Researchers based in Israel and Mainz present the first group of findings
In 2002, at a site about 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, archaeologists made a sensational discovery of several thousand cult artifacts from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The first items have since been restored and are now being described in a publication produced by a team of researchers from Israel and Mainz. These items include clay architectural objects intended to represent cult structures from the time of the Philistines. The researchers hope that further evaluations of the remarkable finds will provide clues as to the actual origin of the Philistines, who were a seafaring nation.
In fall 2002, the Israeli archaeologist Dr. Raz Kletter, who at the time was employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, undertook a small but extremely important dig in Yavneh, a good 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. The dig was restricted to a pit just 2 meters in diameter and 1.5 meters deep. Despite this, Kletter uncovered more than 7,000 cult artifacts from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. This was actually larger than any other find unearthed in the previous 100 years of archaeology in Israel. The breathtaking discovery was initially kept secret in order to prevent amateur archaeologists disturbing the site or even taking valuable articles away with them. Furthermore, the finds themselves required extensive restoration before their presentation to the public.
The first group of finds has since been reconstructed and the items are now being published by a team of researchers from Israel (Dr. Raz Kletter, Dr. Irit Ziffer) and Mainz (Professor Wolfgang Zwickel). This group consists of architecturally-inspired clay models in the form of cult stands that are about the size of a shoe box. Depicted on the fronts and sides are animals, primarily bulls and lions, together with the figures of naked goddesses. Roughly 120 of these architectural cult stands have been restored. In comparison, only about 30 similar objects had been found during the official excavations of the previous 100 years. This alone underlies the extraordinary relevance of the new finds when it comes to reconstructing the religious history of Palestine.
The objects found in the pit were ceremonially buried when they were presumably no longer needed at a nearby sacred site that has yet to be uncovered. At the time, the city of Yavneh was within the area controlled by the Philistines, a seafaring people, and it was originally settled by the Egyptians around 1200 BC.
"Now that we have published on the architectural models, we want to look at the most significant finds among the other items in this pit," said Professor Wolfgang Zwickel, Biblical archaeologist of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). "However, in view of the vast number of artifacts, we can only provide a statistical overview and reconstruct a few of the vessels." The pit contained tens of thousands of shards and it will probably prove impossible to recreate all the vessels that they once formed.
Another focus of future research is clarifying the actual purpose of the architectural models and vessels. "We are on the verge of some exciting revelations but we need to first confirm these through further investigations," emphasized Zwickel. And finally he hopes that this unique discovery will reveal where the sea-faring people originally came from, because their origin is still shrouded in the mists of time. Hypotheses have placed their original homeland somewhere in the wide general area between Albania and Turkey.