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Jar of Headless Toads Found in Bronze Age Tomb

Found in Jerusalem, the little hoppers could have been an afterlife snack or a symbol of rejuvenation

Toad bones (Israel Antiquities Authority)
smithsonian.com

Many cultures leave a little snack for their dearly departed to enjoy in the afterlife. The Egyptians left fruit and grain and even meat with the dead. In Mexico, during Día de Muertos, family members offer the deceased sweets, tamales, bread, tequila and their favorite foods. A new discovery in southwest Jerusalem shows that Bronze Age Canaanites, who occupied the area 4,000 years ago, had a similar practice, but their offering was much less appetizing. Amanda Borschel-Dan at The Times of Israel reports the recently discovered burial included an afterlife snack-pack of headless toads.

According to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the toads were discovered in 2014 during a dig in an area of the Manahat neighborhood near the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo slated for development. At the time of discovery, researchers were not able to identify the small bones found in a jar, but after analysis, they discovered they were the remains of nine headless toads. 

“[F]inding toads is pretty unusual,” co-director of the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Shua Kisilevitz tells Borschel-Dan. “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.”

Kisilevitz tells Megan Gannon at LiveScience that they are not certain if the toads were buried as a posthumous snack. The Egyptians considered toads a symbol of regeneration, and that may have influenced the choice of offering. But the decapitation may be an indication the toads were prepared as food, similar to the way indigenous people in South America remove the head and toes of frogs to more easily remove their toxic skin, reports Borschel-Dan.

The load of toads was found in one of 67 funerary shafts discovered in a Bronze-age cemetery between the zoo and a shopping mall, according to the press release. The amphibians weren’t the only interesting finds. Researchers also found that vessels left in the tomb had traces of pollen from date palms and myrtle bushes. Neither of those plants is native to the Jerusalem area, so it’s likely those plants were purposely cultivated in area. The date palm, says Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University, symbolized fertility and rejuvenation and may have been planted in the burial area to create a funerary grove.  

While the toads may be unusual, the practice of leaving food for the deceased is not. Borschel-Dan reports that goats, sheep, oxen, antelope and even horses have been found in Bronze Age Canaanites tombs before. While in the Bible, the Canaanites are best known as a tribe that was ordered destroyed by God, in recent years archaeologists have begun learning more about the culture, even finding earlier this year that the Canaanite's living descendants can be found living in Lebanon.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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