2,500-year-old biblical ‘fertility amulet’ found by boy in the Negev

2,500-year-old biblical ‘fertility amulet’ found by boy in the Negev

A figurine dating back to the biblical period was found by chance by an 11-year-old on a family hike in the Negev, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.The artifact depicts a stylized bare-breast woman wearing a scarf with her hands folded under her chest and dates back to some 2,500 years ago, around the late First Temple period or the beginning of the Persian period, also known as the “Return to Zion.” According to IAA experts it probably served as an amulet for fertility and protection to infants.2,500 year old pottery figurine found in the northern Negev (Yevgeny Ostrovsky/Israel Antiquities Authority)“Pottery figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era,” Oren Shmueli and Debbie Ben Ami, IAA curators of the Iron Age and Persian periods, explained. “They were common in the home and in everyday life, like the hamsa today, and apparently served as amulets to ensure protection, good luck and prosperity. We must bear in mind that in antiquity, medical understanding was rudimentary. Infant mortality was very high and about a third of those born did not survive. There was little understanding of hygiene, and fertility treatment was naturally non-existent. In the absence of advanced medicine, amulets provided hope and an important way of appealing for aid.”Fertility gods were very common in ancient cultures. The Bible itself offers many testimonies of the influence that the neighboring populations had on the Israelites.The pottery figurine, about 7 cm high and 6 cm wide, was spotted by 11-year-old Zvi Ben-David from Beersheba was on family trip to Nahal HaBesor, a trail in southern Israel that follows the stream-bed of the Besor River.

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The boy’s mother, a professional tour-guide, understood the importance of the finding and alerted the IAA.Only one other similar figurine, also found in the northern Negev, is kept at the National Treasures collection.“The exemplary citizenship of young Zvi Ben-David will enable us to improve our understanding of cultic practices in biblical times, and man’s inherent need for material human personifications,” Shmueli and Ben-Ami pointed out.

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