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Fragment of clay jar depicting a human face discovered in Jerusalem


A fragment of a pottery jar decorated with a human face dating back to the Persian period was discovered in excavations in Jerusalem. This is the first time such a vessel has been found in Jerusalem or any site in the Judean highlands.

Fragment of clay jar depicting a human face discovered in Jerusalem
The fragment of a Persian-period (4th – 5th century BCE) Bes-Vessel was discovered
 in a large refuse pit in the City of David’s Givati Parking Lot dig, in Jerusalem
[Credit: (c) City of David/Eliyahu Yanai]
In honour of Purim, a fragment of a clay jar decorated with a human face of which two wide open eyes, a nose, one ear and a small section of the corner of the mouth survived. The shard, dated to the Persian period (4th – 5th century BCE) was revealed to the public, after being discovered in archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the Givati Parking Lot excavation in the City of David​ in a large refuse pit that contained numerous other pottery fragments that dated to the Persian period.


According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Pottery from this period was exposed in the past in the City of David​, but this is the first time that such a vessel has been found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem or anywhere in the Judean highlands.”

Fragment of clay jar depicting a human face discovered in Jerusalem
Credit: (c) City of David/Eliyahu Yanai
These jars are called “Bes-Vessels,” and they were very common during the Persian period. In Egyptian mythology, Bes is the protector deity of households, especially mothers, women in childbirth, and children. Over time, he became regarded as the defender of everything good. He also became associated with music and dancing. His figure adorned the walls of houses and various vessels (pottery and various everyday objects, such as mirrors), or worn as an amulet around the neck. Bes usually appears as a kind of bearded dwarf with a large face, protruding eyes and tongue sticking out when he is wearing a feather hat. This grotesque figure is apparently intended to evoke joy and laughter and drive away the evil spirits.


The figure of Bes as a protector was apparently adopted by the Phoenicians, and many such amulets and Bes vessels have been found in numerous Persian Period settlements along the coast. Such vessels and amulets were also found in Persia itself, in Shushan, Persepolis and other cities, reaching there by Egyptian craftsmen who operated there as part of the international trade economy of the period.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs [March 19, 2019]

TANN

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