2500 –Year Old Signet Ring from Tradeswomen Uncovered in Jerusalem
A rare inscription of a woman's name on one semi-precious-stone dating to the First Temple Period has been discovered in Jerusalem.
The rare seal with the name Elihana bat Gael, along with the name of her father, was recently discovered at a large building during excavations in the City of David in Jerusalem.
The owner of the seal was exceptional compared to other women of the First Temple period, “She had legal status allowing her to conduct business and possess property”, says Israel’s Antiquity Authority.
The discovery is unique and interesting because it turns around the notion transferred into the biblical tradition, that fathers only taught their son´s trade whereas women was thought to be trained to cook and weave. “Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence, and finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon,” said the Antiquity Authority.
Recently discovered seal found in the ancient City of David in Jerusalem. Photo Credit: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority
Most women’s seals found to this day dating to the first Temple Period bear the names of their fathers, rather than that of their husbands.
“It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence, even after her marriage, and therefore her father’s name was retained. However, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period.” Said Dr. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and added:
“Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family, and not on her husband’s family,”
Although the name Elihana does not occur in the Bible, an Ammonite seal with a similar name, Eliya, has been found dating to the same period. Eliya is the female form of the biblical name “Eli”. Interestingly the biblical book of Nehemiah speaks of traders and the sellers of all kinds of merchandise who went to Jerusalem.
The dig yielded another rare seal, belonging to a man named “Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu”. The name on the other seal, Sa'aryahu, is not found in the Bible. It has been found on a pottery shard originating from Arad, where the largest collection of ostraca from Biblical times have been found. It includes more than 200 inscribed objects in Hebrew, Aramaic, and other languages. The name “Sa’aryahu is reminiscent to a phrase found in the Book of Job and probably means “the god who is revealed in a storm.”
The Giv’ati parking lot in Jerusalem where the seals were discovered. The site has been identified as part of the City of David ( public domain )
Royal Judahite Administration
The structure discovered with the seals seems to have been an administrative public structure. Among the other discoveries was the capital of a column typical of the period, weights typically used for trading, bulla seals, pottery shards, (inscribed pieces of clay) and fragments of statues of fertility goddesses. “Personal seals, such as those of Elihana and Sa’aryahu, were used for signing documents, and were frequently inlaid as part of a ring that was worn by the owner,” says the head of the excavation, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and added, “There is a sense that this was an administrative building – indeed, the entire belt surrounding the Temple was apparently not meant for simple buildings,”
A digital reconstruction of the Biblical City of David in the period of Herod's Temple. The southern wall of the Temple Mount appears at top. ( public domain )
The signet ring of a ruler or official was a symbol of his authority. “In antiquity, they designated the identity, genealogy and status of the owner of the seal,” said the excavators. Official documents or things not to be tampered with or altered were sealed with them, similar to the manner in which official seals or signatures are used in modern time.
The excavations in one of the largest archaeological digs in the history of Jerusalem in the City of David have been going on for nine years now and have yielded hundreds of interesting finds, among them the Hezekiah seal discovered last year that proves Jerusalem was a major Judahite capital during the 8 th century BCE. As excavations are carried out in the Giv’ati parking lot at the City of David, new finds will surface that will change our understanding of Ancient Jerusalem.
Excavation work being carried out in the City of David ( public domain )
Featured image: Recently discovered seal found in the ancient City of David in Jerusalem. Photo Credit: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Sam Bostrom