fertility rite.