Biblical Archaeology Review 17:3, May/June 1991

Buzz or Button?

By Hershel Shanks

A prominent archaeologist has recently suggested a function for the puzzling little buttonlike artifacts found at a number of sites in Israel, as well as elsewhere in the ancient world. According to Gus Van Beek, curator of Old World archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the curious little discs are toys similar to the ones he himself played with as a child. At the beginning of the century in the United States, this toy was called a “buzz.”a

What do BAR readers think of Dr. Van Beek’s identification?

Van Beek, who directs a major excavation (12 field seasons since 1970) at Tell Jemmeh, a site in Israel near the Gaza strip, became interested in identifying the little discs because he discovered 17 of them in his dig. When he began searching the literature, he found that similar artifacts had been excavated at such familiar sites as Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Bethel and Beth-Shean. These examples dated from nearly 3000 B.C. to about 300 B.C. When Van Beek widened his literature search, he found examples from ancient Tyre in Lebanon, from Egypt and even from India. On a trip to Pakistan, he saw two examples in museums there.

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