7,000-Year-Old Seal Found in Israel Signed For Deliveries!
Not everyone is well versed with the name Tel Tsaf, a prehistoric village in the stunning Beit She’an Valley in North Israel. They may be now, as some 150 clay sealings, dating back to 7,000 years ago have been found in an excavation conducted by archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In a study recently published in last month’s Levant, the purpose of the seals was found to be manifold – signing for deliveries being one of the primary functions.
The Seal Impression: Uses and Functions
Apart from other pottery and clay items, the seal impression fascinated the archaeology group the most, as unlike the other finds which were plain and without imprints, one had an impression with two distinct geometric shapes on them, as per The Jerusalem Post. It was borne out of a device that had the ability to stamp patterns onto softer materials like clay or wax, with the purpose of sealing the object.
It was also used to seal letters and prevent others from reading the content. In fact, it was the first of its kind discovery in terms of showing the archaeologists that clay seals could be used to mark shipments, close barn doors or silos, acting as a pre-historic locking mechanism. A broken seal would naturally indicate that someone had been rifling through the barn or entered without authorization. "Even today, similar types of sealing are used to prevent tampering and theft," explained Professor Yosef Garfinkel, the lead author on the study. "It turns out that this was already in use 7,000 years ago by landowners and local administrators to protect their property."
In antiquity, these seal impressions were known in the Latin as bullae. Due to the dry climate of the Beit She’an Valley, the fragment was preserved very well, with symmetrical lines in order to this very date, measuring a centimeter wide. The presence of two patterns suggests the involvement of more than one person in the transaction, making it the oldest seal impression in the year.
However, it was not from around the area – the seal probably originated from 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. “But it could have come from even farther, considering that we found evidence of exchange with regions such as Mesopotamia, Caucasia and Egypt,” Garfinkel noted. Other finds include metal objects and pottery which were definitely not local.
Tel Tsaf: Center of Trade and Commerce or a Regional Authority?
LiveScience reports that clay seals dating back to 8,500 years ago have been found in the region, but none had any impression. This points to a long clay usage in the larger valley area, something that this part of the Arabian Peninsula is well renowned for to this very day. This particular seal exists before writing, unlike newer seals like those found at Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem from 2,600 years ago, which contain a name and biblical figures sometimes.
The other deductions by the research team point to the largesse of Tel Tsaf village, based on the sheer volume of evidence. “Tel Tsaf was a big flourishing village,” said Garfinkel. “We uncovered houses that were as large as 100-200 sq.m., large courtyards, and silos which could contain from 3-4 tons to 20-30 tons of grain or other agricultural products. This is unbelievable considering that 1.5 tons of grain was enough to feed a family for one year.” Any society which can generate surplus, particularly agrarian, fits the billing of a ‘developed’ society in historical terms.
Tel Tsaf courtyard building. (CC by SA 3.0)
Perhaps Tel Tsaf was a regional hub of trade and commerce, home to a wealthy community of families, who had relations and networks with those from far-off regions (at a time when these relationships were particularly difficult to forge). “There is no prehistoric site anywhere in the Middle East that reveals evidence of such long-distance trade in exotic items as what we found at this particular site”. Yet, he cautions not jumping to conclusions about trade links just yet.
Tel Tsaf was also possibly some sort of regional authority, as other villages and sites from the same period do not point to any evidence of similar existence or features. It would not be unfair to argue that this site points to considerable social development, serving both the local communities in the region, along with those who were passing through. "We hope that continued excavations at Tel Tsaf and other places from the same time period will yield additional evidence to help us understand the impact of a regional authority in the southern Levant," concluded Garfinkel.
Top image: 7,000-year-old seal found in Israel. Source: Vladimir Nichen
By Sahir Pandey
Freikman, M., Ben-Shlomo, D., Garfinkel, Y. 2021. A stamped sealing from Middle Chalcolithic Tel Tsaf: implications for the rise of administrative practices in the Levant. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00758914.2021.1923906?scroll=top&needAccess=true.
Saplakoglu, Y. 2021. 7,000-year-old letter seal found in Israel hints at ancient long-distance trade. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/oldest-seal-impression-israel.html.
Tercatin, R. 2021. 7,000-year-old seal sheds light on business activities in ancient Israel. Available at: https://www.jpost.com/archaeology/7000-year-old-seals-shed-light-on-business-activities-in-ancient-israel-670633.