|Archaeologists unearth 8th century B.C.E. seal in Galilee|
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Archaeologists unearth 8th century B.C.E. seal in Galilee
Archaeologists have unanswered questions about intriguing seal from Assyrian King Sargon II’s rule, ancient ring made of carnelian stone.
By Eli Ashkenazi | Apr. 28, 2014
Two archaeological findings dug up at the Omrit site in the northern Galilee have fascinated Israeli archaeologists. The first is a seal dating back to the eighth century B.C.E., and the second is an orange ring, apparently from the Middle Ages. Both artifacts were found in 2012, but only recently have archaeologists concluded their research into the findings. There remain some answered questions regarding both pieces, however.
Both artifacts were found at a site near Kfar Szold. Digging at the site over the last 25 years has uncovered three different temples, built one within the other. The innermost part contains the most ancient temple, dated to the year 40 B.C.E. In the middle is a shrine dated to the time of Herod, around 20 B.C.E. Some believe that it is one of three temples Herod built in honor of Emperor Augustus, along with two others in Caesarea and Tiberias. The third, later, temple dates back to the first century C.E. Over the last 15 years, the dig has been conducted by archaeology students from two United States colleges, Macalester and Carthage.
The seal, the older of the two artifacts, was found behind the wall of the earliest shrine, within a layer of filler between an internal and external wall. Archaeologists are unaware of how the seal ended up at the site, as the temple was built roughly 700 years before the seal was created. The layer of filler also contained small glass tools and other objects which were apparently taken out of the temple during construction.
Prof. Ziona Grossmark of Tel-Hai Academic College in northern Israel conducted research on the seal, along with Baruch Brendl from the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The seal depicts a battle between a winged figure and a bull standing on its hind legs,” says Grossmark, adding that “comparative research allows us to date it to the time of Sargon II, an Assyrian king who ruled between 722 and 705 B.C.E. and completed the conquest of ancient Israel. The seal was apparently brought to Israel by one of his subjects. What happened to the seal after that remains a mystery, but ancient seals like this one are very rare − only a few of this nature have been found in remains from the Roman period, mostly in graves and temples."
According to Grossmark, “the seal was a means of identifying its owners, similar to a modern ID card. Seals were in use in the Galilee from the third millennium B.C.E. until about the fifth century B.C.E. They were used mostly during the period during which clay tablets were used for writing, until the introduction of papyrus or leather scrolls. Some say that in later periods, seals were still significant, but they were not used for their original purposes.”
The seal discovered was perfectly preserved, and is still in the process of research and cataloguing. Grossmark says that for archaeologists and historians, it is one of the most beautiful seals ever found.
The other, equally interesting artifact, is an ancient ring made of carnelian stone, a gem with a strong red-orange hue, dated back to the Middle Ages. It was found in the ruins of a Muslim settlement in the area, from the 12th or 13th century C.E. “It’s a rather extraordinary ring in terms of design, quality and value. It’s incredible − almost perfect,” says Grossmark. “It has been preserved extraordinarily well, and attests to the commercial ties that existed in the Middle Ages between Omrit and foreign markets across the sea.”
Similar rings located in museums and private collections throughout the world are dated to the 16th or 17th century C.E., and their origins are unclear.
Grossman has conducted research into similar ancient rings found along trade routes spanning from mines in northwest India, through the port of Ras al-Khaimah in the Persian Gulf, to Middle Eastern ports. The small village of Omrit was located on the road between Damascus and the ports of Tyre and Sidon.
Grossmark added that “later versions of rings such as these were very common in jewelry worn by Tuareg tribes in western Africa. Finding a ring like this in a purely archaeological context adds to information we’ve already uncovered about such rings, pushing back their dates of origin to the Middle Ages, and also teaches about connections between Omrit and the outside world during that time.”
Like the seal, the stone also gives rise to many questions. Grossmark says that towards the end of the Crusader period, settlement in the area was “very thin, and finding such a ring from that period is not to be taken for granted.” Both artifacts will be on display at an annual archeological conference at Tel-Hai College later this month.
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