Archaeology Discovery: Ancient Figure of Nude Woman Dating Back 3,400 Years

Byzantine Monastery in southern Israel
A worker for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) stands on the mosaic floor of a monastery unearthed during excavations in Hura, east of Beersheba April 1, 2014. |

A 7-year-old Israeli boy discovered a rare Canaanite figurine dating back 3,400 years, archaeologists have confirmed.

The clay figurine, resembling a naked woman in standing position, was discovered by the young boy as he hiked in Tel Rehov in northeastern Israel last week. The artifact was fashioned out of wet clay using a mold, archaeologists said.

After discovering the artifact, the boy returned home and showed it to his mother, who turned it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"Ori returned home with the impressive figurine and the excitement was great. We explained to him this is an ancient artifact and that archaeological finds belong to the state," his mother said in a statement from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The boy was later rewarded with a certificate of good citizenship from the government.

Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz that archaeologists are debating whether the recent find is a fertility goddess or an idol.

"It could be either one," Alexandre said, adding that excavators "are not worried that it's a fake" even though the figurine was discovered sitting in plain site, rather than buried beneath layers of soil.

Alexandre added that the svelte nature of the figurine leads researchers to believe it dates back to the 13 or 15 centuries BCE, as women depicted before that time were usually heavier.

Amihai Mazar, who oversees excavations at Tel Rehov, noted in the government's announcement that the figurine "is typical of the Canaanite culture of the 15th–13th centuries BCE. Some researchers think the figure depicted here is that of a real flesh and blood woman, and others view her as the fertility goddess Astarte, known from Canaanite sources and from the Bible."

"It is highly likely that the term trafim mentioned in the Bible indeed refers to figurines of this kind," Mazar said, adding that "Evidently the figurine belonged to one of the residents of the city of Rehov, which was then ruled by the central government of the Egyptian pharaohs."

Several artifacts dating back to the Canaanites have been discovered in Israel. In April 2015, archaeologists discovered pottery, jewelry, and cosmetics dating back 3,000 years in a cave in the Tel Halif area in the southern part of the country.

Amir Ganor, the director of the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery unit, told YNet News that some of the artifacts discovered in the cave, including seals, show evidence of Egyptian influence in the region.

"Among the many artifacts that were discovered, most of which are characteristic of the Judahite culture (the tribe of Judah, which wasn't exiled to Babylon) in the south of the country, we found dozens of stone seals, some of which are shaped in the form of a winged beetle (scarabs) and bear carved symbols and images typical of the Egyptian culture which prevailed in the country in the Late Bronze Age," Ganor said, adding that "some of the seals were fashioned on semi-precious stones that come from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula."

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