BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Prehistoric Ivory Jar Found Near Be’er Sheva

Indicates early connections between Africa and the Levant

The Horbat-Raqiq ivory jar from 6,000 years ago, reconstructed. Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Painstakingly reconstructed, the ivory jar from 6,000 years ago is a testimony to fine artisanship and long-distance trade. Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

It was the last day of the 2020 excavation season for the archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovering the site of Horbat Raqiq near Be’er Sheva. As they were taking final measurements, an edge of a basalt vessel protruding from the ground caught their attention. As many could attest, fascinating discoveries tend to happen at the very last moment. This time was no different, as the IAA detailed in media outlets last week.


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When archaeologists fully excavated the area, they found three large bowls made of basalt positioned in such a way that one was nestled in another, while a third was turned over to rest on top of the two like a cover. This arrangement was surely intentional. Under the improvised lid was a pile of dirt with little pieces of ivory inside the middle bowl. It was only much later, in the lab, that specialists in ancient vessels and materials fully appreciated the value of the find.

Three large basalt bowls at Horbat Raqiq, near Be’er Sheva, shielding a broken ivory jar. Davida Dagan, Israel Antiquities Authority

Three large basalt bowls at Horbat Raqiq, near Be’er Sheva, shielding a broken ivory jar. Davida Dagan, Israel Antiquities Authority.

It turns out the shattered pieces were elephant tusk ivory. Through a tedious process of cleaning and matching the many fragments, specialists were able to determine that they belonged to a small jar. At about 6,000 years old, this jar dates to the prehistoric period called the Chalcolithic, which in the southern Levant lasted from the end of fifth through most of the fourth millennium BCE. This is the first time a Chalcolithic ivory vessel has been found in Israel. The specific type of jar is known as an amphoriskos and was used for storing ointments and perfumes. It measures about 8 inches tall, and there are four small holes drilled symmetrically on the outside to function as handles: Two at the neck and two at the base.

Fragments of ivory vessel from Horbat-Raqiq. Ianir Milevski, Israel Antiquities Authority

Prior to restoration, the ivory jar was an unsightly pile of scraps. Ianir Milevski, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ivory jar was apparently broken already in antiquity. Why? And why was it subsequently deposited with such care? Usually, when a statue, figurine, or vessel is found broken and buried, scholars assume it was for ceremonial reasons—either as a foundation deposit or to ritually discard a religious item. Specialists with the IAA, therefore, suspect this jar points to cultic ceremonial activities at the site and that we’re dealing here with a cultic deposit. “From the manner in which the bowls were arranged, the ivory vessel, which was broken already in antiquity, was clearly interred in a deliberate fashion—which would seem to attest to the importance attributed to it,” concluded Dr. Ianir Milevski, former head of the IAA prehistoric branch.

This recently reconstructed ivory jar attests to exchange between the southern Levant and Africa already around 4000 BCE. However, several questions remain. Was the jar imported to Horbat Raqiq or was it made locally, from an elephant tusk that had been brought in as raw material? Biomolecular analyses, scheduled to follow the initial examination of the artifact, might determine the origin of the ivory by analyzing the elephant’s diet.

 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

 

Tel Be’er Sheva, City of the Patriarchs 

Ivory Riches from First Temple Jerusalem

Neolithic Water Well Excavated Off Levantine Coast

Jewish City Discovered Near Be’er Sheva

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:


Horned Altar for Animal Sacrifice Unearthed at Beer-Sheva

Yigael Yadin Finds a Bama at Beer-Sheva

Beer-Sheva Excavator Blasts Yadin—No Bama at Beer-Sheba

Yadin Answers Beer-Sheva Excavator—Reply to Rainey’s “No Bama at Beer-Sheva”

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.
 

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1 Responses

  1. Dan Reilly says:

    With respect to the brief article above titled, “Prehistoric Ivory Jar Found Near Be’er Sheva Indicates early connections between Africa and the Levant”, the find of a neo-lithic ivory object need not indicate trade with Africa. The writer of the title may not be aware that elepants were indigenous to SW Asia as well. A 2019 article titled, “The ancient Asian elephant of Turkey … Does it have regional features?” in “Quaternary Science Reviews 218 (2019) 189-199” states, “Although today the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, exists in a number of fragmented and isolated populations in south and southeast Asia, its historical range was extended westwards as far as Iraq. … The elephants in Tigris-Euphrates region, sometimes referred to as E. maximus asurus, had died out during the first half of the first millennium BCE.” The site of the discovery of ancient elephant remains is apprx 30 km south of Kahramanmaraş, Turkey (near Türkoğlu). This site is less than 1000km north of Jerusalem. SW Asian Elephants probably ranged as far south as ancient Canaan. This ivory object need not have been fashioned from imported ivory at all.

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1 Responses

  1. Dan Reilly says:

    With respect to the brief article above titled, “Prehistoric Ivory Jar Found Near Be’er Sheva Indicates early connections between Africa and the Levant”, the find of a neo-lithic ivory object need not indicate trade with Africa. The writer of the title may not be aware that elepants were indigenous to SW Asia as well. A 2019 article titled, “The ancient Asian elephant of Turkey … Does it have regional features?” in “Quaternary Science Reviews 218 (2019) 189-199” states, “Although today the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, exists in a number of fragmented and isolated populations in south and southeast Asia, its historical range was extended westwards as far as Iraq. … The elephants in Tigris-Euphrates region, sometimes referred to as E. maximus asurus, had died out during the first half of the first millennium BCE.” The site of the discovery of ancient elephant remains is apprx 30 km south of Kahramanmaraş, Turkey (near Türkoğlu). This site is less than 1000km north of Jerusalem. SW Asian Elephants probably ranged as far south as ancient Canaan. This ivory object need not have been fashioned from imported ivory at all.

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