The two Roman busts. (Eitan Klein,/IAA) (Eitan Klein,/IAA)
Roman busts

The Land of Israel constantly reveals hidden treasures, testifying to its rich history. This time, a woman on a walk came upon ancient Roman busts.

By: United with Israel Staff

An alert woman on a walk earlier this month near Beit She’an’s old city, in the north of the Jordan Valley, spotted the top of something jutting out of the ground. Closer examination revealed that it was an impressive Roman bust.

The woman and her husband called the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Theft Prevention Unit and inspectors were quickly sent to the site. Together, they unearthed the first bust and as they worked, they found another one right next to it.

The busts, which date to the Late Roman period (3rd–4th centuries CE), were taken to the IAA laboratories to protect them from theft and to study and preserve them.

Beit She’an is one of the oldest cities in Israel. In the 1st century CE, the city became a flourishing multi-cultural Roman city and one of 10 cities in the Decapolis regional league. Beit She’an was the Roman provincial capital in the 4th century CE, but following an earthquake in 749 the city never truly regained its former status.

Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the IAA Theft Prevention Unit, said that the busts were made of local limestone and “they show unique facial features, details of clothing and hairstyles.”

One appears to depict a bearded man. Klein explained that busts like these were “usually placed near or in a burial cave, and they may have represented the image of the deceased along general lines.”

Similar busts have been found in the past in the Beit She’an area and in northern Jordan.

“But not one resembles another, and that’s the importance of these finds. These busts are in the Oriental style, which shows that at the end of the Roman period the use of Classical art had subsided, and local trends came into vogue,” he added.

Nir Distelfeld, IAA Theft Prevention Unit inspector, noted that the busts were probably exposed following the recent heavy rainfall in the area.

He said that the finds are “very important,” which “tell us a great deal about the inhabitants of the Beth She’an area in antiquity”.

He thanked the woman who notified them about the busts for “her alertness and good citizenship” and said she will receive a certificate of appreciation.

“The discovery of the busts fills in another piece of the puzzle in our understanding of the material culture of the people of this land in the past,” he stated. “These finds belong to everyone in the country, and now we can all enjoy them and understand their historical context. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if these finds had gotten into the wrong hands.”

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