Excavation just outside Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo opens a window into funerary rites, with unexpected remains of decapitated toads and not-local myrtle and date pollen
In Jerusalem, researchers recently found a 4,000 Canaanite burial collection of jars with decapitated toads in it. Stranger than finding frogs in a tomb is the 3,000+ year difference from the only others found.
“To the best of my knowledge, the only other place in Israel with a toad find was in Wadi Ara, and dates to the Late Bronze Age,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Shua Kisilevitz.
These vessels held food for the ghosts to consume in the afterlife. This food was the same as what people would eat in daily life, so finding frogs makes one wonder if these people ate frogs regularly as well.
But why were the toads’ heads missing? Kisilevitz suggests, as in the South American practice, it was to help remove the animal’s toxic skin. “It could be an indication that this is how they prepared the toads,” she said. In other words, this was a rare example of people eating toads, rather than some creepy witchcraft ingredient.
In the Middle Bronze Age, goats, sheep, oxen, gazelles, and horses were found in these burial sites. It seemed the horses were important symbolic animals to include as they represented wealth, nobility, and perhaps a companion or vehicle in the afterlife.
“For an archaeologist, finding tombs that were intentionally sealed in antiquity is a priceless treasure, because they are a time capsule that allows us to encounter objects almost just as they were originally left,” said Kisilevitz and co-dig director Zohar Turgeman-Yaffe.
“This section of the Nahal Repha’im basin was fertile ground for settlement throughout time, especially during the Canaanite period. In recent years excavations in the area have uncovered two settlement sites, two temples and a number of cemeteries, which provide new insight into the life of the local population at that time,” they said.
They also found a small man-made cave 3.5 ft wide x 3 ft high containing only part of a skeleton and jars of artifacts native to far away lands. Archaeologists think these foreign plants were imported and grown locally and probably for the express purpose of ceremonial burials.