Photo by Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority on 9 April, 2024

6,000-Year-Old Ivory Jar Opens Window into Holy Land Trade Networks

Public By Pesach Benson • 9 April, 2024

Jerusalem, 9 April, 2024 (TPS) -- Israeli archaeologists uncovered a 6,000-year-old ivory vessel, the first of its kind to found in the region, the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday.

The small jar, known as an “amphoriskos”, crafted from elephant tusk ivory, bears witness to the extensive exchange networks between Israel and Egypt millennia ago. Discovered shattered into fragments during a 2020 excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Horbat Raqiq, near Beer-Sheva. The vessel has undergone an extensive restoration process at the Antiquities Authority’s laboratories to piece it back together.

“The vessel is 20 centimeters across. It is gorgeous, and exceptional in its design,” said Dr. Ianir Milevski, former head of the Antiquities Authority’s prehistoric branch. “The small side handles are symmetrically arranged, with two handles set into the vessel’s neck and two additional handles vertically below them at its base.”

According to Milevsky, “The vessels were intentionally set in a specific manner, with careful forethought. In academic circles it is generally accepted that figurine and broken vessel deposits and burials are part of cultic ceremonial activities.”

He explained, “From the manner in which the bowls were arranged, the ivory vessel, which was broken already in antiquity, was clearly interred in a deliberate fashion—which would seem to attest to the importance attributed to it.”

The vessel’s composition from elephant tusk ivory raises intriguing questions about its production, the researchers said.

“The vessel is well-made, and makes maximum use of the original tusk – which was a most precious material. If it was manufactured here, it reveals the high standard of craftspeople who dwelt here, who knew how to treat ivory, and also knew elephant anatomy,” Milevsky said.

Horbat Raqiq’s location, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, made it a crucial crossroads for trade routes and cultural exchanges throughout history. Excavations since 1980s have revealed artifacts and structures dating back to the Chalcolithic period, the Iron Age and Byzantine era.

Researchers speculate whether the jar was imported in its completed form or crafted locally, showcasing the proficiency of ancient artisans in working with ivory.

Further analysis of the ivory’s biomolecular data aims to pinpoint its source. By examining the elephant’s diet, researchers hope to trace the vessel’s origins and unravel more about ancient trade routes and cultural interactions.

The jar will be presented to the public for the first time at the annual Israel Prehistoric Society conference in Jerusalem on Thursday.