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Strata: Woollae Bullae, Devra Wexler, BAR 26:03, May-Jun 2000.

kadesh-barneaTeam Hopes to Find More Seals at Kedesh

Spurred by the discovery of a massive hoard of bullae—stamped pieces of clay used to seal documents—the excavation team at Tel Kedesh hopes it is on the verge of uncovering an entire ancient bullae archive. Nearly 2,000 bullae were uncovered last summer in a single 1-meter by 1-meter-square excavation area at Kedesh, located in the Upper Galilee, about 22 miles north of Tiberias. According to dig directors Sharon Herbert of the University of Michigan and Andrea Berlin of the University of Minnesota, the bullae were discovered in a late Hellenistic era building, measuring 120 by 170 feet, also discovered last summer.

As is often the case in archaeology, the bullae were discovered accidentally. The dig’s faunal analyst had requested that the excavators search for bird and fish bones, so volunteers were carefully sifting the earth in one corner of a room of the large building. The hoard they found is one of only 11 such Hellenistic bullae collections known and is the fourth largest uncovered in situ. of the room was excavated last year, Herbert and Berlin expect to find more bullae this season and are excited by the prospect of obtaining a complete bullae archive.

The bullae still display a wide range of remarkably clear images, thanks to a second-century B.C. fire that destroyed the building but acted as a kiln for the clay. Some of the bullae bear images of Greek gods, goddesses and mythological scenes (such as Ganymede, Aphrodite, and Zeus as an eagle); others depict “Persian-style” animals such as a panther carrying a spear; and still others include portraits of the Phoenician fertility goddess Tanit. One particularly interesting bulla shows a figure seated on a rearing horse—and all of these images are less than an inch wide!

Berlin suggests that the quantity and diversity of the bullae are a clue to the function of the building—and of the site itself. “The variety of sizes, images and even clay types indicates that the bullae have many different, perhaps even far-flung, origins,” she told BAR. Along with the size of the building and other storage facilities, the hoard of bullae indicates that Tel Kedesh may have been a major administrative center during the Hellenistic era.

Posted in: Hellenistic Period

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