Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – January 2022

This month, the top news stories from the world of biblical archaeology focused discoveries related to the Late Bronze Age and the the Iron Age. They include discoveries related to two Egyptian pharaohs, Joshua’s altar on Mt. Ebal, and 7th-century BC “royal estate” in Jerusalem. Here were the top three (actually four!) reports in biblical archaeology in January 2022.

3a. Mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I Digitally Unwrapped

The mummy of Amenhotep I. Photo in collage: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Researchers have used 3D CT scans to digitally unwrap Pharaoh Amenhotep I. His mummy had not been unwrapped in modern times due to the delicate mask covered with flower garlands. While Amenhotep’s mummy had been opened in the 11th century BC by priests who restored and reburied royal mummies after damage done by grave robbers, this is the first time in over 3000 years his remains have been seen. The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, revealed that Amenhotep I was the first pharaoh to be mummified with arms crossed and the last not to have had his brain removed from the skull. The researchers also discovered that Amenhotep I was approximately 35 years old at the time of his death, was about 5’6” (169 cm) tall, was circumcised, and had good teeth. He was also found to be wearing 30 amulets and a golden girdle with gold beads. Amenhotep I was the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, and ruled from ca 1525-1504 BC during the time the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.

NOTE: Sometimes news stories break so late in a month that I highlight the discovery in the following month. This story broke in late December, but trended in early January, which is why it is included in January’s Top Three list.


3b. Two Colossal Sphynxes Depicting Amenhotep III Discovered in Egypt

The head of one of the sphynxes of Amenhotep III. Photo: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the remains of two massive sphynx-like statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (ca. 1390-1353 BC). They were discovered in the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, located near Thebes (modern-day Luxor), which was called the “Temple of a Million Years.” The statues were constructed of limestone and would have originally been 26-feet (8 meters) long. The sphynxes depict Amenhotep III wearing a mongoose-shaped headdress, a royal beard, and a broad necklace. An inscription across the chest reads, “the beloved of Amun-Re,” a reference to Amenhotep III. The team also found three statues of the goddess Sakhmet/Sekhmet, who is portrayed as having the head of a lion on the body of a woman. According to a straightforward, literal reading of biblical chronology, Amenhotep III was likely the pharaoh ruling when the children of Israel were establishing their presence in Canaan.


2. Ancient Toilet Shows Jerusalem Residents Suffered from Parasites

The stone toilet seat, seen in situ, which was unearthed in an ancient palatial complex in Jerusalem. Photo: Ya’akov Billig/Israel Antiques Authority

Researchers have analyzed the sediment from the cesspit below the stone toilet that was recently discovered in the palatial complex/mansion on the Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem. The results of the study, which was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, demonstrate that the residents of the 7th-century BC “royal estate” suffered from a variety of parasites. Microscopic eggs were detected, which belonged to various intestinal parasites, including tapeworm, roundworm, pinworm and whipworm. Since control samples of sediments taken near the installation didn’t produce evidence of parasites, the study confirms the structure was indeed a toilet. Moreover, the authors of the study suggest the research will lead to a greater understanding of the spread of diseases in ancient Jerusalem, as well as the living conditions and hygiene of people who lived in the years after the invasion of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, described in 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chr. 32, and Isaiah 37.


1. Amulet with Possible Hebrew Inscription Discovered on Mt. Ebal

The lead amulet discovered in wet-sifting of material from Adam Zertal’s excavations on Mt. Ebal. Photo: Scott Stripling

An amulet that was recently recovered from the site known as Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal appears to contain the Hebrew letter aleph, along with a mark resembling a lotus flower. The amulet, was discovered during the Mt. Ebal Dump Salvage project, led by Dr. Scott Stripling in December 2019-January 2020, which wet-sifted the dump material from Adam Zertal’s excavations on Mt. Ebal in the 1980’s. Zertal excavated a rectangular altar, which dated to the 13th century BC, but discovered an earlier, round altar underneath it and at the exact geometric center, which may date to the time of Joshua. This would be consistent with the biblical record, which states, “At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal” (Josh. 8:30). The lead amulet is roughly 2 cm by 2 cm in size and was folded in half, hiding the inscription. In order not to destroy it by trying to open it, the amulet was analyzed by a lab in Prague which performed sophisticated photography and constructed of a three-dimensional model of it. Their findings, which are yet to be published, revealed the possible Hebrew letter and the image of the lotus flower, an important symbol in the ancient Near East, particularly in Egypt.


BONUS: Here is a presentation by Dr. Scott Stripling, Director of the Mt. Ebal Dump Salvage project, in which he discusses the altar on Mt. Ebal and the discovery of the lead amulet:

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