It’s still not clear just who ruled Abu al-Kharaz, in the Jordan River valley, during the Iron Age. It was probably a local king, though a foreign, particularly eastern, influence is obvious in the artifacts that we have found there. One thing is certain: A domestic building within the Iron Age II citadel was destroyed by a fierce conflagration in about 800 B.C. This carved bone handle, however, survived.

The handle was probably attached to some kind of rod, and has an intact stopper closing its base. The stopper was probably glued in position with resin. The decoration shows two sphinxes walking to the left. Dowel holes pierce the sphinxes’ foreheads; the dowels were probably used to fix a scepter, a fan or a flywhisk to the handle.

The sphinxes’ bodies are in profile but their heads are presented frontally—a unique stance in Egyptian and Phoenician art, but typical in Assyrian art. The sphinxes’ faces are framed by heavy wigs; curving collars hang below their chins. They are walking on a band decorated with criss-cross lines above a second band with a twisted, rope-like motif. Below that, a third band contains hanging palmettes above another ribbed frame.

The style of this handle is similar to that of objects found in the Burnt Palace in Nimrud, Assyria, and to a handle found at Hazor in Israel.