A boy, 11, made a rare and exciting discovery while on a family vacation – a 2,500-year-old amulet of a fertility goddess.
Last month, Zvi Ben-David was visiting Israel’s Negev Desert when he found a ceramic figurine from the sixth century BC, when the region was controlled by Persia.
The idol, about two-and-half- inches tall, is of a female figure with her head and neck covered but her breasts bared, with her hands tucked underneath her cleavage.
According to experts, the relic is so rare only one other similar one has ever been found, but such figures were common in that era and was likely used as a fertility amulet or as protection for an infant.
A seven-centimeter figurine of a woman with her breasts exposed was discovered by a child on vacation in Israel’s Negev Desert last month. Experts date the amulet to the 5th or 6th century, when the region was governed by the Persians
In February, Zvi Ben-David was on a trip with his family to Nahal Besor, a trail in the Negev Desert that follows a 50-mile streambed out to the Mediterranean Sea.
The 11-year-old from Beer Sheba ‘caught sight of an unusual object,’ according to a report from the Israel Antiquities Authority: A ceramic female figurine about seven centimeters (2.7 inches) tall and six centimeters (2.3 inches) wide.
It depicts the outline of a woman with basic facial features and a head and neck covered by a scarf.
The woman’s breasts are bare, though, and her hands are folded underneath, making her chest more prominent.
Zvi Ben-David, 11, was issued a certificate of appreciation for discovering the ceramic fertility amulet, one of only two ever discovered
Ben-David shared his discovery with his mother, professional tour guide Miriam Ben-David, who realized its significance and contacted the IAA.
Researchers believe it was made from a mold during the Iron Age, some time in the fifth or sixth century BC.
That would have been at the end of the late First Temple period, when Israel was governed by the Achaemenid Empire from Persia.
‘Pottery figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era,’ said archaeologist Oren Shmueli and IAA curator Debbie Ben Ami.
Ceramic figures of bare-breasted women were common in the ancient Middle East, often used to invoke prosperity or good luck. Experts believe this mold-made amulet was used for protection during a pregnancy or for an infant.
‘They were common in the home and in everyday life, like the hamsa [Hand of Fatima] symbol today, and they apparently served as amulets to ensure protection, good luck and prosperity.’
This particular kind of figurine is rare, though—in fact only one similar has ever been found, also found in the northern Negev.
Ancient Israelites were forbidden from worshiping idols, but fertility amulets were very common among neighboring tribes that may have shared their traditions.
‘We must bear in mind that in antiquity, medical understanding was rudimentary. Infant mortality was very high and about a third of those born did not survive,’ the researchers said.
‘There was little understanding of hygiene, and fertility treatment was naturally non-existent. In the absence of advanced medicine, amulets provided hope and an important way of appealing for aid.’
The figurine is currently being studied by IAA and will join the other amulet in the National Treasures collection.
The IAA issued Ben-David a certificate of appreciation for discovering the amulet.
‘The exemplary citizenship of young Zvi Ben-David will enable us to improve our understanding of cultic practices in biblical times and man’s inherent need for material human personifications,’ the agency said.
Nahal Besor is typically dry, but in the rainy season it fills into the largest stream in the northern Negev
According to the Old Testament Book of Samuel, Besor was in southwest Judah, where 200 of King David’s men took refuge because they were too exhausted to pursue their enemies, the Amalekites.