Since her retirement, Lydia Marner of Lab, Israel has taken weekly walks on the beach at a national park about 17 miles south of Tel Aviv. A few weeks ago, on a particularly stormy day with large waves, she noticed an unusual stone floating towards her, then wash up on the shore. The strange-looking rock fit in the palm of her hand. Intrigued, she brought it home.

As it turned out, the stone was actually a 3,000-year-old figurine of an Egyptian goddess, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority—the national agency responsible for regulating the country’s archaeological sites and artifacts from 1700 and earlier.

What, Exactly, Washed Ashore?

When Marner, 74, returned from Israel’s Palmahim Beach with the figurine, she did some research, consulted a few friends familiar with archaeology and contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority. After cleaning and examining it, two inspectors from the agency determined that it was an ancient statuette representing the Egyptian goddess Hathor, and likely more than 3,000 years old.

Egyptian goddess figurine held by Lydia Marner.
Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Retiree Lydia Marner holds the figurine of an Egyptian goddess she found on a beach outside Tel Aviv, Israel.

According to Amir Golani, a senior research archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, the figurine was made of clay and imprinted with a stone pattern, which he says made it possible to produce in large quantities. Although the statuette was quite worn, Golani recognized the bull-horn-shaped hairstyle and prominent eyes and ears used to depict Hathor, which was “indicative of the Canaanite culture in the Land of Israel, especially during the late Bronze Age,” he told the Times of Israel.

“The Canaanites used to adopt ritual and religious customs of the Egyptians, who ruled our region at the time,” Golani told the Jewish News Syndicate. “Just like homes today, where you install a mezuzah or hang a picture of a saint on the wall, then, they used to place ritual figurines in a central place in the house, for good luck and protection from bad things.”

Who Was Hathor?

Though her name may not sound familiar today, Hathor was once one of the most powerful deities among the 42 state gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. 

“Hathor was often depicted as a cow goddess, or as a woman with cow horns and a sun disk on her head, representing fertility and abundance,” says Liam Davis, an art historian for Art File Magazine. “She was associated with love, beauty, music, dance, joy, motherhood, and feminine power. She was believed to protect women during childbirth, and to help the deceased in the afterlife, acting as a guide.”

Considered the “mother of the pharaohs,” Hathor is often associated with royalty, but her popularity spanned the social classes of ancient Egypt. She was worshiped everywhere from extravagant royal temples, to domestic family altars containing figurines of the goddess, like the one Marner recently recovered from the beach.

As exciting as Marner’s beach find may be, Golani says that it’s not a totally rare occurrence in that part of the world.

“We have a very rich archaeological history and tens of thousands of archaeological sites are known throughout our small country," he explains. "The Israel Antiquities Authority is actively engaged with the general public to promote awareness and responsibility for the safeguarding of our cultural and archaeological heritage.” 

In fact, the agency recently launched a widespread media campaign encouraging the public to turn in any archaeological artifacts they find, or may have in their possession. In addition to putting these objects on display, Golani says the purpose of this initiative is to “learn from them to deepen our awareness and appreciation of the multi-faceted puzzle of our cultural heritage.”