An Iron Age Royal at Abel Beth Maacah?

Highly crafted figurine may depict a dignitary, elite person, or even a king

abel-beth-maacah-figurine

This 3,000-year-old faience head was unearthed at Abel Beth Maacah. Who does the figurine portray? Photo: Gabi Laron, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Conservation: Mimi Lavi, Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Proposed by archaeologists to be the capital of the Aramean kingdom of Maacah from the Bible (Joshua 12:5; 2 Samuel 10:6, 8), the site of Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel sits at the ancient crossroads where Israel, Phoenicia, and Syria met. Excavations conducted in a joint partnership between Azusa Pacific University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have revealed exciting finds since the project’s first season in 2013, including a precious hoard of silver pieces dating to the Late Bronze Age—among the earliest ever uncovered in Canaan.

Recently the Abel Beth Maacah project, led by Robert Mullins, Naama Yahalom-Mack, and Nava Panitz-Cohen, announced the discovery of a ninth-century B.C.E. faience head that may represent an important figure in the Iron Age—a dignitary, elite person, or even a king. The head measures 2.2 x 2 inches and depicts a bearded man with long hair secured by a yellow and black striped headband. The figurine is believed to have originally been 8–10 inches in height. Its faience composition is of special interest.

“Faience is made of quartz, with an addition of salts and mineral-based colorants,” explained dig co-director Naama Yahalom-Mack in an email to Bible History Daily. “When heated, a colored glaze is formed on the surface. It’s more similar to glass than to ceramics.”

Dig co-director Nava Panitz-Cohen told Bible History Daily that the Abel Beth Maacah team consulted with ancient Near Eastern art specialists, including Annie Caubet, Marian Feldman, and Irit Ziffer, and concluded that the expertly-crafted faience figurine portrays a historical individual rather than a deity or a mass-produced image of a generic person. The figurine was found on the floor of a massive building that Panitz-Cohen says may be a citadel similar to one at nearby Hazor, which could provide clues as to the identity of the person depicted.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

What was going on geopolitically during this period may also provide some clues.

“The northern part of the Hula Valley [where Abel Beth Maacah is located] was an area of contention during the ninth century B.C.E., as we learn from the Tel Dan inscription and other sources,” said Panitz-Cohen. “The Israelite kingdom and the kingdom of Aram-Damascus vied for its control, and there is an ongoing debate as to [Maacah’s] political affiliation. We can also add the Phoenicians to this scenario, certainly in light of their commercial interests in this region, which was an outlet to the Jordan Valley.”

“So, if we surmise that the head depicts a dignitary, elite person, or perhaps even royalty, we look at who were the historical figures at that time,” explained Panitz-Cohen. “Candidates include Ahab and Jehu from the Israelite side, Hadadezer and Hazael from the Aramean side, and Ithobaal from the Phoenicians.”

digs 2018-13

Beards remain in style at Abel Beth Maacah even after 3,000 years. Bearded volunteer Mario Tobia, an engineering student in Jerusalem, was the one who discovered the bearded faience head in the excavation. This image appeared in the January/February 2018 “Dig issue” of BAR. Photo: Robert Mullins.

The Abel Beth Maacah team will continue to study this figurine by examining Assyrian, Phoenician, and Egyptian iconography and artistic depictions across different forms of art and by considering the cultural and political events of the period.

In the meantime, this unique Iron Age figurine is now on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, near the famous Tel Dan inscription that contains the first extra-Biblical reference to King David.

“We all know that the figurative art of the Iron Age is rather poor, and this fantastic figure is a significant addition to my gallery,” said Eran Arie, Frieder Burda Curator of Iron Age and Persian Periods at the Israel Museum, in an email to Bible History Daily. “I believe that a rare combination of aspects (its title and identification, its high aesthetics, and its perfect state of preservation) will make this find an (ancient) icon, and thus its natural place is in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.”

Watch a video courtesy of Azusa Pacific University showing the Abel Beth Maacah figurine on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

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?

Silver Hoard from Abel Beth Maacah Illuminates Biblical Border Town
 


 

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  • DENNIS says

    A more understandable explanation of faience is here:
    https://www.ancient.eu/Faience/

  • Rob says

    Fusing quartz into glass must take a very high temperature, and thus be quite a challenge for earlier technicians. This comes into the arts/skills class of occupation. Did they use bellows and charcoal for this?


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