May 19, 2022

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What does a bronze age statuette have to do with the conflict between Israel and Palestine

The autonomous government of the Gaza Strip, Tuesday announce The discovery of a statue probably dating back to the Bronze Age in agricultural land in Khan Yunis, the main city in the southern Gaza Strip. According to the first reconstructions, the statuette depicts the head of a female deity and originally had to have a body that made it just under a meter. It is currently displayed in a historic building in the old city of Gaza.

Finds of this kind are not rare in the area between the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, inhabited for thousands of years and always at the center of trade, wars and migrations: but the case of the statue of Khan Yunis is interesting for various reasons, including the fact that it was made Display it in a museum. In Palestine, there have been serious problems of looting and poor protection of archaeological assets for decades.

Moreover, no one can say for sure what the statue depicts: disagreement over what it represents is inevitably intertwined with the deep identity and ethnic and regional conflicts that characterize this part of the world.

Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are countries with a long history. From here, at the end of the last Ice Age, ten thousand years ago, the first farmers arrived in Europe in search of new fertile lands.

In the following millennia, these lands were disputed by dozens of peoples due to their strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean, midway between Europe, Asia and Africa, and the favorable climate. All major civilizations in history have left a trace of their passage or dominance in these places.

Scientific American . Map The migrations of the first European farmers

The abundance of resulting archaeological finds has always attracted thieves and thieves. Even today, the governments of countries in the region do not have the power to prevent hundreds of artifacts from being stolen and sold on the black market every year, sometimes soon after their discovery. It is a more serious problem in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two areas governed by quasi-governmental entities that do not have the resources or real state powers.

Several years ago, Saleh Al-Sawafta, Director of the Archaeological Heritage Protection Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, he said to to screen that since its inception in the 1990s, the Palestinian Authority, which governs part of the West Bank, has had to contend with illegal archaeological excavations.

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Compounding the problem is the fact that about 60 percent of the known archaeological sites lie in the so-called Area C of the West Bank, where civilian and military control would be subordinate to Israel, which it nonetheless exercises in an arbitrary and operational manner. Heterogeneous method, and has its own interests in the heart more than the interests of the Palestinians. In Area C alone, Sawafta says, there are about 7,000 archaeological sites and about 50,000 historic buildings.

The network of looting and marketing of archaeological goods is so extensive that sometimes finds are stolen soon after they are excavated. In 2013, for example, a perfectly preserved bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo was found off the coast of Gaza. The statue was immediately seized by Hamas, the extremist group that rules the Strip, and since then Nothing more has been heard of him. Hamas, among other things, is known for its lack of interest in archaeological origins, especially those that are not quite as outstanding. The Canaan Team Association, which monitors the conditions of archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip, Saucepan That at least 31 archaeological sites have disappeared due to the frenetic urban development of Hamas, which among other things has never compiled a central register of archaeological sites in the Strip.

In the case of the Khan Yunis statue, things are a little different. Hamas announced its discovery in a triumphant press conference and immediately presented it in central Gaza, in an attempt, according to some, to exploit its discovery for political purposes.

In a press release, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in the Gaza Strip wrote that the statuette depicts the goddess Anat and that it dates back to 2500 BC, and thus to the beginning of the Bronze Age.

In fact, it is very difficult to understand when the figurine dates back to the past, but first of all to determine who exactly represents it.

It may seem strange today, but in the Middle East from the Bronze Age, the gods had much less defined outlines than we are used to. We know for sure that different peoples of the region worshiped a goddess, called in some cases Anat, ascribing to her various characteristics and associated with her very different activities, including war and hunting, but also the administration of justice.

In a 1991 study, Wake Forest University Old Testament and Hebrew scholar Neil H. Walls, claimed that a series of Bronze Age texts found in present-day Syria “describe Anat primarily as a female deity but with gender ambiguity”: “By adopting the masculine qualities of hunter and warrior, Anat rejects the normal role of mother and woman, thus threatening the patriarchal system of society. However, Anat cannot deny her feminine nature, and the tension between her masculine and feminine character contributes to the ambiguity of her identity.”

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Anat was not the only goddess to exhibit such characteristics. In his 2008 book, The many faces of the goddessHistorian Isaac Cornelius wrote that in the latter period of the Bronze Age, the female deities honored in the region had very similar characteristics, but at the same time smooth and heterogeneous, that it is very difficult today to distinguish individual deities. The form of Anat is associated, for example, with the figure of Astarte, another goddess in the region with very similar characteristics, but also with Asherah, the female deity mentioned about forty times in the Hebrew Bible who According to some theories At least at the beginning of Jewish monotheism she was the companion of the one God revered by the Jews.

The sound of the name Anat is also very similar to that of Athena, the Greek goddess of war and justice, of which Anat is probably her body. Found at the end of the nineteenth century in Cyprus Bilingual inscription in Greek and Phoenician In it, the name Anat is translated in the Phoenician text into the Greek “Athena”. The name “Athena” is not of Indo-European origin, that is, the ancestor of all Western languages: it is plausible that the Greeks borrowed it from other people.

Khan Yunis’ small statue represents, among other things, what looks like a serpent rather than the hair of the goddess: the serpent is one of the animals closest to Athena in depicting the goddess, even in classical Greece.

But this feature does not give us any further clues about the identity or origin of the people who made the Khan Yunis statuette. The image of a snake is found in many other female deities of the Bronze Age, for example in statues of a small goddess Found in the Palace of Knossos in Cretebut also in some small figurines found in Serbia dating from about 5000 BC in which a snake goddess is depicted.

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Some Neolithic cultures in Europe and the Middle East are believed to associate female deities of life and regeneration with snakes because since ancient times these animals have been known to change mounds over the course of their lives.

Small statue of the snake goddess found near Belgrade, Serbia, with scaly thighs and ankles; Drawing from Marija Gimbutas’ “The Living Gods”, Medusa Editions, 2020

The fact remains that recognizing a figurine that has just been excavated from the ground and has not yet been studied by art historians and archaeologists is a very complicated matter. Arin Meir, a distinguished archaeologist from Israel’s Bar Ilan University, He said to me Jerusalem Post That the statuette “is unlike anything I have seen before. I don’t recognize it, I don’t know what it is and it is difficult even to understand what era it belongs to.”

Also for this reason, it seems absurd to establish a connection between the statuette and the present, as Hamas has tried to do by announcing its discovery. “These results prove that Palestine has a civilization and a history, and no one can deny or falsify this history: we have evidence of the Palestinian population and its Canaanite ancestors,” He said Jamal Abu Rida, official of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is interested in proving that the ancestors of today’s Palestinians have inhabited the Gaza Strip since 2500 BC: the key message is that they were present in the area before the first historical records of the Israelites, dated albeit very cautiously a thousand years ago. Later. We are the Canaanites He said frankly in 2018 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “This land belongs to the people who were here five thousand years ago.”

Such treatises leave the time they find, because in fact things like the statuette show how intertwined the cultures and populations that inhabited this area in the Bronze Age were: female deities that may have been depicted in a statuette of Khan Yunis throughout the area, albeit with slightly different names and attributes. .

The Canaanites, then, spoke a Semitic language, that is, a relative of today’s Hebrew, had a religion not too far from Hebrew and inhabited a large territory that today extends over various national lands. to me Highly Cited 2020 Study Furthermore, on the DNA of some Bronze Age Canaanite cemeteries, “Both Jewish groups and people from the Levant and Arab ethnicities have a genetic makeup derived from more than 50 percent of people descended from groups who lived in the Middle East in the Bronze Age.”

In other words: many people who live in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip today are connected to each other, albeit very far. No figurine can prove otherwise.