The heavy rains of the past month have revealed two beautiful clay figurines of horses in northern Israel. The figurines were found by different citizens: one— from the time of the Kingdom of Israel (about 2,800 years old)—was found in the area of Kfar Ruppin in the Beit Shean Valley; the other—dated to the Hellenistic period, some 2,200 years ago—near Tel Akko.
The figurines were handed over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which will honor their finders with a certificate of good citizenship.
“On a recent weekend, I went with my daughters Hadas and Maya to collect mushrooms in the area of Kfar Ruppin,” recalls Ayelet Kedar-Goldberg, who happens to work as archaeologist for the IAA. “We found no mushrooms, but I suddenly saw my daughters picking up this beautiful statuette from the ground. I immediately recognized it was an ancient figurine from the Iron Age – the period of the Kingdom of Israel.”
“We were very excited,” she said. “This is a fascinating and spectacular find!”
According to Dr. Adi Erlich of the University of Haifa, “horse figurines were common in the Land of Israel in the first millennium BCE (the Iron Age), when the use of horses was greatly increased, especially for mobility. We find written testimony to this in the Bible as well, for example, in the story of the exodus from Egypt where the chariots of Pharaoh and his legions are mentioned; and in the war of Barak and Deborah against Sisera, when the heavy iron chariots of the Canaanite general’s army drowned in the mud.”
During this period, the horses were carved both with and without riders. Since the Persian period, horses were almost always accompanied by horsemen riding them.”
Dr. Erlich added that “the horses appeared as figurines, or as vessels shaped like a horse.”
“It should be noted that in our region, almost only men were depicted in figurines as riding horses, while women were carved in the context of fertility, motherhood, and sexuality, which attests to gender roles in society during the Iron Age,” Erlich said.
The figurine found by the girls and their mother in the area of Kfar Ruppin depicts a horse’s head, with the rider’s hand visible on the neck. It is characteristic of the second Iron Age (especially the 9th-7th centuries BCE), as evidenced by the object’s style, and the red stripes that adorn it and depict the reins and harness.
The horse’s eyes, mane—shaped in carved stripes, ears, and the rider’s left hand, holding the horse and painted red, were added extensions.
The second horse figurine was uncovered by Michael Markin, a resident of Akko who traveled the ancient tel in the city. It dates to the Hellenistic period (3rd to 2nd centuries BCE). Attached to this horse were extensions depicting the harness, ears, and red-colored mane. The body of the horse did not survive, but according to Dr. Erlich, most of the horses known from this period appear with riders on their backs.
According to Nir Distelfeld, the inspector of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s theft prevention unit, “the heavy rains that fall on the ground occasionally reveal archival findings that are close to the surface. Sometimes animals, such as porcupines and foxes, push up ancient artifacts that were buried deep underground.”
“We call on citizens to help complete the historical puzzle belonging to all of us, and report when they find ancient artifacts,” Distelfeld said. “It is important to provide as accurate a report as possible about the location of the finds in real-time, so that we can extract the archaeological information from the site,” he added.
“The Israel Antiquities Authority will award a certificate of appreciation to the good citizens who handed the statuettes to the state treasures. Thanks to them, the public will be able to enjoy the findings after they are studied.”