A routine salvage excavation in the northern Jezreel Valley unearthed a rare and well-preserved coffin, as well as numerous bronze and clay artifacts, dating to the 13th century BCE, the Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.
The relics, from the Late Bronze Age, were discovered last month – prior to the installation of a gas pipe line – at Tel Shadud, an archeological mound near Kibbutz Sarid.
“During the excavation we discovered a unique and rare find: a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoidal lid [fashioned in the image of a person],” said Dr. Ron Be’eri, one of the excavation’s three directors.
Inside the coffin – the likes of which have not been discovered in more than 50 years – was the skeleton of an adult believed to be of Canaanite origin, who likely served the Egyptian government, Be’eri said.
An Egyptian signet encased in gold and affixed to a ring with the name of Pharaoh Seti I on its seal was discovered next to the remains.
Seti I, who ruled Egypt in the 13th century BCE, was the father of Ramses II, identified by some scholars as the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of the Israelites’ Exodus. “Seti’s name on the seal symbolizes power and protection, or the strength of the god Ra, the Sun god, one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon,” Be’eri said. “The winged Uraeus [cobra], protector of the pharaoh’s name, or of the sovereign himself, is clearly visible on the seal.”
The reference to Seti I on the signet aided the archeologists in dating the time of the burial to the 13th century BCE. Similar artifacts have been found in tombs unearthed in Deir el-Balah (in the central Gaza Strip) and Beit She’an (where the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley meet), once Egyptian administrative centers.
Near the coffin, the archeological team found the graves of two men and two women who may have been members of the Canaanite man’s family, as well as buried pottery, a bronze dagger and bowl, and hammered pieces of bronze scattered about.
The pottery likely served to store food, tableware, cultic vessels and animal bones.
“As was the custom, it seems these were used as offerings for the gods, and were also meant to provide the dead with sustenance in the afterlife,” Be’eri said. “Since the vessels interred with the individual were produced locally, we assume the deceased was an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government.”
An alternate theory posited by Be’eri and his co-directors, Dr. Edwin van den Brink and Dan Kirzner, is that the coffin – few of which have been uncovered in the country – may have belonged to a wealthy man who imitated Egyptian funerary customs.
“An ordinary person could not afford the purchase of such a coffin,” Be’eri said. “It’s obvious the deceased was a member of the local elite.”
According to Be’eri, the coffin at Tel Shadud serves as evidence of Egyptian control of the Jezreel Valley in the Late Bronze Age, when pharaohs governed the country and Egyptian culture strongly influenced the Canaanite upper class.
Tel Shadud preserves the biblical name “Sarid,” and the city is mentioned in the Bible in the context of the settlement of the Tribes of Israel.
Sarid was included in the territory of the tribe of Zevulun, and became a border city, as written in the Book of Joshua.
“Tel Shadud is strategically and economically significant because of its location alongside important roads from the biblical period,” said Be’eri. “Already in the first year of his reign [1294 BCE] a revolt broke out against Seti I in the Beit She’an Valley. Seti conquered that region and established Egyptian rule in Canaan.”
A cemetery dating to the reign of Seti I was previously discovered at Beit She’an, the center of the Egyptian rule in the Land of Israel, and similar clay coffins were exposed, he added.
While evidence of an Egyptian presence was detected in archeological surveys conducted in the Jezreel Valley in the past, Be’eri said last month’s discovery caught the archeologists by surprise.
The Antiquities Authority is considering sampling the DNA from inside the coffin to see if the deceased was originally a Canaanite or an Egyptian man who was buried in Canaan.