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ARCHAEOLOGY

Israeli boy discovers figurine from biblical-era during trip to in northern Negev

Figurine is an amulet believed to protect children or increase fertility, say archaeologists

Zvi Ben-David holding the figurine and a certificate of appreciation. (Photo: Oren Shmueli/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

Zvi Ben-David, an 11 year old from Beersheva, was on a family excursion to Nahal HaBesor in the northern Negev Desert when he noticed an unusual object - a clay figurine of a woman.

His mother, Miriam Ben-David – a professional tour guide – recognized the pottery was an important find and contacted Oren Shmueli, district archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The statuette was delivered to the National Treasures collection and is currently being studied by Shmueli and Debi Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority, head curator of the Iron Age and Persian periods, in collaboration with Researcher Raz Kletter from the University of Helsinki – Finland.

“The figurine that Zvi discovered is rare and only one such example exists in the National Treasures collection. It was probably used in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, at the end of the Iron Age or in the Persian period (the late First Temple period or the return to Zion)," according to Shmueli and Ben-Ami. "The figurine, 7 cm high and 6 cm wide, was made in a mold. It shows a woman with a scarf covering her head and neck, schematic facial features and a prominent nose. The woman is bare-breasted and her hands are folded under her chest.”

The pottery figurine. (Photo: Yevgeny Ostrovsky/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

Shmueli and Ben-Ami explained: “Pottery figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era. They were common in the home and in everyday life, like the hamsa today, and apparently served as amulets to ensure protection, good luck and prosperity. We must bear in mind that in antiquity, medical understanding was rudimentary. Infant mortality was very high and about a third of those born did not survive. There was little understanding of hygiene, and fertility treatment was naturally non-existent. In the absence of advanced medicine, amulets provided hope and an important way of appealing for aid.”

The archaeologists commended Zvi.

“The exemplary citizenship of young Zvi Ben-David will enable us to improve our understanding of cultic practices in biblical times and man’s inherent need for material human personifications.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority awarded Zvi a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship. The figurine will be researched and then placed with other similar artifacts in the National Treasures collection.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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