A 3,000-year-old Egyptian scarab seal was unearthed last week during a school field trip to Azor in Israel, just outside the coastal city of Tel Aviv.
Eighth-grade students at Rabin Middle School in the same town were being taught by an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) tour guide when the find was made.
“We were walking around when I saw something that looked like a small toy on the ground,” said Gilad Stern of the IAA Educational Center, which led the tour. “An inner voice said to me, ‘Take it and turn it over.’ I was amazed. It was a scarab seal, every amateur archaeologist’s dream. The students were really excited,” he added.
The scene depicted on the scarab – a common dung beetle – shows two figures, one seated and the other with an elongated head, probably representing the crown of an Egyptian pharaoh, who raises his hand above the first figure. It may be an ancient pharaoh bestowing authority on a local Canaanite, archaeologists say.
Ancient Egyptians considered the small beetle – which lives in the feces of mammals and makes pellets out of them which it uses as a breeding chamber to store its future offspring – as the embodiment of creation and regeneration, similar to the act of God.
Hundreds of beetles of the same genus have been discovered in modern Israel, mostly in graves, but also in layers of sediment. Some of them were imported from Egypt, but many were imitations made by local craftsmen. The IAA noted that the level of craftsmanship of the newly discovered scarab is “not typical of Egypt and therefore may constitute a product of local artisans.”
“The scarab was used as a seal and was a symbol of power and status,” said IAA Bronze Age specialist Dr. Amir Golani. “The one discovered is made of earthenware, a silicate material covered with a blue-green glaze, which may have been placed on a necklace or a ring. “It may have fallen from the hands of an important figure who came to the region, or having been deliberately buried in the ground with other objects and then resurfacing after thousands of years,” the researcher added.
As for the scene depicted on the scarab seal, Dr. Golani said it “reflected the geopolitical reality that prevailed in the land of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age (c. 1500-1000 BCE), when the local Canaanite rulers lived — and sometimes rebelled — under Egyptian political and cultural hegemony.” Therefore, it is very possible that the seal actually dates from the Late Bronze Age, when the local Canaanites were ruled by the “Egyptian Empire.”
It is not uncommon in Israel for simple walkers and especially children to get their hands on very old artifacts, witnesses to the country’s multi-millennium history.