Biblical Archaeology Review 42:6, November/December 2016

Strata: What Is It?

A. Kneading stone

B. Mace head

C. Pipe

D. Weight

E. Massage tool

Answer: (B) Mace head

This copper mace head was found among the Nahal Mishmar hoard, a cache of Chalcolithic artifacts found inside a cave—thereafter called the Cave of the Treasure—in Nahal Mishmar, a wadi in the Judean Desert west of the Dead Sea. Wrapped in a reed mat, the hoard was hidden inside a crevice in the cave. An astounding 442 objects were uncovered, the majority of which were mace heads or maces. Although most of the mace heads were plain and rounded, there were also several decorated ones, such as this one with four protruding cylindrical bosses.

In the ancient Near East, the mace was a significant weapon that became a ritual object, too. During the Chalcolithic period (c. 4500–3600 B.C.E.), the mace was the most important weapon for hand-to-hand combat.1 Offerings of maces and mace heads—both functional, conventional ones and ornate, purely votive ones—have been uncovered from temple contexts throughout the ancient Near East.

Although the exact purpose of the Nahal Mishmar hoard is unknown, it seems likely that this cache belonged to a Chalcolithic temple at one point—possibly to the Chalcolithic temple at En Gedi, as suggested by archaeologist David Ussishkin.

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