The latest artifact unearthed from the joint Azusa Pacific University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeological site of Tel Abel Beth Maacah in Northern Israel went on display this week at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In an exhibit located adjacent to the famous “House of David” inscription from Tel Dan, a small faience head dating from the late Iron Age IIA (9th century BC) rotates slowly on a motorized base, enabling visitors to view its details and ponder its mysterious origin.
According to Robert Mullins, Ph.D., lead archaeologist at Abel Beth Maacah and chair and professor in Azusa Pacific’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, the head measures 2.2 x 2 inches and has carefully executed features, including glossy black tresses combed back from a headband painted in yellow and black and a manicured beard. His almond-shaped eyes and pupils are lined in black and the pursed lips give him a look that is part pensive, part stern. The glazed surface is tinted light green due to the addition of copper to the quartz paste. Its elegant style indicates that the man was a distinguished personage, probably a king. By all appearances, the head appears to have broken off from the body of a figurine that stood 8-10 inches high.
“Despite the head’s small and innocuous appearance, it provides us with a unique opportunity to gaze into the eyes of a famous person from the past; a past enshrined in the Book of Ages,” said Mullins. “Given that the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts the likes of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. The head represents a royal enigma.”
The ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah, mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, continues to yield exciting discoveries. In July 2017, high up on the summit of Abel Beth Maacah, Mullins and his team were excavating the remains of what could be an ancient citadel from the time of the Israelite kings. One room contained evidence of metallurgical activity. Another yielded an elaborately decorated Phoenician storage vessel. In the easternmost room, Mario Tobia, an engineering student from Jerusalem, picked up a small 2-inch square “dirt clod” that disguised this mysterious head.
Details about the figurine head and its discovery were recently presented to the Israeli archaeological community at the 44th Annual Archaeological Congress at Ben Gurion University of the Negev by Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A more detailed article about the head and the current excavations at Abel Beth Maacah will appear in the June issue of the professional journal, Near Eastern Archaeology. The dig is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
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