Two Stone Age statuettes, one depicting a ram and the other a wild bovine, have emerged from the highway connecting Jerusalem with Tel Aviv.
Found at Tel Moza, a couple miles north of Jerusalem, during a dig ahead of the widening of Highway 1, the 5.9-inch-long figurines are estimated to date between 9,000 and 9,500 years ago.
The first figurine, shaped in the image of a ram, is made of limestone and features intricately carved horns.
"The sculpting is extraordinary and precisely depicts details of the animal's image; the head and the horns protrude in front of the body and their proportions are extremely accurate," Anna Eirikh and Hamoudi Khalaily, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), said in a statement.
"The legs of the figurine were incised in order to distinguish them from the rest of the body," they added.
The second figurine, fashioned on hard smoothed dolomite, is an abstract design. According to the archaeologists, it appears to depict a large animal with prominent horns that separate the elongated body from the head.
"The horns emerge from the middle of the head sideward and resemble those of a wild bovine or buffalo," the archaeologists said.
Discovered near a round building whose foundation was made of fieldstone and mud brick, the statuettes might help shed light on religion and society during the New Stone Age, or Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period about 8,000 BC.
At that time humans began transitioning from nomadism, based on hunting and gathering, to sedentary life, based on farming and grazing.
One theory is that the statuettes were used as talismans.
"It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period. Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt," Khalaily said.
"They might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey," he said.
According to Eirikh, an alternative theory links the figurines to the process of animal domestication.
Israeli archeologists have discovered an abundace of objects at Tel Moza, such as stone age tools, and objects associated with funerals and rituals.
"We can conclude from these artifacts that the site at Tel Moza was most likely the largest of its kind in the mountainous region around Jerusalem," the archaeologist said.
Photos: A stone figurine of a ram. Credit: Yael Yolovitch, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority;
– An abstract stone figurine, possibly representing a wild bovine. Credit: Yael Yolovitch, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.