Roman-era statues discovered near burial site in Beit Shean.
(photo credit: EYTAN KLEIN/IAA)
Two Roman statues were discovered earlier this month after a Beit She’an resident took a stroll north of the ancient tell, the Antiquities Authorities said on Sunday. The statues’ discovery is important for understanding late Roman period style, as no two statues from this time period resemble each other.
The woman noticed the top of a head of one of the statues while walking around the ancient Biblical site, known in Roman times as Scythopolis, that had been peeking out from the ground, the authority said in a statement. The resident and her husband alerted the authority’s Theft Prevention Unit, which quickly arrived at the site and uncovered the statue. They dated the finding to the late Roman-early Byzantine period (third to fourth centuries CE).
During their visit, the unit uncovered an additional Roman-era statue. The statues were then transferred to the authority’s laboratories for preservation and research.
The statues that were found were made of local limestone, and have distinctive features of clothing and hair, according to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the authority’s Theft Prevention Unit. One statue appears to be the figure of a man with a beard.
Such artifacts are usually placed near or inside burial caves, and are intended to be a likeness of the deceased.
Similar sculptures have been found in the past near the region of Beit She’an, which sits at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and Jezreel Valley, and in the north of the Jordanian kingdom, but none of them have previously resembled the other – hence the importance of the Beit She’an finding.
The styling of the statues also indicate a unique, local style that took over in art during the later Roman period, whereas Classical art was more commonplace earlier in the era, according to Klein.
“It seems that the busts were exposed following the recent heavy rainfall in the area,” said Nir Distelfeld, inspector for the Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit. “These are very important finds, which tell us a great deal about the inhabitants of the [Beit She’an] area in antiquity.”
Distelfeld added that the heavy winter rains may bring other finds to the surface, and requested that the public alert the Antiquities Authority if they spot any artifacts.
Beit She’an has been the site of previous statue or bust findings from the Roman period. In January 1978, two large marble heads were discovered during construction work at the site. The two heads represented Athena and an “ideal” female head, and were Roman period works that were adaptations from original Greek statues. Those statues were also considered to be produced locally in the same workshop, which was known for imitating Graeco-Roman types of funerary busts, according to scholars.
Beit She’an itself has a rich history that reflected various religious groups living within its walls. The site’s remains include an amphitheater, theater, odeon, basilica, several temples, bathhouses and colonnaded streets that can still be seen today. Until the first Jewish Revolt in 66 CE, the city was inhabited by a mixed population of pagans and Jews. The historian Josephus Flavius noted that the High Priest Jonathan was killed in Beit She’an by Demetrius II Nicator, who was king of the Seleucid Empire at the time.
After 66 CE, Jews who did not perish in the Jewish Revolt likely lived in the surrounding villages, as evidence of Jewish inhabitance within Beit She’an’s walls became scant.
Before the Hellenistic and subsequent Roman empires, Beit She’an was said to be conquered by the Philistines around 1100 BCE. King David is said to have captured the city in a series of military operations against the Philistines.
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