Birdwatcher in Northern Israel Finds Egyptian Seal Nearly 4,000 Years Old

Alexander Tarnopolsky tells excavation team of discovery.

The scarab found by a birdwatcher in northern Israel.
Tel Dor Excavations

An ancient Egyptian scarab, or seal, has been found by an amateur birdwatcher at Tel Dor on the Carmel coast. According to archaeologists the stone scarab, dating between the 18th and 17th centuries BCE, is inscribed in hieroglyphics with the name of an Egyptian official and his function – in charge of the royal treasury.

The director of the excavation at Tel Dor, Prof. Ayelet Gilboa of the Archaeology Department at the University of Haifa, said: “The role of the seal’s owner was similar to that of Joseph in Pharaoh’s kingdom after he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.” According to co-director Prof. Ilan Sharon of Hebrew University, the scarab is rare because it is enclosed in a gold ring, and because it belonged to a senior official. Most scarabs, Sharon says, were produced commercially and bore the names of kings.

The official’s name has not yet been deciphered but the hieroglyphics for “who is over the treasury” are clear. Among the symbols identified on the scarab is an ankh, symbolizing eternal life, and a djed, symbolizing rebirth and stability.

The scarab was discovered by Alexander Tarnopolsky, an amateur birdwatcher, who reported the find to the excavation team. The object was apparently exposed after heavy rains pelted the area last winter.

The city of Dor, located on the strip of beach at the foot of Mount Carmel, was the most important commercial city and port in the area for thousands of years, until the Romans built Caesarea to the south. Dor is mentioned in Egyptian documents going back 3,000 years as well as in the Bible, in Joshua, Judges and I Kings.

Excavations at the site began in the mid-20th century, revealing the remains of settlements from the Late Bronze Age as well as from the Israelite and Assyrian periods. A palace from the Hellenistic period was also found with a beautiful mosaic, along with monumental remains from the Roman period, including a pair of temples, possibly dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea.

Scholars say there are two possibilities to explain how the scarab got to Tel Dor. One is that the seal’s owner arrived there to close a deal, which would have been stamped with his seal, for some of the merchandise that passed through the port that the Egyptians sought – spices or amber for example.

The other is that the scarab reached Dor much later, perhaps even during the Roman period, when there was a great interest on “antiquities” of that type. “Because the scarab had rolled off the mound and was not found in its archaeological context, we will probably never truly know how it got here and the road it took to do so,” Gilboa said.

The scarab is now in the archaeological museum at neighboring Kibbutz Nahsholim.

In January a hiker found a 3,500 year-old scarab on Mount Karnei Hittin in the Galilee. Hundreds of scarabs have been found so far throughout the country.