Contextualizing an Iron Age IIA Hoard of Astragali from Tel Abel Beth Maacah, Israel


  • Matthew Susnow The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Nimrod Marom The University of Haifa
  • Ariel Shatil Israel Antiquities Authority, Rockefeller Museum
  • Nava Panitz-Cohen The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Robert Mullins Azusa Pacific University
  • Naama Yahalom-Mack The Hebrew University of Jerusalem



astragali, Tel Abel Beth Maacah, Iron Age IIA, hoards, Levant


Astragali, the knuckle or ankle bones of mammals, have been collected, used and modified by humans in different parts of the world for millennia. Large hoards dating from Iron Age IIA (tenth–ninth centuries BC) are attested at a number of sites in the southern Levant, and a recently discovered hoard of 406 astragali at Tel Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel presents an opportunity to investigate this phenomenon, shedding light on the function of these bones and why they bore special status and meaning that crossed cultural and temporal boundaries. In this study, the zooarchaeological analysis of the astragali provides the basis for an extensive discussion of the hoard’s formation process and function that explores ethnographic literature, archaeological data and ancient Near Eastern and classical documentary sources. The findings of this study demonstrate that while the individual bones had many different functions, once deposited together the astragali took on a new meaning, possibly related to divinatory practices.

Author Biographies

  • Matthew Susnow, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    Matthew Susnow is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University. He has excavated at a number of Bronze and Iron Age sites in Israel, including Tel Abel Beth Maacah, where he is currently responsible for the analysis and publication of cultic finds from the site, including the astragalus hoard. His research interests include Bronze Age religion in Canaan, ritual theory and performance, cultic traditions in Iron Age Israel, ceramic analysis and textual analysis.

  • Nimrod Marom, The University of Haifa

    Nimrod Marom is an archaeozoologist currently teaching in the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. He has excavated in Israel and Turkey and has published zooarchaeological material from many sites in Israel. His research focuses on the human impact on wild animal communities of the Judean Desert (DEADSEA-ECO project) and on the movement of animals and animal related knowledge along the Mediterranean coast of Israel (the Zooarchaeology of Southern Phoenicia Project). 

  • Ariel Shatil, Israel Antiquities Authority, Rockefeller Museum

    Ariel Shatil currently works for the Israel Antiquities Authority as a field archaeologist, having acquired his degree in archaeology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2008. He has excavated many sites in Israel including the City of David and the Neolithic site of Moza, and he is an area supervisor at the Tel Abel Beth Maacah excavations. Ariel specializes in the exploitation and technology of hard animal materials and works on bone tool assemblages from prehistoric to modern times.

  • Nava Panitz-Cohen, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    Robert Mullins is professor and chair of the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies at Azusa Pacific University, where he has taught for over a decade. He has excavated at a number of sites in Israel and Turkey, served as co-editor of the publication of the Tel Beth Shean excavations, and is currently co-director of the Tel Abel Beth Maacah excavations. His research interests include Egypt and Canaan during the Late Bronze Age, early state formation during the Iron Age and the history of Israelite religion.

  • Robert Mullins, Azusa Pacific University

    Nava Panitz-Cohen is senior researcher and adjunct lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She works as research assistant for Professor Amihai Mazar and has excavated at Tel Batash, Tel Beth-Shean and Tel Rehov, working also on the publication of these sites. She presently serves as the editor of the Qedem Monograph Series and as co-director of the Tel Abel Beth Maacah excavations. Her main research interests include Bronze and Iron Age ceramics, with a focus on technology.

  • Naama Yahalom-Mack, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    Naama Yahalom-Mack is senior lecturer of Bronze and Iron Age archaeology and the head of the Laboratory for Archaeological Materials and Ancient Technologies in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is currently the co-director of the Tel Abel Beth Maacah excavations. Her research interests focus on archaeometallurgy, the provenancing of archaeological materials as a proxy for reconstructing ancient trade interactions, and the incorporation of scientific analytic methods in archaeology.




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How to Cite

Susnow, M., Marom, N., Shatil, A., Panitz-Cohen, N., Mullins, R., & Yahalom-Mack, N. (2021). Contextualizing an Iron Age IIA Hoard of Astragali from Tel Abel Beth Maacah, Israel. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 34(1), 59-83.