The riddle of the identity of a 3,200-year-old round bronze tablet with a carved face of a woman has apparently been solved, 13 years after it was discovered at the El-ahwat excavation site between Katzir-Harish and Nahal Iron (Wadi Ara) by scientist Oren Cohen of the University of Haifa.
The small, broken-off piece of metal is probably part of a linchpin that held the wheel to a war chariot sent to battle by the Canaanite general Sisera against the Israelites, says Prof. Adam Zertal, who for 33 years has led weekly walks with university colleagues and volunteers over “every square meter” of Samaria and the Jordan Rift to search for archeological evidence from biblical times.
The round, bronze tablet, about 2 centimeters in diameter and 5 millimeters thick, features a carved face of a woman wearing a cap and earrings shaped as chariot wheels. It was found in a structure identified as the “Governor’s House.”
Cohen was unable to find its parallel in any other archeological discoveries. When carrying out a study on the walls of the Temple of Rameses III in Egypt of ancient reliefs depicting chariot battles, Cohen identified a unique decoration – the bronze linchpins fastening the chariot wheels were decorated with the faces of captives, foreigners and enemies of Egypt. He also noticed that these decorations characterized those chariots that were used by royalty and other dignitaries. Cohen found that the linchpin with the woman’s face found near Katzir was almost identical to that found in the Egyptian temple.
The identification as a linchpin, Zertal said, 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 Haroshet Hagoyim – the Canaanite base of Sisera, as mentioned in the fourth and fifth chapter of the Book of Judges, the 70-year archeologist told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The Egyptians and Canaanites both created linchpins for chariots with the carved faces of their enemies; the place on the wheels were considered “very undignified,” said Zertal, like the Jews putting Haman’s name on the soles of their shoes for beating against the floor while the Book of Esther is read aloud.
The woman whose face is depicted on the linchpin found at the site was apparently a Hittite goddess; the Hittites were bitter enemies of the Egyptians. “So suddenly we realized that there was evidence of chariots from the head of the broken linchpin, which was found 10 centimeters underground in the large ‘Governor’s House’ that overlooked the northern quarter, where a large number of chariots had apparently been parked,” Zertal said.
The city’s uniqueness – its fortifications, passageways in the walls and rounded huts uncovered in the Zertal digs – made it foreign amid the 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 full excavation and its conclusions have been summarized in Zertal’s 2010 Hebrew-language science-based novel, Sisera’s Secret, A Journey following the Sea-Peoples and the Song of Deborah.
Sisera was the captain of the army of Yavin, king of Canaan. According to Judges 4:3, Sisera led an army of 900 iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for two decades. Deborah the Prophetess, then leader of the Israelite tribes, persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle. He led a force of 10,000 and destroyed the army of Sisera, whose origin was completely unknown. The battle, the Bible says, led to a 40-year peace.
After his defeat, Sisera fled to the tent of Hever the Kenite in the plain of Za’anaim, where Hever’s wife, Yael, invited him inside and gave him milk to drink. This put him into a slumber; Yael – becoming the second heroine in the story after Deborah – quietly came close to him and pounded one of the tent pegs into his temple with a mallet, killing her enemy.
Zertal identified Sisera with the town of Sassari, arguing that he came from the people of Shardana – or Sardinia. “Sisera’s name did not appear on any archeological findings in the Middle East. But we did research and found that in Sardinia, there is a city called Sassari. About a third of people’s names in the world are based on the place their family come from. We believe that Sisera or his family came from Sassari. Sea peoples came to the Land of Israel from the sea. The Philistines were the most famous, but the Shardana people also arrived,” Zertal said.
Eighteen years ago, said Zertal of the university’s Zinman Institute of Archeology, “we discovered an unknown city near Katzir with a huge, six-meter-wide wall. We found corridors, which were unusual, and in 1995 reached the conclusion that the residents were foreigners and not natives. They established features from their native home, just as the Chinese in New York created Chinatown. Everything fit together,” said Zertal, who noted that the area in Wadi Ara was very strategic, as it connected between Galilee and Samaria. “So the battle of Sisera and the Israelites was very important. But we had no visible signs where the Haroshet Hagoyim mentioned in the Bible as the place where the chariots left for battle actually was located.”
The Haifa team wondered where the residents could have come from and realized that the Egyptian writing on the Temple of Rameses III in the 12th century BCE described his being a warrior who fought against Philistine and Shardana soldiers who wanted to capture Egypt. He was described as having constructed citadels, but archeologists were unable to find any.
Zertal noted that it was fortunate the site was not built on afterward,
from after the battle until the modern age. “But Katzir had plans to
expand into the area. That has been canceled, and we have built a
fence. We want people to visit the site,” he said.
The Haifa archeologist was raised at a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz and
severely wounded in the Yom Kippur War. “I spent a year at Hadassah
Hospital in Jerusalem, and I became interested in archeology. Although
I had argued that the Bible was full of myths, I decided after my
recovery to travel the land by foot to look for archeological evidence.”
Zertal, who took the walks often using crutches from his decades-old
injury, added: “I am a man of science and have to investigate whether
what is described in the Bible suits the geography. Nobody thought
there was an altar on Mount Ebal, but the evidence was found. It is not
a legend. When you do archeological research as you should, you see a
lot [of the biblical stories] is reality.”