Fertility figurine (Asherah?) found at Beth Shemesh

Fertility figurine (Asherah?) found at Beth Shemesh

An biblical archaeologist’s work in the field is not glamorous.  Excavating requires approaching a site (e.g. a “tel”) with the proper strategy, correct methodology, patience, and a lot of “good fortune” (e.g. luck).  Even a very skilled archaeologist can work in the field for years without finding something really “significant.”  This is what makes the following story so, so interesting and even “dramatic!” Let me start here with how the story unfolded.

Yesterday I received an email from my guide (Shlomo Ben Asher).  The email began with these words, “You are not going to believe this…”  I thought to myself. “What just happened?”  Shlomo proceeded to inform me of what took place.  He told me that two Saturdays ago while he was with a touring group at the biblical site of Beth Shemesh (located in the Shephelah / Lowlands of Judah), a very nice family came up to him.  In the hand of an 8 year old boy named Itai was a small clay head about 2 inches in size.  It had braids all around the head.  Shlomo then took this clay head and showed his group. He was asked if he thought it was real or fake.  Upon examining it further, he concluded it looked very real and authentic, and could very well be a major find (he would be proven very right… stay tuned!).  Shlomo then begged Itai and his family to take it to the Department of Antiquities for further analysis.

Itai and his big discovery!

Itai and his big discovery!

After almost 2 weeks of not hearing from the family, Shlomo finally heard on the radio that a certain “Ital Halperin, an 8 year old boy, found a clay head of a goddess of fertility (probably Asherah) at Tel Beit Shemesh…!” I think this is absolutely incredible!  Truth is, fertility heads and cultic figurines like this are things I show my groups only in the archaeological section of the Israel Museum.  But for an 8 year old kid who found it and Shlomo who handled it, I have to say it again… this is incredible!  The boy will be honored by the Department.

This small clay head figure dates to the 8th century BC.  This means it dates to about 2,800 years old.  It was found by Itai because the recent rains exposed it to be visible. Some suggest that heads like this were used in homes and were most likely made in a cast.  Unfortunately, these figurines represented the wide-spread disobedience of the Judean people at various stages of their history.

Probably what a full size figurine looked like (complements, Israel Museum)

Probably what a full size figurine looked like (complements, Israel Museum)

About this discovery by Itai, Alon de Groot (an expert in Iron Age archaeology), commented,
Figurines of this kind, depicting naked women which symbolize fertility, were common in the homes of residents of the Kingdom of Judah from the eighth century BCE until the destruction of the Kingdom by the Babylonians in the days of Zedekiah (586 BCE).

So Itai, you found something any professional archaeologist would only dream of finding!  Very nice job!  To be sure, the next time I take a group to Beth Shemesh, we’ll be sure to keep our eyes out for another great find like this!

You can read the entire article HERE.

 

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