The Thinker from Yehud

Through January 1, 2021
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Millennia later, and still thinking … Sitting atop a ceramic jug in silent reflection, this figurine has been known as the “Thinker from Yehud.” It was discovered in 2016 during salvage excavations in the Israeli city of Yehud just north of Ben Gurion Airport, some 8 miles east of Tel Aviv. Coming from a Middle Bronze Age II (c. 1800–1600 B.C.E.) tomb, where it was accompanied by three daggers, two spearheads, an axe head, and a knife, it belonged to the funerary equipment of a warrior. In the same tomb, archaeologists also found two male sheep and a donkey, apparently buried as offerings.

Following its widely reported discovery, the broken jug had to be stabilized and restored. It is now finally on display in the Canaanite Galleries of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The vessel is 7 inches tall, with a round, swollen body and a long neck constituting the figurine’s upper body: The spout runs through the “thinker’s” torso and ends with a round rim, which is the figure’s hat. As if deep in thought, the man rests his head on the right hand while his left arm is placed across the right knee.

Although extraordinary, this figurine is not the only or the oldest ancient “thinker,” as free-standing figurines of “thinkers” known from southern and eastern Europe date as early as Late Neolithic period—more than 7,000 years ago. As is likely the case with those European cousins, the gesture of this “thinker,” too, may not be reflective of a pensive state but should rather be interpreted as mourning. Found deposited with the inhumed warrior—whom it was supposed to accompany into the afterlife—the figurine probably represents a mourner, not a thinker.

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