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Boy finds 2,500-year-old fertility figurine during family hike

Experts say amulet dates from a time with high infant mortality and no fertility treatments, and could have provided hope in the absence of advanced medicine

  • The 2,500-year-old figurine found by an 11-year-old boy (Yevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    The 2,500-year-old figurine found by an 11-year-old boy (Yevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • The 2,500-year-old figurine found by an 11-year-old boy (Yevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    The 2,500-year-old figurine found by an 11-year-old boy (Yevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Zvi Ben-David, who found a 2,500-year-old figurine Oren Shmueli, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Zvi Ben-David, who found a 2,500-year-old figurine Oren Shmueli, Israel Antiquities Authority)

An 11-year-old boy discovered a rare figurine from around 2,500 years ago during a family hike in the south of Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The figurine, depicting a bare-breasted woman wearing a scarf, is an amulet that was believed to protect children or increase fertility.

The authority said that only one similar example, also from the northern Negev Desert, has been previously found and is now housed in the National Treasures collection.

Zvi Ben-David from the southern city of Beersheba was on a family trip to Nahal Habesor a few weeks ago when he found the figurine. His mother, a professional tour guide, realized the significance of the discovery and contacted the IAA.

The 2,500-year-old figurine found by an 11-year-old boy (Yevgeny Ostrovsky, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Oren Shmueli, district archaeologist in the western Negev, and Debbie Ben Ami, curator of the Iron Age and Persian periods in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a joint statement that the figurine, just a few centimeters high, was made in a mold.

“The figurine that Zvi discovered is rare and only one such example exists in the National Treasures collection. It was probably used in the sixth–fifth centuries BCE, at the end of the Iron Age or in the Persian period (the late First Temple period, or the return to Zion),” they said.

“Pottery figurines of bare-breasted women are known from various periods in Israel, including the First Temple era. They were common in the home and in everyday life… and apparently served as amulets to ensure protection, good luck and prosperity,” said Shmueli and Ben Ami.

The experts noted that there was little medical understanding at the time, and high rates of infant mortality as well as no fertility treatments: “In the absence of advanced medicine, amulets provided hope and an important way of appealing for aid.”

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