The pottery figurine
The pottery figurineYevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority

A few weeks ago, 11-year-old Zvi Ben-David from Be’er Sheva was on family trip to Nahal HaBesor when he caught sight of an unusual object.

On picking it up, he saw it was a pottery figurine of a woman. His mother, Miriam Ben-David – a professional tour guide – realized that it was an important ancient find and contacted Oren Shmueli, district archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority in the western Negev.

In compliance with current Covid-19 restrictions, Oren met Zvi and his family in their garden where they handed him the figurine, which will now be researched and kept in the National Treasures collection. Zvi was awarded a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Oren Shmueli and Debbie Ben Ami, curator of the Iron Age and Persian periods in the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The figurine that Zvi discovered is rare and only one such example exists in the National Treasures collection. It was probably used in the sixth–fifth centuries BCE, at the end of the Iron Age or in the Persian period (the late First Temple period, or the return to Zion). The figurine, 7 cm high and 6 cm wide, was made in a mold. It shows a woman with a scarf covering her head and neck, schematic facial features and a prominent nose. The woman is bare-breasted and her hands are folded under her chest.”

Zvi Ben-David
Zvi Ben-DavidOren Shmueli, Israel Antiquities Authority

Shmueli and Ben-Ami explain, “Pottery figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era. They were common in the home and in everyday life, like the hamsa today, and apparently served as amulets to ensure protection, good luck and prosperity. We must bear in mind that in antiquity, medical understanding was rudimentary. Infant mortality was very high and about a third of those born did not survive. There was little understanding of hygiene, and fertility treatment was naturally non-existent. In the absence of advanced medicine, amulets provided hope and an important way of appealing for aid.”

The figurine was delivered to the National Treasures collection and is currently being studied by Oren Shmueli and Debbie Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Raz Kletter from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

The archaeologists say, “The exemplary citizenship of young Zvi Ben-David will enable us to improve our understanding of cultic practices in biblical times, and man’s inherent need for material human personifications.”