If you have read my About Pages, you will know that I am re-embarking on a journey into archaeology and in particular, into the interpretation of ancient human images. The blog posts so far have focussed on the previously unpublished figurine collection from the Iron Age site of Tell Ahmar, North Syria.
However, as I am intrigued by all ancient figurines, I have decided to divert into another, much more well-known and prolific assemblage, the so-called pillar figurines from Judah. I need to point out that I am not a specialist in Judean archaeology or history and do not, unfortunately, read ancient languages. Nonetheless, I do have, as the series of posts will reveal, something to say about these superficially similar figurines!
When I was researching the North Syrian figurines I was fascinated by several things about those from Judean corpus:
- They have pillar bases (like the Tell Ahmar figurines),
- Some have mould-made heads; others have moulded heads,
- They are of a similar date to the Tell Ahmar figurines,
- They are, almost without exception, considered religious or magical in some way or another by the scholars who choose to research them.
Lest you be worried that my fascination with a superficially similar, but culturally distinct assemblage of figurines will lead to suggestions of historico-cultural connections or influences, I would like to make clear that I have no such theories (at this point in time anyway). My doctoral studies required that I understood and evaluated what other excavators and scholars were saying about figurines and so I read widely about collections found through the Near East, Europe and South America. The Judean figurines continued to captivate me perhaps because they, more than any other collection I had come across, were so bound up with theories relating to religion, magic and interpretation-by-text.
The figurines are considered a specifically Judean phenomenon as they are found in great quantities within the borders of the Kingdom of Judah.
The Judean pillar-figurines may be known from the 10th century BCE (there seems to be some debate around this) but are most prolific in the 8th and 7th centuries with approximately 850 in total found. There are two stylistic types:
- Pillar figurines with a hand-modelled head
- Pillar figurines with a mould-made head
With the series of blog posts, I will choose a different researcher and summarise and evaluate what she or he says about the Judean figurines. I want to investigate how archaeologists (and researchers from other disciplines) approach the interpretation of figurines. First, I will summarise their ideas and then offer my own opinion on their theories.
Please note that without handling the figurines myself nor knowing a great deal about their contexts, I am not attempting an interpretation of the Judean assemblage. I am hoping to have a chance to do that one day. The point of the blog series is to identify and evaluate the approaches taken by each researcher.
 A future post will look at the potential and danger of drawing conclusions from figurines that look similar.