Archaeologists dig up 3,500-year-old pagan religious vessels in northern Israel

Published June 07, 2010

| Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Archaeologists have unearthed a cache of rare, 35-century-old religious artifacts once used in pagan rituals, Israeli officials said Monday.

The items were found during an excavation ordered by the Israel Antiquities Authority along the route of a new gas line in the country's north. Excavating a rock hollow, archeologists found more than 100 intact artifacts, including a vessel for burning incense and the sculpted face of a woman that was part of a cup used in a pagan religious ceremony.

"This is my 42nd excavation in 15 years and the first time I've found more than shards," said Edwin van den Brink, the archaeologist who directed the excavation. He said he expected to find artifacts, but not the amount or quality they uncovered.

Some of the small vessels were used to carry precious liquids from Cyprus and Mycenae, Greece, 3,500 years ago. These vessels were replicated by people in those areas, illustrating a link between the regions, van den Brink said.

Van den Brink said they might have been used in a nearby temple. They were deposited in the hole either to be preserved from a fire that swept through the region at the end of the Late Bronze Age, or they were buried because they were no longer in use.

Yossi Garfinkel, a professor of archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was not involved in the dig, said holy articles could not be thrown out and were buried instead.

"It is quite possible that these artifacts were used in the cultic area and in the temple and they accumulated, and when they ran out of space or they became old, a pit was made to bury them," Garfinkel said.

The Antiquities Authority plans to exhibit the artifacts in the coming year.

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