Israeli Diver Discovers Ancient Amulet at Yavne

A lifeguard diving at the Yavne-Yam antiquities site next to Palmachim beach has unearthed a rare marble discus used to protect ancient mariners.

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Hana Levi Julian,

Marble discus that was found at Yavne-Yam
Marble discus that was found at Yavne-Yam
Israel News Photo: (Israel Antiquities Authority)

A lifeguard diving at the Yavne-Yam antiquities site next to Palmachim beach, south of Tel-Aviv, unearthed a rare marble discus that was used 2,500 years ago to protect sea-going vessels from the evil eye.

To date, only four such items have been found in the world – two of them here in Israel, one recovered from the Mediterranean Sea off the coast at Carmel in addition to the one at Yavne-Yam.

The ancient white marble discus, which dates back to 400-500 BCE, was discovered by David Shalom, who handed it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Dror Planer, of the Marine Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, holding the discus that was found.
Israel News Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

The white discus, which is flat on one side and convex on the other, measures 20 centimeters in diameter. In the middle of the discus are a perforation and the remains of two circles that are painted around the center of it. This object has been identified as representing the pupil of an eye that adorned the bow of an ancient warship or cargo  ship. Its Greek name is ophtalmoi and a lead coupling or bronze nail that was driven through the hole in the center of the discus was used to attach the object to the hull of the ship.

Marble discus known as ophtalamoi found at Yavne-Yam
Israel News Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Kobi Sharvit, the director of the Marine Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We know from drawings on pottery vessels, pithoi and ancient coins, as well as from historic sources of the fifth century BCE that this model was very common on the bows of ships and was used to protect them from the evil eye and envy, and was meant as a navigation aid and to act as a pair of eyes which looked ahead and warned of danger. This decoration is also prevalent today on modern boats in Portugal, Malta, Greece and in the Far East."

During the course of archaeological surveys that have been performed there by the Marine Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority since the 1980’s, artifacts were found that originated in shipwrecks, including anchors of various sizes and weights with one to three holes in them, fishing equipment, lead connectors and stone plumbs that belong to stone anchors.

Other objects that were found which were used on board boats include an oven for cooking that is made of lead, grindstones, stone bowls, fishing gear (bronze hooks, lead weights for fishing nets and lead plumbs for measuring the depth of the seabed), as well as storage jars, amphorae, bowls and cooking pots that date to the Late Bronze Age, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. All of these bear witness to the extensive commercial activity that transpired there.

Most of the pottery vessels are of types that were manufactured in the Land of Israel or in the Eastern Mediterranean; however, some were imported from more distant lands along the Mediterranean Sea. 

A concentration of artifacts was discovered at the site which date to the Bronze Age and include dozens of gold objects (earrings, beads, pieces of jewelry and waste from the jewelry industry) and a hematite seal of Syrian provenance. The concentration was located scattered in an area where twenty hematite seals, bronze arrowheads, axes and two small statues of the god Ba’al were found in the past. The archaeological finds indicate that the anchorage was used continuously from the Late Bronze Age until the Middle Ages.