Photo Credit: Argita German-Levanon, the National Laboratory for Documentation and Digital Research in Archaeology, Israel Antiquities Authority.
Three-dimensional photograph of the Beit She'an busts

Two Roman busts were found in early in December near the Beit She’an in northern Israel, thanks to an alert local resident who was hiking north of the ancient city when she spotted the top of one of the busts’ heads sticking out of the ground.

The woman and her husband called the Israel Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Unit, and inspectors were quickly sent to the site. Together, they unearthed the first bust and as they worked, they found another one right next to it.

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The busts, which date to the Late Roman period (3rd–4th centuries CE), were taken to the IAA laboratories to protect from theft, study and preserve them.

According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the IAA Theft Prevention Unit, “these busts were made of local limestone and show unique facial features, details of clothing, and hairstyles. It seems that at least one of them depicts a bearded man.”

Busts like these were usually placed near or in a burial cave, and they may have represented the image of the deceased. Similar busts have been found in the past in the Beit She’an area and in northern Jordan, but not one of them resembles another, and that’s the importance of these finds,” Dr. Klein notes, adding, These busts are in the Oriental style, which shows that at the end of the Roman period the use of Classical art had subsided, and local trends came into vogue.”

Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Unit inspector, with the two busts. / Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to IAA Theft Prevention Unit inspector Nir Distelfeld, “it seems that the busts were exposed following the recent heavy rainfall in the area. These are very important finds, which tell us a great deal about the inhabitants of the Beth She’an area in antiquity.”

“We are grateful to the Beit She’an resident for her alertness and good citizenship. She will receive a certificate of appreciation. The discovery of the busts fills in another piece of the puzzle in our understanding of the material culture of the people of this land in the past. These finds belong to everyone in the country, and now we can all enjoy them and understand their historical context. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if these finds had gotten into the wrong hands. It’s important to note that heavy winter rains can bring other finds to the surface and we call on people to report them to us,” Distelfeld said.

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