4,000-year-old decapitated toads discovered in ancient Jerusalem tomb

Discovery from Canaanite period sheds new light on ancient funerary rituals during Middle Bronze Age.

4,000 year old decapitated toads found in Jerusalem. (YouTube Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel)
Remains of nine headless toads discovered by archeologists inside a well-preserved jar placed in a 4,000-yearold tomb in Jerusalem shed new light on burial customs during the Canaanite period of the Middle Bronze Age, the Antiquities Authority said on Monday.
The excavation, which took place in 2014 prior to the expansion of the Malha neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, also yielded evidence of the cultivation of date palms and myrtle bushes, possibly as part of funerary rituals.
According to the excavation’s directors on behalf of the Authority, Shua Kisilevitz and Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe, the section of the Nahal Refaim basin, where the tomb was unearthed, was once fertile ground for settlements, particularly during the Canaanite period.
“In recent years, excavations in the area have uncovered two settlement sites, two temples and a number of cemeteries, which provide new insight into the life of the local population at that time,” the researchers said in a joint statement.
Kisilevitz and Turgeman- Yaffe added that, after removing a large rock blocking the tomb’s opening, they discovered several bowls and jars still intact.
“In one of the jars, to our surprise, we found a heap of small bones,” they said.
“For an archeologist, finding tombs that were intentionally sealed in antiquity is a priceless treasure because they are a time capsule that allows us to encounter objects almost just as they were originally left. At that time, it was customary to bury the dead with offerings that constituted a kind of ‘burial kit,’ which, it was believed, would serve the deceased in the afterworld.”
A subsequent study of the bones, by Dr. Lior Weisbrod of the University of Haifa, revealed the corpses of the nine headless toads.
Another intriguing finding came to light through analysis of sediments collected from the clay jars and examined under a microscope. The examination, by Dr. Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University, revealed that shortly before the vessels were placed in the tomb they came into contact with various plants, including date palms and myrtle bushes.
“This fact is interesting because this is not the natural habitat for those species and they, therefore, seem to have been planted here intentionally,” concluded Langgut.
“During this period, the date palm symbolized fertility and rejuvenation, which could explain why the ancients cultivated the trees in this environment where they do not grow naturally.”
Based on their findings, the scholars say the florae may have been part of an orchard planted in an area where funeral rituals were held, during which offerings of food and objects were made to the deceased.
They concluded that the jar with the headless toads was among these offerings.
Research and analysis on the excavation will be presented on October 18 at the conference “New Studies in the Archeology of Jerusalem and its Region” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The event is open to the public.