A small clay tablet depicting a captor leading a naked and humiliated captive was discovered by six-year-old Imri Elya from Kibbutz Nirim near the Gaza Strip while he was on an outing in March with his parents at the Tel Jemmeh archaeological site near Kibbutz Re’im in the south.
The small 2.80 x 2.80 cm tablet is a unique and rare find that has not been discovered until now in archeological excavations in Israel.
Archaeologists Saar Ganor, Itamar Weissbein and Oren Shmueli of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said that the artifact was imprinted in a carved pattern, and the artist’s fingerprints survived on the back.
The tablet depicts the scene of a man leading a captive. The captor is an important figure wearing a skirt, holding a completely naked captive with hands folded and tied behind his back.
The researchers noted that it is evident that the artist sought to emphasize the captive’s humiliation by showing him naked and perhaps to describe the ethnic differences between the captor and the captive by presenting each figure’s different facial features. The captor’s hair is curled and his face is full, while the captive is thin and his face elongated.
According to the researchers, “the artist who created this tablet appeared to have been influenced by similar representations known in Ancient Near East art. The manner in which the captive is bound has been seen previously in reliefs and artifacts found in Egypt and northern Sinai.”
Although the tablet was not found through an organized archaeological excavation, the researchers estimate, based on parallels to the Egyptian art world and local Canaanite art, that the artifact should be dated to the Late Bronze Age, between the 12th and 15th centuries BCE.
The violence portrayed raises interesting questions about the historical background of the tablet. During this period, the Egyptian Empire ruled Canaan. The latter was divided into “city-states” ruled by local kings. From letters sent by Canaan kings of that period to Egypt, known as the El Amarna letters, it is known that internal struggles and control conflicts existed between Canaanite cities.
In archeological research, Tel Jemmeh is identified with the Canaanite city of Yurza – one of the strongest Canaanite cities in the south of the country. Ganor, Weissbein and Shmueli believe that the scene depicted on the tablet symbolically describes the power struggles between the city of Yurza and one of the cities close to the Tel, possibly Gaza, Ashkelon or Lachish, or the struggle of a nomadic population residing in the Negev.
They believe that “the scene depicted on the tablet is taken from descriptions of victory parades; hence the tablet should be identified as a story depicting the ruler’s power over his enemies. This opens a visual window to understanding the struggle for dominance in the south of the country during the Canaanite period.”
Pablo Betzer, an archaeologist from the Southern District of the IAA, stated that “antiquities are our cultural heritage, and each find adds to the entire puzzle of the story of the Land.”
Therefore, he underscored the “great importance in turning archaeological findings over to the National Treasures Department to be researched and displayed for the entire public to enjoy.”
Addressing the boy’s act, he said that is “indicates value education and good citizenship on the part of Imri and his parents.”
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