8-year-old boy stumbled on rare 11,500-year-old fertility figurine on hike

2 years ago, Itamar Barnea, an archaeology enthusiast, pocketed an unusually shaped pebble; when his mother handed it to authorities, it was found to be an ancient statuette

Itamar Barnea, 10, with an 11,500-year-old fertility figurine he found in the Upper Galilee in 2016. Photo taken in August 2018. (Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
Itamar Barnea, 10, with an 11,500-year-old fertility figurine he found in the Upper Galilee in 2016. Photo taken in August 2018. (Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A funny-looking pebble pocketed by a child in northern Israel two years ago has been revealed to be a rare 11,500-year-old fertility figurine, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Thursday, praising the boy for his “good citizenship.”

Itamar Barnea, 10, was hiking in the Upper Galilee, near Kibbutz Malkia, his home community, when he was eight years old, when he found an unusually shaped rock in the area between Tel Kedesh and the Dishon stream. He decided to take it home as a souvenir, according to a statement by the IAA.

Itamar, an archaeology enthusiast, put the stone in a box and forgot about it until his mother spotted it a month ago during house cleaning. Curious about the object, she showed it to an archaeologist, Dr. Renate Rosenthal-Heginbottom, who transferred it to the IAA for inspection.

“We were surprised when we were shown a rare figurine — probably the third of its kind found in Israel, about 11,500 years old,” said Ianir Milevski, head of the prehistory department at the IAA.

An 11,500-year-old fertility figurine found in 2016 in the Upper Galilee and identified in August 2018. (Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

“The statuette, which at first glance barely looks like it was carved by humans, was made by scraping and chiseling a pebble to resemble a pregnant woman,” he explained. It has now been added to the collections of the IAA’s National Treasures Department.

Milevski added that two similar — but not identical — figurines have been found at archaeological sites at the Oren stream in the Carmel region, and in the Jordan Valley. Both are dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era, around 9000 BC.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know the archaeological background of the figurine found in the Upper Galilee,” he added, saying that anyone who finds an relic while hiking should ideally notify authorities immediately while still at the site, so that archaeologists can “gain the most knowledge possible from the field at the time of the discovery.”

Previous research has indicated that such figurines had been a symbol of human fertility, with some academics believing they represented the “mother goddess” and were used as mascots, Milevski said.

Itamar Barnea, 10, receiving a “good citizenship” certificate from Dr. Zvi Greenhut of the Israel Antiquities Authority, August 2018. (Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Itamar has now received a “good citizenship” certificate from the IAA.

“The Barnea family and the boy, Itamar, displayed good citizenship by handing over the figurine to the National Treasures Department,” he concluded.

“It seems like Itamar has a promising future in the study of the nature and history of prehistoric cultures in Israel and the region.”

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