The ancient scarab seal
The ancient scarab sealTel Dor dig

A rare, ancient scarab seal belonging to a senior official in the 13th Pharaonic Dynasty was recently discovered in northern Israel at the Tel Dor archaeological dig, 30 kilometers south of Haifa.

The seal, which dates back to the 17-18th Centuries BCE, was discovered by amateur archaeologist Alexander Ternopolski, who handed it immediately to the archaeological team working at the site.

"The seal belonged to somebody very senior in the kingdom, perhaps even to the king's deputy, who was responsible for the royal treasury," according to Professor Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University, who is among those leading the dig at Tel Dor.

"The seal's owner occupied a position comparable to that of Joseph... after he interpreted (Pharaoh's) dream," she added, referring to the Biblical story.

The ancient city of Dor served as a major port in the ancient world for several thousand years. Until the construction of the port city of Caesarea by the Roman Empire, it was the most important trading hub in the region. The city itself is mentioned in ancient Egyptian manuscripts dating back more than 3,000 years, as well as the Biblical books of Joshua, Judges and Kings I.

Since the start of the dig at Tel Dor in 2002, archaeologists led by Professor Gilboa and her colleague Professor Eylon Sharon have uncovered a treasure trove of ancient history. Among their many discoveries are numerous settlements from the Late Bronze Age (including a Canaanite town from the second millennium BCE); a Phoenician settlement; administrative centers of the Israelite and Assyrian Kingdoms (Iron Age); a city and palace from the Hellenistic period; ancient Roman ruins including several magnificent temples, and more.

And there is still a lot more to discover, according to Professor Gilboa.

The scarab seal is a hint of what more is to come; complete with intricate details and the name and rank of its owner, as well as the words "Ministry of Finance", it is incredibly well-preserved. However, the precise identity of its owner is still to be confirmed.

"Scarabs were very common objects in the ancient world, but the unusual size, quality and high rank of the seal's owner, as well as the golden ring" around the seal "makes it a very rare find in our region," said Professor Gilboa.

Archaeologists are currently focusing on two possible ways in which such a rare artifact made its way to northern Israel.

One theory is that a representative of the Egyptian official traveled to Dor to carry out a large purchase on his behalf - and hence brought with him the seal. Another theory is that the seal was brought to the area at a much later period - perhaps during the Roman era, when there was a large market for ancient antiques.

The archaeological dig at Tel Dor is set to resume in July, with visitors and amateur archaeologists invited to participate. In the meantime, the seal and other fascinating discoveries is available for viewing at Kibbutz Nahsholim.