Eighth-Century B.C.E. Assyrian Scarab Discovered by Hiker in Lower Galilee

Winter rains reveal a buried gem.
Round face of the Scarab Seal
Anastasia Shapiro/Israel Antiquities Authority

When Erez Avrahamov, a resident of Peduel, Israel, on two days’ leave from military service, went for a hike in the Tabor Stream Nature Reserve in Lower Galilee, he didn’t expect that he would be calling the Israel Antiquities Authority (iaa) with a discovery.

Erez Avrahamov with the seal
Erez Abrahamov

While hiking, an orange glimmer caught his attention. “After picking it up, I noticed engravings on it resembling a scarab,” he said in a press release issued today. “I contacted and reported the amazing find to the Israel Antiquities Authority.”

What Avrahamov had discovered was a nearly 2,800-year-old First Temple Period Assyrian scarab seal.

Scarab seals are named after their design, which resembles a scarab beetle. They are particularly common in ancient Egypt but are also found in other regions, including the Levant and Mesopotamia. This particular scarab, made of carnelian (a semi-precious stone), depicts a griffin, or winged-horse motif. “Similar scarabs were dated to the eighth century b.c.e.,” stated Prof. Othmar Keel of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, an expert in this field.

The flat face of the scarab seal depicting a griffin
Anastasia Shapiro/Israel Antiquities Authority

Avrahamov discovered the artifact at the foot of Tel Rekhesh. According to iaa representative Nir Distelfeld, who received Avrahamov’s call, this site “one of the important tel sites in the north of the country” and “is identified as the city of ‘Anaharath’ (Joshua 19:19) within the territory of the tribe of Issachar.”

While further analysis awaits, Dr. Yitzhak Paz, an archaeologist who has excavated Tel Rekhesh since 2006, provided additional context:

One of the most important periods of settlement dates back to the [latter half of the] Iron Age. … During this period, a large citadel stood atop the mound containing fortified structures, paved bathrooms, halls and ceremonial chambers, which belonged to the Assyrian rule. This rule was responsible for the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. The scarab discovered at Tel Rekhesh may be from the period of the Assyrian rule and may indicate the presence of Assyrian officials (or perhaps Babylonian) at Tel Rekhesh during this period.

The griffin appearing on the seal is a known artistic motif in ancient Near Eastern art and is common on seals from the Iron Age. Considering the scarcity of finds discovered so far in the area of the citadel, and if indeed the seal can be dated to the late Iron Age based on iconographic considerations, it may be possible to link the seal to the Assyrian presence in the citadel of Tel Rekhesh, which may be a discovery of great significance!

Erez Abrahamov

“Every winter, with the arrival of the rainy season, antiquities begin to ‘float’ and rise above the surface,” commented Eli Eskosido, director of the iaa. He urged the public to adhere to the laws and report finds to the iaa, emphasizing that “the exact place of discovery is crucial for extracting knowledge about it.”

Avrahamov’s discovery comes barely a year after another discovery of a scarab by a young hiker. Given the rich history of Israel, however, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Let the Stones Speak