Silver Hoard from Abel Beth Maacah Illuminates Biblical Border Town

The thrilling discovery at Abel Beth Maacah

“It was one of those rare moments that every archaeologist dreams about,” write Abel Beth Maacah dig staff Nava Panitz-Cohen, Robert Mullins and Naama Yahalom-Mack and conservator Miriam Lavi in their Archaeological Views column “A Silver Lining at Abel Beth Maacah” in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. In the column, the authors describe the excitement around the discovery of a Late Bronze Age silver hoard, one of the earliest ever found in Canaan.

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The Late Bronze Age silver hoard discovered at Abel Beth Maacah contains, among other pieces, silver hoop earrings and an ingot in the shape of the continent of Africa. Photo: Gabi Laron.

Tell Abil el-Qameh, identified as the Biblical town Abel Beth Maacah (2 Samuel 20: 14ff; 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29), is a site in northern Israel situated at the border between the ancient polities of Israel, Aram and Phoenicia. Excavations at Abel Beth Maacah have been conducted since 2013 under the direction of Robert Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen. That inaugural season proved to be very fruitful.

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Found in a complete jug, the silver hoard of Abel Beth Maacah, pictured here before undergoing conservation work to separate the silver pieces, is one of the earliest discovered in Canaan. Photo: Gabi Laron.

Found inside a small, mostly complete ceramic jug dating to the 13th century B.C.E. was an earth-packed silver cache that had been fused together by corrosion. Working at the Conservation Lab of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, coauthor Miriam Lavi used a diluted acid solution to carefully separate and reconstruct the silver pieces. The hoard, as it turned out, comprised 12 silver pieces, including earrings, an ingot in the shape of the continent of Africa and a fragment of hack-silber.

“The last two items were especially intriguing,” the BAR authors explain, “as they potentially represent two important aspects of silver hoards in antiquity: the manufacture of silver items from ingots made by pouring molten silver onto a flat surface and then cutting the silver into pieces, so it could be used as a means of payment in the pre-coinage economy that existed in Canaan at that time.”

The hoard raises many important questions about the people of Abel Beth Maacah and their technological capabilities and trade relations. That the jug containing the silver hoard was uncovered sitting on a floor against a wall with no evidence of violent disturbance suggests that the hoard was deposited by choice and not in an emergency situation. But why? And from where did the silver originate? Who were the metalworkers?

These are some of the questions asked by the authors. Some answers emerged through chemical and lead isotope analyses conducted by Abel Beth Maacah archaeometallurgist Naama Yahalom-Mack of the Institute of Earth Sciences of the Hebrew University. There is, however, still much more to be learned from the silver hoard.

To learn more about the silver hoard from Abel Beth Maacah and its significance, read the full Archaeological Views column “A Silver Lining at Abel Beth Maacah” by Nava Panitz-Cohen, Robert Mullins, Naama Yahalom-Mack and Miriam Lavi as it appears in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full Archaeological Views column “A Silver Lining at Abel Beth Maacah” by Nava Panitz-Cohen, Robert Mullins, Naama Yahalom-Mack and Miriam Lavi in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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More on Abel Beth Maacah in Bible History Daily:

Abel Beth Maacah in the Bible

Gender in Archaeology at Abel Beth Maacah

Were There Arameans at Abel Beth Maacah?

Abel Beth Maacah Excavations Uncover Silver Hoard at an Ancient Crossroads
 


 

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6 Responses

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  1. jeff says

    “an ingot in the shape of the continent of Africa”??? Just one problem: No one in the Bronze Age knew the shape of Africa.

  2. liz says

    Omg I was saying that same thing out loud as I scrolled down & bingo there’s your comment!!!! How did they shape that without an aerial view?? Things that make u go HMMMM !!!!

  3. jeff says

    Well, obviously, Liz, unless you go the Erich von Daniken route, it’s just coincidental. Maybe it was originally some other shape and got battered into this shape.

  4. bonnie says

    For that matter, how were the Nazca lines made, as the shapes had to be seen from above to recogize.

  5. Rob says

    How did they know the shape of Africa at that time without elaborate surveying? Were photomaps brought by the people in the saucers? Earlier China explored the earth by sea; were the Chinese the surveyors?

  6. Octavian says

    yeah, the Arfica shape… Phoenicians traveled down the West coast of Africa, definitely as far as the Guinea coast. Herodotus said the Phoenicians originated from the Red Sea area (he was a notorious story teller though), but that would explain some knowledge of East Africa, but to actually circumnavigate Africa, taking notes and comparing them with other Arfica note-takers and developing such a clear picture of the geography. All this taking place in an era when really, only the Phoenicians had a written phonetic alphabet. It is compelling evidence that a huge ‘thing’ was going on with long distance sea travel that history barely even hints at.


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