Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David
Persian period clay jar fragment depicting human face

In honor of Purim, a fragment of a clay jar decorated with a human face of which two wide open eyes, a nose, one ear and a small section of the corner of the mouth survived, was revealed to the public.

The shard, dated to the Persian period (4th – 5th centuries BCE), was discovered in archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the Givati ​​Parking Lot excavation site of the City of David, in a large refuse pit that contained numerous other pottery fragments, all dated to the Persian period.

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According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of TAU and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of IAA, “pottery from this period was excavated in the past in the City of David, but this is the first time that such a vessel has been found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem or anywhere in the Judaean highlands.”

Persian period clay jar fragment depicting human face / Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

These jars are called “Bes-Vessels” and were very common during the Persian period. In Egyptian mythology, Bes is the protector deity of households, especially mothers, women in childbirth, and children. Over time, he became the defender of everything good. He also became associated with music and dancing. His figure adorned the walls of houses and various vessels, household objects and mirrors, and was worn as an amulet around the neck.

Bes usually appears as a bearded dwarf wearing a feather hat, with a large face, protruding eyes, with his tongue sticking out. This grotesque figure is apparently intended to evoke joy and laughter and drive away evil spirits.

The figure of Bes as a protector was apparently adopted by the Phoenicians, and many such amulets and Bes vessels have been found in numerous Persian period settlements along the Mediterranean coast. Such vessels and amulets were also found in Persia itself, in Shushan and Persepolis.

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