Roman Busts Discovered near Beth She’an

Two stone busts discovered by local woman likely placed at entrance of burial cave, depicting deceased buried within.

While taking a walk north of ancient Beth She’an, a local resident spotted something curious sticking out of the ground. She and her husband called the Israel Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) who promptly arrived at the site to investigate. The stone object turned out to be part of a statue’s head, exposed by the recent December rain. Together, the ATPU inspectors and the woman who initially spotted the artifact uncovered an impressive stone bust. Buried beside it they discovered a second statue similar to the first. Both busts were taken to the IAA’s laboratories where they will be studied and preserved. 

The two busts uncovered.  Photo:   Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

The two busts uncovered. Photo: Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

The stone figures date to the Late Roman Period (3rd - 4th centuries CE) and are made of local limestone. According to Dr. Eitan Klein, the Deputy Director of ATPU, both busts “show unique facial features, details of clothing and hairstyles. It seems that at least one of them depicts a bearded man.” Who do the statues represent? Were they fashioned to resemble actual individuals who lived in ancient times?

According to Klein, “Similar busts have been found in the past in the Beth She’an area and in northern Jordan. But not one resembles another, and that’s the importance of these finds.” Usually found near or in burial caves, archaeologists believe the busts depict the individuals buried nearby - immortalizing the image of the deceased in the busts’ stone features.

Klein also noted that the busts were made in an oriental style, “which shows that at the end of the Roman period the use of Classical art had subsided, and local trends came into vogue.”

Removing the busts from their find spot. Credit: Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

Nir Distelfeld, the ATPU inspector over the Beth She’an region, encourages local Israelis to be aware of antiquities exposed by winter rains as the busts were. Distelfeld calls on Israelis to report any discoveries to the ATPU so they can be protected and studied. Since the Antiquities Law was passed in 1987, all antiquities discovered within Israel belong to the State and it is a crime to either take or sell an antiquity for ones self. The Woman who discovered the busts and reported them to the Theft Prevention Unit will receive a “Good Citizen Certificate” from the IAA in appreciation of her alertness and appropriate response.

Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Unit inspector, with the two busts.  Photo: Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Unit inspector, with the two busts. Photo: Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority

These are very important finds, which tell us a great deal about the inhabitants of the Beth She’an area in antiquity…. We thank the Beth She’an resident for her alertness and good citizenship and she will receive a certificate of appreciation…. These finds belong to everyone in the country, and now we can all enjoy them and understand their historical context. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if these finds had gotten into the wrong hands.
— Nir Distelfeld, ATPU inspector

Abby VanderHart, FIAA Contributor

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