A smashed-up sculpture unearthed at the site of the ancient city Hazor is, ‘beyond any doubt,’ the representation of an Egyptian pharaoh, experts say. Just who the 4,300-year-old effigy was modeled after, however, remains a mystery.
Discussing the find in a new book, researchers reveal the sculpture has raised a number of questions since it was first discovered in the 1990s, leaving archaeologists perplexed as to how it ended up in Hazor, in northern Israel. And, they say it was deliberately destroyed more than 1,000 years after its creation.
In a recently published book, A Royal Head, in Hazor VII, The 1990-2012 Excavations, the Bronze Age (Israel Exploration Society, 2017), the authors note that the concentration of Egyptian statues at the Israel site is ‘surprising.’
Along with the mysterious head, fragments of other Egyptian statues have been found there as well, with most thought to be sphinxes. Adding to the intrigue, the authors note that “all statues appear to have been deliberately smashed to pieces.”
The “the royal head” discovered at Hazor had no limbs or body accompanying it, according to the discussion penned by Simon Connor and Dimitri Laboury. And, it had suffered extensive damage.
“The cracks indicate that the nose had been broken and the head detached from the rest of the sculpture before being shattered,” the authors wrote. “Although most of the broken edges are sharp, suggesting, along with the fact that the head could be reconstructed almost in full, that it had been broken close to where it was found, the helix – or outer rim – of the right ear shows more weathered fractures, suggesting multiple phases of damage.”
The statue was crafted from a type of metamorphic rock known as greywacke, which was commonly used in ancient Egyptian art dating back to the end of prehistoric times. This provides firm evidence of its Egyptian origin, according to the researchers, with facial characteristics suggesting it may be from the 5th Dynasty. Based on the nature of the statue itself, the researchers also say it depicts royalty.
|The sculpture was smashed apart when Hazor was destroyed around 3,300 years ago [Credit: Gaby Laron/
Hebrew University/Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in memory of Yigael Yadin]
“The person depicted wears a short, close-fitting curled cap-wig, topped by a urateus, the solar cobra that rises above the forehead of Pharaoh in ancient Egyptian iconography, thus identifying our character as a king of Egypt beyond any doubt,” the authors wrote.
They also suspect the statuette may once have been propped against a panel or slab, or have come from a group or pair of sculptures, possibly putting it alongside a religious figure, female partner, or a “doubled royal representation.” Still, they say there’s no way to know who the Egyptian royal represented by the statue really was.
The archaeological site at Hazor is said to be the largest biblical-era site in Israel, and was once the ‘largest and most important city in the entire region,’ according to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The ‘upper city’ was first settled in the third millennium BCE, during the Early Bronze Age, followed later by the lower city around the 18th century BCE. It continued to expand until roughly the 13th century, at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Then, the experts say it was “violently destroyed.”
Some experts suspect it may have been wiped out by Israelites, led by Joshua. After winning the battle, Joshua “burned and ravaged the city.”
A Biblical narrative (Jos 11:10-12) describing the fall of the city pains a grisly picture of the aftermath of the battle: “And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword: for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed them, not sparing anything that breathed, and he burned up Hazor itself. Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds – except Hazor.”
According to the researchers, there are many mysteries swirling about the discovery of the pharaoh head – one being, how did it come to meet its ultimate end alongside the final destruction of Hazor? And, as of yet, there are no conclusive answers.
“Although many hypothetical scenarios could be suggested, no definite conclusion can be drawn,” the researchers write. “The history of the statue was surely quite complex, and the kingdom of Hazor must have been eager to use and display a prestige object connected to Egyptian royal imagery.”