An ancient scarab from around 3,000 years ago was discovered during a school field tour in Azor, some 7 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv. The scene depicted on the scarab probably bestows legitimacy on a local ruler.
“We were wandering around when I saw something that looked like a small toy on the ground,” said Gilad Stern of the Israel Antiquity Authority Educational Center, who was leading the tour. “An inner voice said to me: ‘Pick it up and turn it over.’ I was astonished: it was a scarab with a clearly incised scene, the dream of every amateur archaeologist. The students were so excited!”
The tour of eighth-graders from the Rabin Middle School in Azor, Tel Aviv, was organized by the IAA for the third year in a row, teaching the students about their local archaeological heritage.
The scarab was designed in the shape of the common dung beetle. The ancient Egyptians admired the little beetle which rolls a ball of dung twice its size inside which it stows its future offspring. They saw it as the embodiment of creation and regeneration.
According to Dr. Amir Golani, an IAA specialist on the Bronze Age, “the scarab was used as a seal and was a symbol of power and status. It may have been placed on a necklace or a ring. It is made of faience, a silicate material coated with a bluish-green glaze. It may have dropped from the hands of an important authority figure who passed through the area, or it may have been deliberately buried in the ground along with other objects, and after thousands of years, came to the surface. It’s difficult to determine the exact origin.”
In the lower, flat part of the scarab seal, a figure is depicted sitting on a chair, and in front of it is a standing figure, whose arm is raised above that of the seated person. The standing figure has an elongated head, which appears to represent the crown of an Egyptian pharaoh, and we may be seeing here a snapshot of a scene wherein the Egyptian Pharaoh is conferring authority to a local Canaanite subject.
“This scene reflects the geopolitical reality that prevailed in the land of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500-1000 BCE) when the local Canaanite rulers lived (and sometimes rebelled) under Egyptian political and cultural hegemony,” says Dr. Golani. “Therefore, it is very possible that the seal is indeed from the Late Bronze Age when the local Canaanites were ruled by the Egyptian Empire.
Scarab seals are distinctly Egyptian, but their wide distribution also reached far outside Egypt. Hundreds of scarabs have been discovered in the Land of Israel, mainly in graves, but also in settlement layers. Some of them were imported from Egypt, many more were imitated in Israel by local artisans under Egyptian influence. The level of workmanship of this particular scarab is not typical for Egypt and may represent a product of local craftsmen.
The close cooperation between the IAA and the Azor Municipality and its education department and schools has led to the recent opening of a local museum, exhibiting the archaeological story of Azor.