A few weeks ago, Zvi Ben-David, 11, from Beer Sheva was on a family trip to Nahal HaBesor when he spotted an unusual object: a clay figurine of a woman. His mother, Miriam Ben-David, a professional tour guide, realized that it was an important ancient find and contacted Oren Shmueli, district archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority in the western Negev.
Oren met Zvi and his family in a neighborhood park where they handed him the figurine, which will now be researched and kept in the National Treasures collection, and Zvi was awarded a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
According to Shmueli and the curator of the Iron Age and Persian periods in the Israel Antiquities Authority Debbie Ben Ami, “the figurine that Zvi discovered is rare and only one such example exists in the National Treasures collection. It was probably used in the sixth–fifth centuries BCE, at the end of the Iron Age, or in the Persian period (550 to 330 BCE). The figurine, 7 cm high and 6 cm wide, was made in a mold and shows a woman with a scarf covering her head and neck, schematic facial features, and a prominent nose. The woman is bare-breasted and her hands are folded under her chest.”
Shmueli and Ben-Ami explained that “clay figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era. They were common in the home and everyday life, like today’s palm-shaped hamsa amulet, and served to ensure protection, good luck, and prosperity. We must bear in mind that in antiquity, the 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.”
The figurine is being studied by Shmueli and Ben-Ami at the National Treasures collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Raz Kletter from the University of Helsinki in Finland.
The archaeologists noted cheerfully that “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.”