A rare discovery was made in the Givati Parking Lot excavation this week! Under a plaster floor dating to the Abbasid period, excavators from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University uncovered a tiny clay amulet.
Although the amulet is only one centimeter in size, it provides archaeologists with an intimate look into the personal religious life of the ancient owner of this amulet. Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Preiss, of the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University, translated the inscription and interprets it as a personal blessing or prayer which reads:
The first line of writing is clear, and uses the same wording as many known inscriptions from the 8th-10th century CE, including semiprecious stone seals and roadside inscriptions created by pilgrims en route to Mecca. The second line, while somewhat faded, was interpreted based on the wording of several other personal seals, as well as verses from the Koran.
According to the researchers, “Because this amulet does not have a hole to thread it on a string, we can assume that it was set in a piece of jewelry or placed in some sort of container.” It’s bearer, apparently a man named Kareem, must have kept the amulet in belief that it would bring a blessing of protection. The directors of the excavation, Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, say that “the size of the object, its shape, and the text on it indicate that it was apparently used as an amulet for blessing and protection.”
The small room in which the amulet was discovered also contained ceramics including a complete oil lamp dating to the Abassid period. Although “the poor preservation of the architecture make[s] the purpose of the structure difficult to determine,” several installations within the structure indicate that cooking activities took place there. Previous excavations in the area uncovered modest residential and commercial structures also dating to the Abassid period. Researchers hypothesize that "this structure was used as part of that same industrial zone.”
How the amulet ended up between two plaster floors in the building is somewhat unclear. Most likely, it was either placed there to bring a blessing on Kareem and his household, or it was simply dropped by its owner and burried by the processes of time.
While the inscription itself is fascinating, Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Preiss suggests the clay material is what makes this discovery particularly interesting. An inscribed clay amulet, particularly one this tiny, is an exciting and relatively rare archaeological find!
Photo credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David Archives
Video credit: Gil Mezuman, City of David Archives
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquity Authority