Does 2,800-Year-Old Statue Head Depict a Forgotten Biblical King?
Archaeologists are in the midst of a mystery of forgotten identity. They are trying to discover the name behind a 2,800-year-old face found in the ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel. They are perplexed by the head of a statue which may have been made to portray the likeness of a biblical king.
The head is a small 2 by 2.2 inches (5.1 by 5.6 centimeters) artifact which archaeologists believe once belonged to a statuette which measured approximately 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) in height, according to Live Science.
It is the representation of a man who had long black hair, a black beard, almond-shaped eyes and a yellow and black headband. His expression portrays the image of someone who had authority and demanded respect.
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Azusa Pacific University, which sent the team out to excavate the Abel Beth Maacah site, states that the statuette’s head was found in a possible administrative building. Azusa Pacific University’s Robert Mullins described the discovery,
“In one of the rooms, we found a marvelous figurine head of a bearded man with his hair combed back and wearing a head band tied at the back. The head is made of faience (a glazed ceramic). It was once attached to a body which has since been lost. We knew the head did not belong to a deity, nor did it depict an Israelite or Phoenician. So who was he?”
Mullins told Live Science that the location and high quality of the carving of the head suggest that it was meant to represent a member of Abel Beth Maacah’s elite class, "We're guessing probably a king, but we have no way of proving that," Mullins said.
Mario Tobia, a student at Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem, found this figure head on his first day at the excavation. (Azusa Pacific University)
But that didn’t stop Mullins from pondering that if the head was meant to be that of a king, which one it may depict,
“Despite the head’s small and innocuous appearance, it provides us with a unique opportunity to gaze into the eyes of a famous person from the past; a past enshrined in the Book of Ages. Given that the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts the likes of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. The head represents a royal enigma.”
An art historian who examined the small head has suggested it depicts a king or other important Aramean official. However, Mullin understands that more research will need to be completed before that claim could become a conclusion.
Nonetheless, the idea is an intriguing one for Mullin, who writes, “If the head proves to depict an Aramean, it would suggest that the local Aramean population continued to live there as Israelite citizens long after Abel Beth Maacah fell under the sway of the United Monarchy and the northern kingdom of Israel.”
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Researchers received a timeframe of 902-806 BC when some material found near the sculptured head was radiocarbon dated. Mullins said that Abel Beth Maacah changed hands many times during that period as it was bordering the kingdoms of Israel, Tyre, and Aram-Damascus.
Perhaps more information will be gathered when excavations start up again this summer at the administrative building of the Abel Beth Maacah archaeological site.
Aerial view of excavations at the Abel Beth Maacah archaeological site in 2015. (Tel Abel Beth Maacah Excavations/CC BY SA 4.0)
The intrigue of the artifact has garnered much attention. It has become a subject for a discussion at the 44th Annual Archaeological Congress at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the topic for a paper which will be published this month in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology, and it is a fascinating addition to the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Top Image: Archaeologists believe this is the head from a sculpture of an unknown authority figure who lived in Israel 2,800 years ago. Source: Gaby Laron/The Hebrew University of Jerusalem