Biblical Archaeology Review 43:5, September/October 2017

Strata: The Samaria Ivories—Phoenician or Israelite?

From the moment they were discovered, the Samaria ivories created fanfare. In excellent condition, the ivories depict scenes of exotic wildlife and flora, mythological creatures, foreign deities and much more. Dated to the ninth or eighth century B.C.E. (the Iron Age), they were uncovered from the site of Samaria—the Biblical capital of the northern kingdom of Israel—during the 1920s and 1930s.a Some of these ivories are on permanent display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and at museums throughout the world.

When the Samaria ivories were first excavated, they were immediately explained as Phoenician products and, therefore, considered foreign to their discovery site, Samaria. However, there is currently no archaeological evidence to indicate that the Samaria ivories were, in fact, Phoenician. Recently some scholars have challenged the long-accepted assumption about the ivories’ origins. Liat Naeh, the winner of the 2017 Dever Prize, offers a new perspective in her paper “In Search of Identity: The Contribution of Recent Finds to Our Understanding of Iron Age Ivory Objects in the Material Culture of the Southern Levant.”1

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