Oldest known musical image in Israel found in Western Galilee

“The importance of the scene lies in the possible symbolic context, it being part of a complex ritual known in Mesopotamia as the ‘sacred marriage'."

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May 26, 2015 14:00
2 minute read.
Archaeology Israel

An image of a fragment of the cylinder seal impression that was found at the Bet Ha-Emeq antiquities site on which a music scene is depicted.. (photo credit: COURTESY OF NIMROD GETZOV AND IAA)

The oldest depiction of a music scene ever discovered in Israel – a partial 5,000-yearold cylinder seal impression from the Early Bronze Age – was unearthed in the Western Galilee by the Antiquities Authority.

The scene depicted on the seal fragment portrays a rite in a “sacred marriage” ceremony between a king and a goddess in Mesopotamia. Two seated figures can also be seen playing an instrument that appears to be a lyre, a harplike instrument common in the ancient world, authority spokeswoman Yoli Shwartz said on Tuesday.

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“[The seal’s engraving] includes music and dancing, a banquet, a meeting between the king and the goddess, and their sexual union,” Shwartz said.

The rare relic was originally found in the 1970s at the Beit Ha’emek antiquities site near the Western Galilee, during an archeological survey conducted by the authority’s Dr. Rafi Frankel, she said.

In a joint statement, archeologists Dr. Yitzhak Paz, Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov said the seal impression, which appeared on a fragment of a large storage vessel, sheds light on the “symbolic-ritualistic world of the Early Bronze Age inhabitants” in Israel.

“The importance of the scene lies in the possible symbolic context, it being part of a complex ritual known in Mesopotamia as the ‘sacred marriage,’” the statement said. “In this ceremony, a symbolic union took place between the king and a goddess, actually represented by a priestess.”

“The ceremony included several rites: music and dancing, a banquet, a meeting between the king and the goddess, and an act of sexual congress between them,” the statement continued.

“Recently, Prof. Pierre de Miroschedji, of the National Center for Scientific Research, suggested that many of the seal impressions from the Early Bronze Age portray the sacred marriage rite.”

The archeologists added that the seal impression reflects an unprecedented glimpse into the musical aspect of the ancient ceremony.

“This is the first time it is definitely possible to identify a figure playing an instrument on a seal impression from the third millennium BCE,” they said.

“This is when most of the ‘cultic’ impressions from Israel depict dancing figures, or the feasting scene in which the female and male figures are shown facing each other in the rite just before their sexual encounter.”

The relic will be presented to the public free of charge during a Hebrew University symposium titled “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll,” cosponsored by the university and the authority, the archeologists said.


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