The accidental discovery of this bronze bull figurine, on the summit of a high ridge in northern Samaria, alerted archaeologist Amihai Mazar to the possible existence of an important site. Standing firmly on four hooves without any other support, the 5-inch-high, 7-inch-long bull is the largest such figurine ever found in the Levant. Its empty eye-sockets probably once held inlays of glass or of semiprecious stones. The small hump on its back, amove the forelegs, identifies this as a “Zebu bull” (Bos indicus), a species that originated in India, but which was present in the Near East as early as the fourth millennium B.C.

The bull motif is quite common in Near Eastern iconography as a symbol of power and fertility; a similar bronze bull figurine was previously found in a temple at Hazor. The Bull Site figurine may have been a votive offering, or it may have been worshipped as a deity itself, but its size, its inlaid eyes and its careful manufacture suggest the latter possibility, in Mazar’s opinion.

Inspired by the discovery of this figurine, Mazar conducted an archaeological survey of the ridge, which revealed a wall of large fieldstones enclosing an elliptical area about 70 feet in diameter. According to Mazar, these are the remains of an open-air cult site. Overlooking the ancient road between the Biblical towns of Dothan and Tirzah, the site stands at the center of a cluster of small settlements, probably located in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Manasseh, dating to Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.). Although no settlement remains were discovered at the Bull Site, potsherds found there have been dated to Iron I A (about 1200 B.C.).

Within the enclosure, Mazar found a 4-foot-long, 3-foot-high, slightly worked boulder standing beside a pavement of flat stones. He regards this as a massebah (standing stone) or altar. Michael Coogan, as the accompanying article observes, questions this conclusion. The discovery nearby of a folded, flat sheet of bronze helped to authenticate the bronze bull by showing that bronze could resist corrosion in the site’s terra rosa soil. Other finds at the site included a piece from an object that Mazar believes may have been an incense burner or similar cult object and some animal bones, which Mazar suggests could be the remains of sacrificial animals.