Faculty Makes Significant Discovery at Israel Dig Site

by University Relations

Archaeologist Robert Mullins, Ph.D., professor of biblical studies, and his team unearthed a stone seal dating back approximately 3,000 years. Last summer, Mullins continued his ongoing partnership with codirector Nava Panitz-Cohen, Ph.D., from the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University, and their team of archaeologists and scholars exploring Abel Beth Maacah, a 35-acre tel at the northernmost border of present-day Israel. They believe this most recent discovery, an oval-shaped stone seal engraved with a motif of three figures holding up their hands, represents a ritual dance scene.

Mullins explained that ritual symbolic behavior and cultural traditions are among the most elusive categories of ancient life for the archaeologist to fathom. While the scene on the Abel Beth Maacah seal can be interpreted in different ways, it likely represents a dance, related perhaps to fertility, military victory, mourning, or divine protection. The small, yet meaningful, artifact helps construct an understanding of this important biblical site.

Similar scenes are known at other sites in Israel and Syria from the 10th-9th centuries BC. Scribes used these seals to impress the carved image into a soft lump of clay placed on the string tie of a rolled papyrus document. Personal letters, diplomatic correspondence, and even Scripture (Jeremiah 36) were maintained in this fashion. Chronologically, this stone seal dates from the reign of King David (2 Samuel 20:10-22) to the destruction of Abel Beth Maacah by the Aramean King Ben-Hadad (1 Kings 15:20).

APU’s dig at Abel Beth Maacah has uncovered other treasures as well, including a clay jug containing silver earrings and ingots in 2014. Mullins, along with several APU students, will rejoin Panitz-Cohen and teams from other partner schools, including Cornell University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Indiana Wesleyan University, the University of Arizona, and The Pillar Seminary, next summer to resume the dig.

Originally published in the Winter '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.