Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – March 2021

A number of fortunate discoveries were in the news this past month: one missed by looters, one saved from looters, and one made by a boy on a hike. Here were the top three news reports in biblical archaeology in March 2021.

3. Fertility Figurine Discovered by 11-Year-Old Boy Hiking in the Negev

A fertility figurine discovered by an 11-year-old boy hiking in the Negev. Photo: Yevgeny Ostrovsky / Israel Antiquities Authority

An 11-year-old boy discovered a 2500-year-old fertility figurine while on a family hike to Nahal Habesor, a trail in southern Negev.  His mother, a professional tour guide, immediately recognized its importance and contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The pottery figurine is 7cm in height and 6cm wide and was made it a mold.  It depicts a bare-breasted woman with her hands folded under her chest wearing a scarf which covers her head and neck.  The figurine dates to the 5-6th centuries BC.  While fertility figurines are well-known, only one figurine bearing similarities to this one has been found; it was discovered in the northern Negev and is housed at in the National Treasures collection.


2. Nearly Intact Roman Chariot Unearthed at Pompeii

A nearly intact chariot unearthed at Pompeii. Photos: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

A four-wheeled, ceremonial chariot was recently unearthed in excavations in villa at Civita Giuliana, north of the walls of the ancient city of Pompeii.  The chariot was found in a remarkable state of preservation and, amazingly, hadn’t been damaged by the collapsed walls and ceiling of the room.  It still exhibits its iron components along with bronze and tin decorations, which depict florals and the Greek god Eros. Excavators and conservationists are working to extract the fragile chariot, treating the wood and metals and using plaster to fill voids left by organic matter that had decomposed.  This has allowed them to save the shaft and platform of the chariot, and has revealed the imprint of the ropes.  Massimo Osanna, the director of the archaeological site, believes the theme of the ornate decorations on the chariot suggests it may have been used in community festivals and marriage rituals, possibly even being used to transport a bride to her new household.  Pompeii, was destroyed in a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Because it was buried in ash, the city was preserved at the moment of its destruction, and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today.


1. New Fragments Discovered Near the Dead Sea

A fragment from a scroll recently discovered near the Dead Sea. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

For the first time in over 60 years, fragments from a scroll have been found in a cave in the Dead Sea region.  The scroll contains portions of the book of the 12 minor prophets, including text from Zechariah and Nahum written mainly in Greek, with the name of God is written in Hebrew.  It may be a missing part of the Minor Prophets scroll which was discovered in 1952. The new fragments were discovered in the “Cave of Horror” in Nahal Hever, where over 24 human skeletons were previously discovered.  In addition to the scroll fragments, the surveyors also found a cache of coins from time of the Bar Kochba revolt, the mummified remains of a child, and what may prove to be the world’s oldest basket.  These discoveries were made as part of a national search to find ancient artifacts in the Dead Sea region before looters do.   

Dr. Randall Price, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and one of the men behind the discovery of the new Dead Sea Scroll cave in 2017, provided the following helpful commentary on the recent announcement: “These texts, though called ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ because of their being found in a cave in the Dead Sea region, are not to be confused with those scholars believe were collected, produced and preserved by the Jewish Community at Qumran…The scroll fragments found at Nahal Hever are from a later period and a different Jewish community….Aside from the historical and religious value such finds have for the academic community, this announcement comes as a continuing reminder of the treasures that remain in hiding in the many caves of the Dead Sea region and the urgent need for archaeologists to recover these materials before they are lost forever to local looters.”


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