Anthropoid Clay Coffin

Anthropoid Clay Coffin. By Aleamae – Camera, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Deir el-Balah and the cosmopolitan culture of the Late Bronze Age

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem became accessible to Israelis for the first time in nearly 20 years. For many who, like me, had grown up in Jerusalem during the British Mandate, when one could travel freely between the Old City and the new, an intense curiosity mixed with nostalgia frequently brought us through Jaffa Gate to those vaulted cobbled streets and alleys dotted with colorful shops and markets that give the Old City its unique charm. Antiquities shops were abundant—as they always have been and as could be expected in a country where one literally trips over history at every turn.

I could hardly fail to notice that many of these antiquities shops were flooded with Egyptian scarabs and jewelry, alabaster and bronze vessels, and fine Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery. All of these artifacts were typical 14th- to 13th-century B.C. burial offerings. But it wasn’t until someone showed me the clay lid of an anthropoid, or human-shaped, coffin acquired in one of these shops that my interest was sparked.

Anthropoid coffins were found in Palestine in the 1920s at Beth-Shean, in the north, and at Tell el-Farah (South), about 20 miles southeast of Gaza.

Read the rest of Cultural Crossroads in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.