Six-year-old Imri Elya was hiking in southern Israel with his family when something caught his eye: a small, 1.1-inch by 1.1-inch clay tablet. He picked it up and realized—to his surprise—that the small artifact had two figures engraved on its surface. After submitting the object to government for study, the first grade student and his parents were thrilled to learn that the tablet was likely made by a Canaanite in the Late Bronze Age—making this an exceptionally rare find, Amanda Borschel-Dan reports for the Times of Israel.
Elya discovered the tablet while touring the Tell Jemmeh archaeological site near the Israeli border with Gaza with his family in early March, before the coronavirus lockdown, according to a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Archaeologists Saar Ganor, Itamar Weissbein and Oren Shmueli studied the object and compared it to other examples of Canaanite and Egyptian art. They dated the tablet to about the 15th to 12th century B.C.
The tablet shows a man leading and humiliating a captive, according to the statement. In the depiction, the tablet's creator emphasized the health of the leftmost figure through his curly hair and full face. The captor’s depicted strength contrasts with the thin, sickly appearance of his naked prisoner, according to researchers.
In an interview with the Times of Israel, Ganor says that this small object would have been kept as a souvenir of victory to be worn in a belt or displayed in furniture. Its creator likely made multiple impressions of the tablet from a single mold, Ganor says.
“Looking at the object, we see that its rear bears the artist’s fingerprints,” Ganor tells Haaretz. “He imprinted the clay using a stamp, which in ancient times were made of stone.”
According to Haaretz, the archaeological site is identified with the ancient city of Yurza. During the Late Bronze Age, the Egyptian empire ruled the region, known as Canaan, and Canaanite cities were divided into city-states, Ruth Schuster reports for Haaretz. Researchers believe that the inscription may be describing a struggle between Yurza and one of its neighboring cities, per the statement.
“The scene depicted on the tablet is taken from descriptions of victory parades; hence the tablet should be identified as a story depicting the ruler’s power over his enemies,” Ganor, Weissbein and Shmueli say in the statement. “This opens a visual window to understanding the struggle for dominance in the south of the country during the Canaanite period.”
Six-year-old Elya was awarded a certificate for “good citizenship” for his sharp eye and exciting discovery, reports the Times of Israel.