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In Photos: Pottery Vessel with Pensive Figurine Discovered in Israel

Excavating Bronze Age Israel

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The site of excavations in Yehud, Israel, where archaeologists are working to secure artifacts before the construction of a new housing development. At this site, the Israel Antiquities Authority researchers found an unusual ceramic vessel topped with a sculpture of a pensive person.

Pensive sculpture

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The sculpted person atop the 7-inch (18 centimeter) tall jug. The vessel dates back almost 4,000 years, and while the shape of the jug is quite common for this time period, it's odd to find the decorative flourish of a sculpture on top. Archaeologists aren't sure whether this figure was made by the original potter or added later.

Exposing history

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The 4,000-year-old vessel is exposed in the field. The pottery had been fragmented. The vessel was found alongside other artifacts like daggers and arrowheads and appeared to have been originally buried in the grave of an important person. Funeral assemblages were thought to provide the deceased useful goods for the afterlife.

Restoring the vessel

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Clara Amit)

Conservators at the Israel Antiquities Authority piece together the 4,000-year-old ceramic vessel. The figure rests one arm across its knees and props the other on its chin in a pensive pose.

An ancient puzzle

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Clara Amit)

A conservator cleans and glues the ceramic vessel found in Yehud. High school students who were part of an archaeology training program were part of the dig that uncovered this rare artifact.

Restored jug

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Clara Amit)

Cleaned, restored and preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the jug raises questions: Who sculpted the figure atop the neck and why? Who was buried with this unusual vessel, and what purpose did it serve?

Detailed sculpture

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Clara Amit)

A detailed view of the sculpted figure atop the jug found in Israel. The neck of the jug provides the base for the sculpture. The arms, legs and head were then added, said excavation director Gilad Itach.

"The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000 year old sculpture is extremely impressive," Itach said in a statement.

Jug and sculpture

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Clara Amit)

A pensive figure sits atop a Bronze Age jug found in Yehud, Israel. This artifact was part of the funerary goods for someone, likely an important person in the community.

Training future archaeologists

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

High school students work at the excavation site in Yehud. The students are part of a Ministry of Education program that gives students fieldwork experience in an attempt to train the next generation of archaeologists.

Ancient arrowheads

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Maxim Dinstein, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Bronze arrowheads were found near the unusual ceramic vessel. They were probably part of the same assemblage of funeral items as the jug. The quality of the items makes archaeologists suspect that the grave was that of an important or respected person in the community.

Butter churn

sculpted-vessel pottery

(Image credit: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

A Copper Age (Chalcolithic) butter churn found during the Yehud excavations. A churn like this might have been suspended from a wooden pole by the (broken) handles at the sides so that it could have been rocked back and forth, churning the milk into butter. These type of churns are called "swing churns" and are known from the Middle East in the Chalcolithic.