Rare Clay Amulet Found in City of David

“Thus said Hashem: Do not learn to go the way of the nations, And do not be dismayed by portents in the sky; Let the nations be dismayed by them!” Jeremiah 10:2 (The Israel Bible™)

Last week, archaeologists at the City of David in Jerusalem discovered a tiny ceramic amulet from the 9-10th century with an Arabic inscription praising ‘Allah.’

The one centimeter long piece of clay pottery was inscribed with two lines that were translated by Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Price from the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University:

“Karim (a first name) will trust in Allah

‘Rabbo” (master) of the worlds is Allah’”

Amitai-Price noted that stamps made of semi precious stones that bear similar inscriptions are a common find from the Abbasid period, but this type of clay object, especially one so tiny, is a relatively rare archaeological find. The new discovery is also unusual in that most amulets of this type contain only one line.

According to the directors of the excavation, Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the size of the object, its shape, and the text on it indicate that it was apparently used as an amulet for blessing and protection.”

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) press release, “The wording of the first line is familiar from seals made of semiprecious stones, as well as from roadside inscriptions (graffiti) along the pilgrims’ route to Mecca (Darb al-Haj) from the 8th-10th centuries CE. The lower portion of the letters in the second line are faded, and its interpretation is based on similar wordings that appear on personal seals and in several verses from the Koran.”

The inscription seemed strangely appropriate given that the amulet was found in the last days of Ramadan, the month-long Muslims fast, when Muslims greet each other with the phrase, “Ramadan Karim”.

The piece was discovered in the flooring of a structure believed to have been built in the 9-10th century during the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate that ruled the region from 750 CE to 950 CE. Archaeologists conjecture that the amulet was intentionally placed in the flooring when it was constructed. It was found near pottery sherds and a nearly intact oil lamp marked with black soot. The the small room also contained an oven.

“Unfortunately,” the researchers said in the IAA press release, “the poor preservation of the architecture make the purpose of the structure difficult to determine. It is interesting to note that several installations indicate cooking activities that occurred here. Modest structures from the same period were found in prior excavations at the same site, including residential homes interspersed with stores and workshops. It is reasonable to assume that this structure was used as part of that same industrial zone.”

The archaeological dig is in the City of David’s Givati Parking Lot excavations near the Old City of Jerusalem.

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