A group of high school students participating in an archaeological excavation in Israel expected to uncover artifacts from long-ago civilizations buried deep in the ground. But what they found went far beyond the routine fragments of pottery, instruments and bones they anticipated.

The students, digging in the city of Yehud prior to the construction of residential buildings, helped uncover a nearly 4,000-year-old jug with the sculpture of a person sitting on top of it, a Middle Bronze Age artifact archaeologists said was unlike anything they’d ever seen.

“Suddenly I saw many archaeologists and important people arriving who were examining and admiring something that was uncovered in the ground” said Ronnie Krisher, one of the students who participated in the dig, in a statement.

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“They immediately called all of us to look at the amazing statuette and explained to us that this is an extremely rare discovery and one that is not encountered every day,” she said.

“It literally happened on the last day of the excavation,” said the excavation director, Gilad Ilatch. “… right in front of our eyes and those of the excited students, an unusual ceramic vessel c. 18 cm high (7 inches) was exposed, atop of is the image of a person….

“The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000-year-old sculpture is extremely impressive. The neck of the jug served as a base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added to the sculpture….

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“It is unclear if the figure was made by the potter who prepared the jug or by another craftsman.”

The excavators also uncovered daggers, an ax head, arrowheads, sheep bones, fragments of pottery vessels, flint and basal implements and a butter churn. They believe the items were buried as funerary offerings for an important member of the Chalcolithic Period settlement.

But the vessel with the sculpture on top was the piece de resistance.

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“To the best of my knowledge, such a rich funerary assemblage that also includes such a unique pottery vessel has never before been discovered in the country,” said Efrat Zilber, supervisor of the Land of Israel and Archaeology program, a course of studies offered by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ministry of Education to help train future archaeologists.