3,800-Year-Old ‘Thinker’ Preceded Rodin by 3.5+ Millennium

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A picture taken on November 23, 2016 shows a 3,800-year-old jug from the Middle Bronze Age, featuring a human sculpture, displayed at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem after it was unearthed during an archaeological excavation ahead of the construction of new buildings in Yehud. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

‘The Thinker’, a sculpture conceived by Auguste Rodin in the 1880’s, has long been recognized – virtually since Rodin’s first sculpture with that name was unveiled in 1904 – as a striking work of art and as a symbol for the study of philosophy. But The Times of Israel recently reported that a much earlier ‘thinker’, from the Middle Bronze Age (about 3,800 years ago), has been discovered in Israel.

Now on display at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem, this hardly-new ‘thinker’ is made of clay and is remarkably well preserved for its age.

The unique clay statuette, mounted atop a ceramic vessel, was found in the central Israel town of Yehud by a team of Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, who were paired up with high school students in October.

News of the discovery was reported by the IAA last Wednesday (November 23rd).

Gilad Itach, the archaeologist heading the dig, said that on the last day of excavations, just before construction of a building commenced on site, they found the 18-centimeter (seven-inch) tall figurine, along with an assortment of other items.

It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” he said. “The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000-year-old sculpture is extremely impressive. The neck of the jug served as a base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added to the sculpture.”

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The 3,800 year old jug exposed in the field. (Credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists also found other vessels, as well as daggers, arrowheads, and ax head, as well as the bones of sheep and what may be ass bones. Itach suggested the items were funerary objects for a prominent member of the Canaanite community.

It was customary in antiquity to believe that the objects that were interred alongside the individual continued with him into the next world,” he said in a statement. “To the best of my knowledge such a rich funerary assemblage that also includes such a unique pottery vessel has never before been discovered in the country.”

One can see that the face of the figure seems to be resting on its hand as if in a state of reflection,” Itach added, “It is unclear if the figure was made by the potter who prepared the jug or by another craftsman.”

In addition to the Bronze Age finds, researchers involved in the salvage dig discovered 6,000-year-old remains from the Chalcolithic period, including a circular stone installation that may have served as an ancient well, as well as fragments of a ceramic butter churn from the same period.

Earlier this year, archaeologists operating in Yehud, not far from the statue’s discovery, found a Middle Bronze Age necropolis containing 94 pit graves containing men, women and children along with funerary offerings including pots, daggers and pins, scarabs, animal bones and jewelry. The site continued to be used as a burial ground for centuries thereafter.

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