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Mysterious object identified as chariot part

July 3, 2010

by Neil Clarkson

A mysterious 3200-year-old bronze artefact found in central Israel 13 years ago has been identified as part of a horse-drawn battle chariot.

The chariot linchpin.

Egyptian reliefs showing battle chariots and engraved linchpins.

Scientists from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa say the round bronze tablet with a carved face of a woman, found at the El-ahwat excavation site near Katzir, is part of a linchpin that held the wheel of a battle chariot in place.

Professor Adam Zertal said the identification, made by Oren Cohen, of the Zinman Institute, is likely to support the opinion that the archaeological site is Harosheth Haggoyim - Sisera's home town, as mentioned in the Book of Judges.

"Such an identification reinforces the claim that a high-ranking Egyptian or local ruler was based at this location, and is likely to support the theory that the site is Harosheth Haggoyim, the home town of Sisera, as mentioned in Judges 4-5," Zertal says.

The El-ahwat site, near Nahal 'Iron, was exposed by a co-operative team from the Universities of Haifa and Cagliari, in Sardinia. The team excavated there from 1993 to 2000, under the supervision of Zertal.

The full excavation and its conclusions have been summarised in Zertal's book, "Sisera's Secret, A Journey following the Sea-Peoples and the Song of Deborah".

One of the objects uncovered at the site remained shrouded in mystery. The round, bronze tablet, about 2cm in diameter and 5mm thick, was found in a structure identified as the "Governor's House".

The object featured a carved face of a woman wearing a cap and earrings shaped as chariot wheels.

When uncovered in 1997, it was already clear that the tablet was the broken end of an elongated object, but Cohen, who included the tablet in the final report of the excavations, did not manage to find its parallel in any other archaeological discoveries.

Now, 13 years later, the mystery has been solved. When carrying out a scrutinising study of ancient Egyptian reliefs depicting chariot battles, Cohen discerned a unique decoration: the bronze linchpins fastening the chariot wheels were decorated with people's faces - of captives, foreigners and enemies of Egypt.

He also noticed that these decorations characterised those chariots that were used by royalty and distinguished people.

"This identification enhances the historical and archaeological value of the site and proves that chariots belonging to high-ranking individuals were found there," Zertal said.

"It provides support for the possibility, which has not yet been definitively established, that this was Sisera's city of residence and that it was from there that the chariots set out on their way to the battle against the Israelite tribes, located between the ancient sites of Taanach and Megiddo."

The excavated city has been dated back to the end of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age (13th-12th centuries BCE).

The city's uniqueness - its fortifications, passageways in the walls, and rounded huts - made it foreign amidst a Canaanite landscape.

Zertal has proposed that based on these unusual features, the site may have been home to the Shardana tribe of the Sea-Peoples, who, according to some researchers, lived in Harosheth Haggoyim, Sisera's capital city.

The city is mentioned in the Bible's narratives as Sisera's capital, and it was from there that the army of chariots set out to fight the Israelites, who were being led by Deborah the prophetess and Barak, son of Avinoam.



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