History Stories

A family hike through the dusty, sun-baked ruins of an ancient biblical city might sound boring to many 8-year-olds, but not to Itai Halperin. The archaeological dig site of Tel Beit Shemesh, atop a foothill 20 miles west of Jerusalem, intrigued the young Israeli boy who harbored dreams of becoming a real-life Indiana Jones after watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And last month as Itai followed in the footsteps of his big-screen hero and explored the scattered excavations of the once grand Judean city, he noticed something unusual near his own footprints—a small, round ceramic object that looked like the head of a figurine.

The young boy and his family then did something quite foreign to Indiana Jones—they immediately reported the find to the local archaeological authority. After the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the item, archaeologist Alexander Glick met with Itai and informed him that he had discovered a historically significant relic. It turned out that the artifact found by the aspiring archaeologist was a nearly 3,000-year-old head of a statuette of a fertility goddess.

“Such figurines, in the form of a nude woman symbolizing fertility, were common in the homes of residents of the Kingdom of Judah from the 8th century BCE to the destruction of the kingdom by the Babylonians in the days of Zedekiah (586 BCE),” said Alon de Groot, an Israel Antiquities Authority expert in the Iron Age period, in a statement released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Head of a statue of the goddess of fertility. (Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Head of a statue of the goddess of fertility. (Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The ministry reported that the discovery of the artifact near a residential district from the First Temple period (960-586 B.C.) reinforces the identification of the Beit Shemesh site as having been under the control of the Kingdom of Judah. “It’s no coincidence that a statuette like this was found atop Tel Beit Shemesh, next to a residential quarter from the First Temple period,” Anna Eirich, an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist in the region, said in a statement reported by the Times of Israel.

Based on excavations at Tel Beit Shemesh, archaeologists have learned that it was once the location of a large walled Judean city that was a regional center of industry and commerce during the First Temple period. It sported public and private buildings, warehouses and an impressive water system, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Of interest to any Indiana Jones buff, the Bible mentions that after the Philistines suffered seven months of misfortune following their capture of the Ark of the Covenant—sought-after by both the Nazis and Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—they returned the sacred relic to the Israelites at Beit Shemesh. According to the Book of Samuel, 70 men from Beit Shemesh, much like the Nazis at the end of the first “Indiana Jones” film, suffered death by staring directly into the Ark of the Covenant.

An Assyrian army under King Sennacherib attacked the city in 701 B.C. and left it in ruins. Scattered families returned to live at Beit Shemesh until forces under Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it forever in 586 B.C., the same year in which the Babylonians razed Jerusalem’s First Temple.

The Israel Antiquities Authority reports that Itai’s discovery adds to their understanding of the ancient biblical city and helps to identify the site as Judean. In addition to praising the young boy for reporting his find, the Israel Antiquities Authority is rewarding him with a certificate of appreciation and an offer for him and his classmates to participate in an archaeological dig.

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