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POST TIME: 10 June, 2018 12:02:39 PM
3,000-year-old sculpture leaves researchers scratching their heads
Exquisite Old Testament-era head of a king found in Israel but subject’s identity a mystery
Independent Online Desk

3,000-year-old sculpture leaves researchers scratching their heads

Photo: AP

An enigmatic sculpture of a king’s head dating back nearly 3,000 years has left researchers guessing at whose face it depicts.

The 5cm (two-inch) sculpture is an exceedingly rare example of figurative art from the region during the fourth century BC – a period associated with biblical kings. It is exquisitely preserved but for a bit of missing beard, and nothing quite like it has been found before.

While scholars are certain the stern-bearded figure wearing a golden crown represents royalty, they are less sure which king it symbolises, or which kingdom he may have ruled.Archaeologists unearthed the figurine in 2017 during excavations at a site called Abel Beth Maacah, located just south of Israel’s border with Lebanon, near the modern-day town of Metula.

Nineteenth-century archaeologists identified the site, then home to a village called Abil al-Qamh, with the similarly named city mentioned in the Old Testament’s Book of Kings.

During the ninth century BC, the ancient town was situated in a liminal zone between three regional powers: the Aramean kingdom based in Damascus to the east, the Phoenician city of Tyre to the west and the Israelite kingdom, with its capital in Samaria to the south.Kings 1 15:20 mentions Abel Beth Maacah in a list of cities attacked by the Aramean king Ben Hadad in a campaign against the Israelite kingdom.

“This location is very important because it suggests that the site may have shifted hands between these polities, more likely between Aram-Damascus and Israel,” said Hebrew University archaeologist Naama Yahalom-Mack, who has headed the joint dig with California’s Azusa Pacific University since 2013.

Yahalom-Mack’s team was digging through the floor of a massive iron age structure in the summer of 2017 when a volunteer struck pay dirt. The layer where the head was found dates to the the epoch associated with the rival biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

In a rare move, archaeologists and curators at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem rushed to put the piece on public display. A detailed report is set for publication in the June edition of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

Because carbon-14 dating cannot give a more exact date for the statue’s creation other than some time in the ninth century, the field of potential candidates is large.

Yahalom-Mack posited it could be kings Ben Hadad or Hazael of Damascus, Ahab or Jehu of Israel, or Ithobaal of Tyre – all characters appearing in the biblical narrative.

“We’re only guessing here, it’s like a game,” she said. “It’s like a hello from the past, but we don’t know anything else about it.”

As scholars debate whether the head was a standalone piece or part of a larger statue, the Hebrew University team is set to restart digging this month at the spot where the mystery king’s head was found.The Guardian.

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