David Tanami, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, works his way into the narrow tomb opening to bring out a jar at a Canaanite burial site near Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo.

4,000-Year-Old Canaanite Burial Included a Jar of Decapitated Toads

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Archaeologists discovered the peculiar inclusion of the remains of nine headless toads inside a well-preserved jar positioned carefully inside a 4,000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem, Israel. Experts suggest that the finding may shed new light on burial customs during the Canaanite period of the Middle Bronze Age.

Jar of Headless Toads Accompanied the Deceased to the Afterlife

Any archaeologist will agree that unearthing a tomb that's been sealed for thousands of years is like unwrapping a Christmas gift for anyone involved in the excavation works. If the tomb contains something as bizarre and mysterious as a jar of headless toads is, then the gift is all the more surprising. According The Times of Israel , that's exactly what a team of archaeologists discovered inside a 4,000-year-old burial in Jerusalem, as the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on September 25. The excavators suggest that the jar might have been a funeral offering to feed the dead in the afterlife.

Jar with remains of the toads from a Canaanite burial site near Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo. (Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Jar with remains of the toads from a Canaanite burial site near Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo. (Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The dig’s co-director, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Shua Kisilevitz, wasn’t surprised to discover a food offering in a burial as those were common during the Bronze Age, a period of time that people believed that the deceased needed to take a “snack” to the afterlife, in case he or she would get hungry. However, finding toads is pretty odd and something that Kisilevitz hasn’t seen often before, “To the best of my knowledge, the only other place in Israel with a toad find was in Wadi Ara, and dates to the Late Bronze Age,” she told The Times of Israel .

Furthermore, Kisilevitz isn’t sure why exactly the toads were decapitated, even though she speculates that taking off the heads and toes of frogs would help to remove the animal’s toxic skin, “It could be an indication that this is how they prepared the toads,” she told The Times or Israel .

Burial Discovery a “Lucky” Find

The discovery of the burial during excavation works that took place in 2014 prior to the expansion of the Malha neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, was described as a “lucky find” by Kisilevitz and her co-dig director Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe, “For an archaeologist, finding tombs that were intentionally sealed in antiquity is a priceless treasure, because they are a time capsule that allows us to encounter objects almost just as they were originally left,” they said in an IAA press release as The Times of Israel report . “This section of the Nahal Repha’im basin was fertile ground for settlement throughout time, especially during the Canaanite period. In recent years excavations in the area have uncovered two settlement sites, two temples and a number of cemeteries, which provide new insight into the life of the local population at that time,” they added.

Other than the toad jar, Kisilevitz and Turgeman- Yaffe also found several bowls and jars still intact after removing a large rock blocking the tomb’s opening, “In one of the jars, to our surprise, we found a heap of small bones,” they told The Times of Israel .

Alex Wigman, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, holds a small jar from the Canaanite tomb in Jerusalem. (Shua Kisilevitz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Alex Wigman, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, holds a small jar from the Canaanite tomb in Jerusalem. (Shua Kisilevitz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Further Analysis Reveals Intriguing Information

A very intriguing finding came to light through the analysis of sediments collected from the clay jars and examined under a microscope. The examination conducted by Dr. Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University, revealed that shortly before the vessels were placed in the tomb they came into contact with various plants, including date palms and myrtle bushes, which are not indigenous to Jerusalem. “This fact is interesting because this is not the natural habitat for those species and they, therefore, seem to have been planted here intentionally,” Langgut concluded as The Times of Israel report . Research and analysis on the excavation will be presented on October 18 at the conference “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The event will be open to the public.

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