A ‘Babylonian’ Grave from Megiddo’s Area F
by Robert Deutsch

During the 1994 excavation of Megiddo's Area F, a grave was uncovered (Square AZ/70; Locus 94/F/70; bottom level 138.35). The grave, the only remnant of Level F-3, cut through an Iron II pit into Late Bronze strata and was subsequently disturbed by a Late Roman wall (94/F/1). The burial consisted of a skeleton lying on its back, seemingly in foetal position, oriented west-east, with the head turned slightly toward the south. The skeleton had sustained considerable damage.

the 'Babylonian' grave (Locus 94/F/70)

the 'Babylonian' grave (Locus 94/F/70)

The burial offerings recovered include:

  • a glazed terracotta bottle
  • a glass seal (which retained a fragment of the ring on which it had been mounted)
  • an ivory box
  • an agate bead (for two shells found in the burial, which may have been used as amulets or ornaments)

The Offerings

the glazed terracotta bottle from the 'Babylonian' grave

the glazed terracotta bottle from the 'Babylonian' grave

Glazed Terracotta Bottle

The bottle (94/F/70/ARl) was found lying at the left side of the skull. Only two-thirds of the vessel has survived, as it had been damaged by the foundations of the Late Roman wall. The restored bottle is 16.2cm high and has a maximum diameter of 6.9cm. It has a long ovoid body, narrow neck and flaring rounded rim. The interior surface is yellow glazed. The exterior surface of the body is decorated with belts of linked, dentated triangles, a row of dotted-circle 'eye decorations', and a few plain bands. The base is decorated with a 'bull's eye' pattern. The glaze colours used to decorate the bottle are white, yellow and turquoise with black outlines, while the background is orange-brown.

The only typological parallel from Israel is an unglazed bottle from Megiddo Stratum I (Lamon and Shipton, 1939: Pl. 9:5). Imported glazed vessels are not very common in Israel. A Neo-Assyrian glazed flask of the 8th/7th century BCE was found in Pit 558 at Lachish (Tufnell, 1953: 227, Pl. 56:32; Magrill, 1989-90: 41-45), and a fragment, probably from a similar item, came from Hazor (Yadin et al, 1961: Pl. CCLVI:8).

Yet the Megiddo bottle is typologically different. The closest parallels to the Megiddo item in terms of size, typology and decoration (including colours and glaze) are two bottles, one intact and the second fragmentary, from Mesopotamia, found in burials from the 8th/7th century at Babylon (Reuther, 1926: 221-223, Pls. 69:122a, 75:c, d).

Glazed pottery bottles of different typology but with decoration similar to the Megiddo item are known from other tombs of the 8th or 7th century BCE from Babylon (Fukai, 1981: 24, Fig. 32) and Assur (Haller, 1954: Pl. 3:av). A group of decorated glazed bottles from the 8th/7th century BCE, mainly with pointed ovoid bodies or flat bases, is known from a production centre located in northern Syria. Examples have been found at Al Mina, Catal Hüyük, Sakcagozü, Tarsus and Zincirli (Peltenburg, 1969: 75, 83).

Another glazed pottery production centre was active in the first millennium BCE in Iran (Fukai, 1981: 8-27). This centre produced a typologically large variety of glazed pottery, but no bottles similar to the Megiddo item. The dotted circles which appear on the Megiddo bottle are also known from Mesopotamian glass bottles, a 6th/5th-century glass jar from Babylon (Reuther, 1926: 211a, Pl. 65:109b; Barag, 1970: 159-61, no.3, Fig. 60) and a first millennium BCE cylindrical glass alabastron (Barag, 1970: 170, Figs. 88-90).

The parallels in shape, glazing technique, decorative features and material suggest that the Megiddo bottle is an import from a Babylonian glazing production centre (Moorey, 1985: 168-170).

Ivory Box

the ivory box

the ivory box

A slightly damaged ivory box (94/F/70/AR3) was found on the interred body. The box is rectangular and measures 50.3 x 27.9 x 21.5mm. It is undecorated and probably had a lid which has been lost. Boxes of different types and materials are known from 8th/7th-century BCE tombs in Assur (Haller, 1954: Pls. 17:b, 29:a-d, 30:e,f) and Babylon (Reuther, 1968: Pl. 75:a).

Glass Seal

A seal with a fragment of a silver-plated bronze ring (94/F/70/AR2) was found with the finger bone. The seal (13.1 x 10.9 x 6.5mm) is a dome-shaped scaraboid, perforated lengthwise. It is made of translucent light green glass. It depicts a schematic lion walking to the left with its tail raised. A marking, possibly the letter nun (n), appears on the right.

the glass seal

the glass seal

Glass scaraboid seals became more common from the late 7th century BCE, particularly in the Persian period (Buchanan and Moorey, 1988:75; Barag, 1985: Pl. 12:96-99). At Megiddo, glass seals are known from Stratum III (Lamon and Shipton, 1939: Pl. 67:47, 49, 54). The roaring lion is a common motif on inscribed and uninscribed seals of the Iron II (Lemaire, 1979; 1990; Sass, 1993:223; Buchanan and Moorey, 1988:40) and on seals and seal impressions from Persian period jar handles (Stern, 1984:200, 210, 213). A close parallel to the schematic roaring lion appears on a faience scarab from Megiddo Stratum III (Lamon and Shipton, 1939: Pl. 67:52). It is also worth mentioning the roaring lion which appears on the seal of sm' 'bd yrb'm — "Shema', the servant of Jerobo'am (the King)" — found at Megiddo in 1904 (Schumacher, 1908:99).

Agate Bead

the agate bead

the agate bead

A bead (94/F/70/AR4), made of brown and white agate, was also uncovered. It is barrel-shaped and 18.7mm long. Its diameter varies from 6.5mm in the centre to 4.5mm at its ends. It was found during sifting of the earth removed from the burial. The bead is very common in shape and material and has parallels from Megiddo Strata V and IV (Lamon and Shipton, 1939: Pl. 90:65-66).

Conclusions

The burial offerings — jewellery (a ring and an agate bead), a glazed terracotta bottle and an ivory box — point to a female grave. The sophisticated imported Babylonian glazed bottle and the other luxury objects indicate that the grave was that of an affluent person. The foetal position of the deceased, which is similar to burials found in ceramic 'bathtub' coffins at Babylon (Reuther, 1926: Pls. 67-72), and the imported offerings, especially the glazed bottle with its parallels to Babylonian bottles, all point to a connection with Babylon. Stratigraphically, the grave is situated between an Iron II pit and a Late Roman wall. A more precise date can be inferred from the bottle and the glass seal. It seems that the burial can be dated safely to the late 7th or the early 6th century BCE.

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