Neolithic animal figurines unearthed near Jerusalem

Two figurines from the New Stone Age (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) were discovered in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently conducting at the Tel Moza archaeological site, prior to work being carried out on the new Highway 1 from Sha'ar HaGai to Jerusalem by the National Roads Company. 

The two figurines – c. 9,500 year old – in the image of a ram and a wild bovine, point to the existence of a cultic belief in the region in the New Stone Age [Credit: Yael Yolovitch/Israel Antiquities Authority]
According to Anna Eirikh and Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The figurines, which are 9,000-9,500 years old, were found near a large round building whose foundations were built of fieldstones and upper parts of the walls were apparently made of mud brick. The first figurine, in the shape of a ram with twisted horns, was fashioned from limestone and is c. 15 cm in size. The sculpting is extraordinary and precisely depicts details of the animal’s image; the head and the horns protrude in front of the body and their proportions are extremely accurate. The body was made smooth and the legs of the figurine were incised in order to distinguish them from the rest of the body. The second figurine, which was fashioned on hard smoothed dolomite, is an abstract design; yet it too seems to depict a large animal with prominent horns that separate the elongated body from the head. The horns emerge from the middle of the head sideward and resemble those of a wild bovine or buffalo”. 

According to Dr. Khalaily, “The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (the eighth millennium BCE) is considered one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of mankind; many changes took place in it that shaped human society for thousands of years to come. During this period, the transition began from nomadism, based on hunting and gathering, to sedentary life, based on farming and grazing. It was at this time that mankind began to inhabit permanent settlements and started building settlements that extended across a large area. In several sites that were exposed in our region remains were discovered indicating preliminary architectural planning of those same settlements and complex engineering capabilities including the construction of two story houses. The process of animal and plant domestication was accelerated in this period. The archaeological evidence from Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, particularly the artistic objects such as the figurines that were discovered at Tel Moza, teaches us about the religious life, the worship and the beliefs of Neolithic society. Other evidence on the subject has also been derived from the study of tombs and funerary customs of the same prehistoric society. 

Dr. Khalaily adds, “It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period. Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt and might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey”. Another theory presented by archaeologist Anna Eirikh, his research partner, links the figurines from Moza to the process of animal domestication – such as the wild bovine and different species of wild goat. 

The figurines that were discovered in the current excavations at Tel Moza join other unique finds that were previously exposed at this site. We can conclude from these artifacts that the site at Tel Moza was most likely the largest of its kind in the mountainous region around Jerusalem. 

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [August 29, 2012]

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