Roman-era Ornament Spotted by Chance in Galilee National Park

This kind of waterspout is referred to as a ‘face’ in the Talmud, which forbids the faithful from applying their mouth to it, ‘lest it look as though he is kissing a worshipper of stars’

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A Roman-era waterspout, or 'partsufa,' found in Zippori National Park in the Galilee, May 2020.
A Roman-era waterspout, or 'partsufa,' found in Zippori National Park in the Galilee, May 2020. Credit: Dr Zvika Zuk / Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A visitor to Zippori National Park in the Galilee chanced upon a waterspout from Roman times carved in the shape of a humanoid lion’s head.

David Goren, a local resident, was walking in the national park when he noticed the artefact peeking from under the ground.

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Made of fine quality marble that apparently originated in what is today Turkey, it is shaped like a lion’s head with some human features. It is about 15 centimeters (six inches) in diameter and 12.5 centimeters (about five inches) deep. A pipe two centimeters (about three quarters of an inch) in diameter comes out of the back.

Archeologists believe it adorned a water fountain connected to the Zippori aqueducts that brought in water from springs in the Nazareth hills. Traces of plaster on the object point to the fact that it was used for some other purpose after the fountain was dismantled.

Dr. Yosi Bordowicz, head of the heritage department at the Nature and Parks Authority, says similar objects have been found in the region, at Hamat Gader, Beit Shean and Caesarea.

The Talmud has a word for this kind of object – partsufa – from partsuf, the Hebrew word for face. It forbids Jews from drinking directly from a spout in the form of lips so that it will not look as though they are kissing an idol: ”He shall not place his mouth on their mouths and drink lest it look as though he is kissing a worshipper of stars,” warns the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Avoda Zara.

Such spouts could be in the form of a human, an animal or a mythological creature, and they were in use from the Hellenistic Period in the centuries just prior to the Common Era, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from which splendid examples are still in use on fountains in Europe.

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