Tour guide discovered 3,000-year-old scarab while leading eighth graders
It is not every day you discover a Bronze Age scarab completely by accident. Yet this is exactly what happened to Gilad Stern while he was leading a field trip of eighth graders near Tel Aviv. Designed in the shape of the common dung beetle with a carved scene on the bottom, this small piece of glazed faience would have been used as a stamp seal thousands of years ago.
Stern, who is a guide with the Education Center of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), remarked: “At first, I thought it was a toy lying in the dirt, but an inner voice said to me: ‘Pick it up and turn it over!’ I was astonished! It was a scarab seal with a clearly inscribed scene—every archaeology lover’s dream!” At the time of the discovery, Stern was leading a tour of eighth graders in the small town of Azor, 4 miles southeast of Tel Aviv. The trip was a part of a new IAA project to get young children more engaged with archaeology and cultural heritage in and around their own neighborhoods.
The town of Azor, in central Israel, has ancient roots, with a central mound dating back to at least the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–12000 BCE) and a 900-year-old Crusader fortress. Despite the site’s deep history, it remains uncertain how the scarab popped up near a modern walking path, although scholars from the IAA suggest that it was likely dropped or buried in the area in antiquity and only recently worked its way to the surface through erosion.
The lack of a clear archaeological context doesn’t allow for a firm dating of the scarab, although a study of the object suggests that it likely dates to the Late Bronze Age. The small seal, carved onto the scarab’s flat bottom, depicts a figure seated in a chair opposite a standing figure with an upraised arm. The standing figure is wearing a hat, which might be the crown of an Egyptian pharaoh. The scene possibly depicts power being bestowed upon a local ruler.
“This scene basically reflects the geopolitical reality that prevailed in the land of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age, when the local Canaanite rulers lived under Egyptian political and cultural hegemony,” says Amir Golani, Bronze Age specialist for the IAA. “The scarab was used as a seal and was a symbol of power and status. It may have been placed on a necklace or a ring. It is made of faience, a silicate material coated with a bluish-green glaze.”
While scarab seals are distinctly Egyptian, due to the spread of Egyptian culture at various points in history, they can be found far outside Egypt’s borders. Hundreds have been discovered in Israel over the years. Many of the scarabs found in Israel were imported from Egypt, while others were the work of local craftsmen trying to copy the Egyptian style. According to the IAA, this particular scarab seal was likely a local production due to its lower level of workmanship.
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