I haven’t been able to share this before, as it was kept under wraps previously. We found a cool animal head at Khirbet Summeily! It’s made out of clay and I think it represents a lion, but because it’s not in the best state of preservation and the sculptor did not show any great detail, other people may see other animals in it.
The picture shows it being excavated. It was right next to what appears to be a Philistine cult stand and a large saddle quern.
Here’s the press release by Mississippi State University:
A team of archaeologists from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University and Purchase College SUNY has uncovered a sculpted animal head at a small village site in southern Israel. The head, which is either of a sheep or a lion, appears to be unique.
“We’ve shown this to several experts in Israel, and they say this is the first of the type they’ve seen,” says Rachel Hallote, Associate Professor of History at Purchase College SUNY. It was found on the floor of an ancient building together with many other artifacts, including a ceramic cult stand and a large grinding stone.
The find comes from Khirbet Summeily, a small village site in southern Israel dating to the 10th–8th centuries BCE, the time of the early kings of ancient Israel and Judah. The site sits right on the ancient border between the land of the Philistines and the biblical kingdom of Judah. The Bible tells of frequent conflict between the cities of the Philistines and the lands of Israel and Judah. But archaeological finds at Khirbet Summeily and other sites indicate that there was also more peaceful interaction across the borders. Fish bones found at many inland settlements suggest that fish was traded from the Philistines cities at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea to the towns and villages of Judah. At Khirbet Summeily most pottery was very similar to that found in other parts of ancient Judah, but some items suggest a connection with the Philistines. There might have been a steady exchange of goods and ideas.
The hope is that these excavations can shed more light on what life in the border region was like. “In popular culture the Philistines are seen as thuggish brutes,” says James Hardin, co-director of the excavation and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures at Mississippi State University. “But the truth is, they were a sophisticated people, with a well-developed culture and religion. We want to know if the Philistines controlled the small villages on the border, or if the region was within Judah’s sphere of control.”
The excavation team is using state of the art technologies to assist their understanding of the site. “Ground penetrating radar helped us determine the location of the initial excavation areas,” says Jeffrey Blakely, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-director of the expedition. “We use other techniques as well, such as paleomagnetism, and we’re particularly interested in the environment of the region and how it might have changed over the centuries.” Paleomagnetism can determine the date of burned soils and clays based on the changes in the earth’s magnetic field over time.
The team also uncovered the remains of several buildings, a cache of loomweights, stone figurines, and an Egyptian scarab.
Although the site has been known for years, it was during an archaeological survey of the larger region done by the Cobb Institute of Archaeology that the unique nature of the site was realized, as it is the only known village from that time in the entire area.
The Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University has long been involved in excavations in Israel. Its research associates have built up extensive knowledge of the history of the region, and their research has contributed to a better understanding of the past in this fascinating part of the world.
Many people would immediately conclude that the sculpted animal head is a cultic artifact. It could be, but does not have to be one. It probably had some symbolic significance and was not just a nice piece of art in the corner of the room. Would be cool if we found a depiction of the Lion of Judah, though!