It might be small, but it is truly enchanting. This tiny sculpture of a head made almost 3,000 years ago in what is now modern-day Israel has just gone on display, but despite its immaculate preservation, it has got archaeologists scratching their own noggins.
The charming figure was discovered last year at the archaeological site of Tel Abel Beth Maacah, which is located in northern Israel, not far from the border with Lebanon, and near the modern-day town of Metula. The location is featured in the Old Testament's Books of Kings, meaning that due to its age many think the head could belong to a Biblical king.
The small statuette only measures 5.5 by 5 centimeters (2.2 by 2 inches) and has been intricately formed in faience, a type of glazed ceramic, which has been mixed with copper to give it a slightly green tinge. Some of the archaeologists suspect that the head was once attached to the rest of a body, which in total would have stood between 20 to 25 centimeters (8 and 10 inches) tall, but even this is debated.
The delicate features peer out from the past, showing a stern-looking man with what has been described as a “very interesting hairdo”. Swept backwards and held in place by a band, it is reminiscent of how ancient Egyptians portrayed their neighbours in the Near East.
“The guy kind of represents the generic way Semitic people are described,” Hebrew University’s Naama Yahalom-Mack, told The Associated Press.
The only thing that researchers are certain about is the fact that this exquisite piece of art depicts a royal – and that’s only due to the golden crown adorning his head. Almost everything else about it, including who he might have been and his curious hairstyle, remains a mystery.
“Given that the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts the likes of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources,” explained Robert Mullins, one of the lead archaeologists at the site. “The head represents a royal enigma.”
While radiocarbon dating cannot pinpoint the date at which it was made any more precisely than at some point during the ninth century BCE, the head is most definitely one of the more unusual and rare objects to have been found from a time in which art was generally very low quality.