4000-year-old Version of Rodin's 'Thinker' Found in Israel

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The Canaanite Thinker?
The Canaanite Thinker? Unique jar with statuette on top from 3,800 years ago found in Yehud.Credit: Eyecon, IAA
Nir Hasson
Ruth Schuster
Nir Hasson
Ruth Schuster

A unique Bronze Age pottery jug with a human figurine on top, almost 4,000 years old but still in extraordinary condition, has been uncovered at an archeological dig in Yehud.

One hand of the sculpted figure supports the figure's head. The elbow of the other arm rests on one knee and the hand of that arm rests on the other knee.

Although it is much smaller and is sitting on a jug, the image looks very much like a Canaanite version of Rodin's "The Thinker".

The statue from 3800 years ago uncovered in Yehud, after restoration at the IAA laboratory. Credit: Klara Amit / IAA

Nothing like it has ever been found, certainly not in Israel. The jug, with its spigot behind the figurine, is typical of the time and place. The figure on top is not.

The sculpture was added after the jug was made, postulates Gilad Itach, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“It seems that at first the jug, which is typical of the period, was prepared, and afterwards the unique sculpture was added," Itach said.

The neck of the jug was the base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added, he says.

A statue from 3800 years ago uncovered in Yehud: Closeup of the figure's face.Credit: Eyecon, IAA

The degree of precision and attention to detail are rare in clay figurines going back 4,000 years, he added.

A statue from 3800 years ago uncovered in Yehud. Credit: Klara Amit / IAA
Unique statue on jar from 3800 years ago uncovered in Yehud: Restoring the pottery at the IAA laboratory.Credit: Klara Amit, IAA

The odd household adornment was not found alone. Also artifacts uncovered in the Yehud dig include daggers, arrowheads and an axe head. Animal bones, from sheep and what looks to be a donkey, were also found. Itach suggests that at least some of these were funerary offerings: the ancients thought that anything buried with them would join them in the afterlife.

While about the dig, remains from life at the site 6,000 years ago was also uncovered, including pits and shafts that contained thousands of pottery fragments, hundreds of tools made of flint and softer basalt, animal bones, and a churn for making butter.

It bears adding that civilization in the region that far back, around the early Chalcolithic (aka the Copper Age), was more advanced than people tend to realize. In Jordan, for instance, excavations in the volcanic black desert uncovered three surprisingly advanced fortified settlements with artificially irrigated terraced gardens, dating to 6,000 years ago - in a site that had been considered fatally uninhabitable. And just this month the Israel Antiquities Authority put an artwork on display that also dates to that time: an elaborate mural called the Ghassulian Star, with eight points, also dating to some 6,000 years ago. The beautiful object had been found in Jordan decades ago.

Unearthing the discovery: A statue from 3800 years ago atop a pot, found in Yehud.Credit: Eyecon, IAA