Archaeologists Discover Earliest Equestrian Bit

Archaeologists excavate a donkey burial from the Middle Bronze IIB period (1,750-1,650 B.C.) in the Levant and discover the earliest reported equestrian bit.

Miami, FL — (SBWIRE) — 03/19/2012 — Archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren from Ben Gurion University excavated an equid burial at Tel-Haror, an archaeological site located in the Levant with strata dating to the Middle Bronze IIB Period (1,750-1,650 B.C.). Here, archaeologists retrieved the earliest metal equestrian bit. Dr. Joel Klenck, a Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, who presided over the analysis of the equid remains, states the burial is at the base of a dome-shaped structure. The southeastern wall of the burial edifice is overlaid by a thick mudbrick partition that surrounds a nearby temple complex. An archaeologist specializing in the analysis of faunal remains, Klenck notes the equid is a donkey as evidenced by foot bone measurements and traits on the grinding surfaces of its teeth. In 2011, the skeletal data from the donkey burial was compared to the material assemblage at the site in preparation for a forthcoming manuscript.

Archaeologists are increasingly finding remains of horses and donkeys in ancient Near Eastern contexts. The Vulture Stele, dating to the Early Dynastic III period (2,600-2,350 B.C.) in Mesopotamia, portrays an equid pulling a chariot-like vehicle. Various Mesopotamian manuscripts dating to this period mention the horse, donkey, hemione and hybrids such as the mule. From Sumeria, terracotta reliefs from the early second millennium B.C. show equids pulling a chariot and a human riding horseback. Hittite reliefs from the thirteenth century B.C. in modern Turkey show a larger species of equid perhaps a horse pulling a chariot with three soldiers in contrast to smaller equids in Egyptian murals presumably donkeys pulling chariots with only two men. Horse bones were found at Tell el-‘Ajjul in Israel in contexts dated to around 3,400 B.C. and in Turkey at Bogazkoy from the seventeenth century B.C. Archaeologists excavated donkey remains at Tell Brak in Mesopotamia in contexts dating between 2,580 and 2,455 B.C. Egyptian donkey burials dating to Middle Bronze II periods (2,000-1,550 B.C.) include those found at Inshas, Tell el-Farasha, Tell el-Maskhuta, and Tell el-Dab’a. From similar time periods in the Levant, archaeologists excavated donkeys at Tell el-‘Ajjul and Jericho.

Klenck notes the donkey burial at Tel Haror is special since this site provides the earliest direct evidence of a metal equestrian bit. These devices continue to be used today to control the movement of horses and other equids. He states, “Until the excavation at Tel Haror, archaeologists had only indirect evidence for the use of bits. An example of this indirect evidence is wear marks on equid teeth at the fortress of Buhen in contexts dating to the twentieth century B.C. At Tel Haror, we retrieved the actual metal device.” The archaeologist notes the ancient bit caused equids to turn due to the force of the device. Also, round plates on either end of the ancient bit exhibit triangular spikes that pressured the lips of the equid if the reins were pulled from one direction. Klenck concludes, “The excavation of the earliest reported metal bit at Tel Haror provides important data concerning ancient equestrian practices and methods of transportation in the Levant.”

Archaeologists Excavate Puppy and Raven Skeletons in Bronze Age Temple Complex in Levant

Archaeologists excavate puppy and corvid remains in a Middle Bronze Age temple complex in the Levant.

Miami, FL — (SBWIRE) — 03/19/2012 — Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, states that recent archaeological discoveries are revealing new aspects of cult practices of ancient inhabitants in the Levant. At Tel-Haror, a site with strata dating to the Middle Bronze II period (1,800-1,550 B.C.), archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren from Ben Gurion University excavated a temple complex with a “migdal” or tower temple. Here, Klenck directed the removal and excavated the skeletal remains of dozens of juvenile dogs, ravens and crows in various states of articulation. In 2011, the animal bone data was compared to the unique material assemblage at the site that includes serpent figurines, the upraised arm of a statuette, and a pentagram design in preparation for a forthcoming manuscript. Many of the puppies, ravens and crows surrounded a square altar with a mudbrick base several meters away from the main sanctuary. The populations at Tel-Haror buried human shaped clay figurines, small ceramic bowls and other artifacts with these dog and corvid bones. Klenck states, “Several of the more complete animal skeletons showed the heads of these animals were severely twisted. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants broke the necks of some of these animals before interring them in the temple complex.”

The cultic significance of why puppies, ravens and crows were dispatched is less clear. Klenck notes several inscriptions that might shed light on the ideological motivations of the inhabitants at Tel Haror. In the Tale of Aqhat retrieved from Ugarit dating to the fourteenth century B.C. the tablet mentions the deity Baal splitting open vultures and interring them in the ground. Other texts dating from the nineteenth to first centuries B.C. mention the use of dogs in conjunction with healing deities such as Gula or Ninisina in Mesopotamia, Asclepius in Greece, Eshmun in Phoenicia and Resheph-Mukal in Phoenician Cyprus. Further, Hittite texts such as the Ritual of Tunnawi mention puppies in rituals for purification, healing and to ward off evil omens. In contexts from the tenth century B.C., dog burials were found in a ramp leading to a temple at Isin in ancient Babylonia.

Conversely, ancient Israelites considered dogs and corvids to be unclean and these animals were forbidden in their sacred areas. Also, a text in the Tanakh deplores rituals that involve the breaking of a dog necks. Klenck concludes, “Although we can only speculate on their ideological motives, the excavation of puppies and corvids from the Middle Bronze Age temple complex at Tel Haror adds new insight into the ritual activities of ancient Levantine populations.”