Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ancient lead coffins

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Ancient Israelites imported lead coffins from Tyre, say archaeologists. A fragment forgotten and stashed away in a kibbutz turns out to be identical with metal coffins found in Lebanon (Ran Shapira, Haaretz).
For decades, a fragment from an ancient lead coffin lay stashed away in the basement of a kibbutz library. But a few months ago, a librarian came across it and showed it to researchers from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology - who realized that they had a rare find. The fragment of coffin found in the cellar of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv was absolutely identical to one found about a century earlier in the Lebanese city of Tyre.

The fragment dates from the late Roman era, the second or third century C.E., say the archaeologists.


Back then, it wasn’t the norm to hand antiquities over to a state agency. So kibbutz members who found antiquities in their fields would use them to ornament the kibbutz. The lead coffin fragment was displayed in the library for a while, but was eventually stuck into a corner and forgotten.


The lead coffins of Akhziv were discovered during the period of the British Mandate, before the State of Israel's birth; Aviam believes there are more to be discovered.

Aviam and Shalem compared the decorations on the coffin fragment to those of other lead coffins found in Israel and concluded that it belonged to a group of coffins made in Tyre in the second or third century C.E. But the real surprise was when they discovered it was identical to a coffin found in Tyre, some 27 kilometers to the north.

The decorations on the Tyre coffin, which is whole, are identical to those on the fragment from Gesher Haziv. The decorations were also ordered in exactly the same way. The conclusion is they were made with the same mold.

This discovery is of considerable interest in itself, but it also illustrates that ancient lead from the vicinity of Israel is out there, some of it just lying around in kibbutzim. This is not irrelevant to the (now played-out) discussion of the fake metal codices.