This early Israelite vessel is highly unusual. Rather than the usual inverted plain cone design, the body is double-flared at the shoulder and waist, narrowing to a sharp inferior tip. The apex narrows only slightly from the shoulders to a wide, curl-lipped mouth, while the piece has a single lug handle connecting the shoulder to the mid-body.
The function of the piece is of course uncertain without XRF or sediment analysis, but the size and design would seem to argue for a social function – such as dispensing wine or oil, or perhaps a more expensive unguent – rather than storage, as is common for larger, coarser amphorae. The delicacy of manufacture would suggest that it may originally have been painted, as a piece of elite domestic tableware.
Pieces such as this are characteristics of the Israelites, a ‘tribal’ group that straddled the Early and Middle Iron-Age along with the Philistines and the Judeans. Much of the work on this group and their contemporaries has been historically and textually-led as they lie at the very roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Archaeological data indicates a sophisticated, large-city culture with surprisingly equable educational traditions, heading a complex trading network that transported staple and luxury items across the Middle East. Perhaps the best known Israelite sculptural entity is Ashtoreth – known as Astarte to the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and the Cypriots – and who was worshipped both centrally and domestically.
Other anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are also known, while everyday Israelite objects – such as this – are notable for their simple and understated elegance. This is an imposing and impressive piece of ancient art.