Biblical Archaeology Review 41:6, November/December 2015

Dolphin in the Desert

Ahoy there, Flipper! What are you doing in the Negev?

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists excavating this past February and March near Kibbutz Magen in Israel uncovered an ancient dolphin statue dating back about 2,000 years. The statue depicts a dolphin diving downward with a fish in its mouth.

Kibbutz Magen is located in the northwestern Negev desert, close to the border of the Gaza Strip. The IAA archaeologists discovered the marble statue within the ruins of a late Byzantine–early Umayyad period (fourth–seventh centuries C.E.) settlement. Alexander Fraiberg, who led the excavation, believes the marble statue dates to the Roman period and thus pre-dates the building in which it was found.

The archaeologists think that the ancient dolphin statue—the remains of which measure just under a foot and a half—could have been part of a life-size sculpture depicting a god or goddess associated with dolphins.

“It is possible that the statue was of the [Greek] goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, who was born from seafoam,” IAA archaeologist Rina Avner explains. “It is also possible that the statue was of Poseidon, god of the sea.”

The dolphin was a common motif in ancient Mediterranean art across millennia, from Minoan wall paintings to Greek vase paintings to Roman statuary.

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