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Lyre and Marriage in Mesopotamia

A 5,000-year-old artifact depicts music-laden union of a king and goddess

Jas Chana
June 01, 2015
(Israel Antiquities Authority)
(Israel Antiquities Authority)

Israeli archaeologists have reason to believe that a cryptic seal impression, found on piece of clay excavated during the 1970s, portrays a Mesopotamian music scene from 5,000 years ago. If their new interpretation is correct, the fragment “bears the oldest-known depiction of music ever found in Israel,” reported Haaretz.

Around forty years ago, the fragment was discovered within Early Bronze Age ruins uncovered in Beit Haemek in the Western Galilee. Haaretz reports that, “the impression was made using a cylinder seal rolled along the surface of clay before it was fired, creating repeating designs. It shows two standing women and one sitting, who is playing a musical instrument that is, apparently, a lyre.”

Dr. Yitzhak Paz, one of the archaeologists responsible for the new discovery, told Haaretz that they were able to identify the instrument as a lyre “by searching through artworks and observing the remains of actual lyres found in Mesopotamia.”

Paz and his colleagues, Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov, have said in a statement that the seal impression “sheds light on the symbolic-ritualistic world of the Early Bronze Age inhabitants in Israel.”

According to Haaretz, the Israeli Antiquities Authority has said the other seal impressions that have been found from the Early Bronze Age depict “cultic” rites: male and female figures feasting and dancing, ritually preparing themselves for a sexual encounter.

The archaeologists believe that the scene with the lyre depicts part of a “sacred marriage between the Mesopotamian king and a goddess.”

“The ceremony would have been a long affair that included a banquet that featured music and dancing. Following that, the king and goddess would “meet” and, it is believed, consummate their ‘marriage,’” Haaretz reported.

On May 28th, Paz, Milevski and Getzov presented their discovery at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The symposium also featured exhibitions on the use and sale of hallucinogens in the Israeli town of Yavneh during the Iron Age.

It was fittingly titled “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.”

Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.

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