A consortium of archeologists and researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered the 3,200-year-old remains of a pregnant Egyptian woman in Southern Israel’s Timna Valley, adjacent to an ancient Egyptian temple in an area once known as “King Solomon’s Mines", according to a report in Haaretz.
Situated in an arid climate with scarce natural resources to sustain life, few human corpses – and no previous female remains – have been unearthed near the copper mines, which were believed to have been exploited for 500 years between the 9th and 14th centuries BCE.
Noting that the last time human remains were uncovered in the Timna Valley was in 1964, archeologist Erez Ben Yosef, who has led the Tel Aviv University team excavating the site since 2012, told Haaretz the finding is extremely unusual.
“It is very rare to find human remains in Timna, and it is the first time we found a woman,” Ben-Yosef told Haaretz.
“There are no water sources in Timna and it is very inhospitable, so no one ever settled there permanently,” he continued.
Due to the unwelcoming climate, Ben-Yosef postulated to the paper that the few burial plots in the Timna Valley were vacant because “people would be buried there temporarily and their bones would be taken back home by a later expedition.”
Moreover, he told Haaretz looters have been known to steal remains from the few tombs found in the area, most of which were reserved for ancient aristocracy.
Portions of the woman’s skeleton were initially discovered during the final days of last winter’s excavation season, resulting in a long delay before Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine physical anthropologists Israel Hershkovitz and Hila May could extricate and analyze the remains.
The dig resumed last summer, when it was determined that the upper half of the corpse was missing, while the lower part – including the remains of the fetus, believed to be in its first trimester – was intact.
May estimated in an interview with Haaretz that the woman was likely in her 20s when she died, although due to a lack of collagen in the bones necessary for radiocarbon dating, an accurate determination remains difficult.
The only clue that helped the researchers deduce any information about the woman’s identity were two well-preserved glass beads found in her tomb.
According to Deborah Sweeney, an Egyptologist at the university, the beads link the woman to the Egyptian goddess Hathor, known as the protector of miners, for whom the adjacent temple was built to ensure the miners’ safety and bounty.
Additionally, remains of musical instruments and a carving of a woman playing a sistrum – an ancient percussion instrument – were found.
That led Sweeney to theorize the pregnant woman likely traveled to the copper mines to serve as a singer or musician for Hathor – also known as the goddess of music, love, fertility and natural resources.
“Unfortunately, she must have died there for some reason, and was buried close to the temple so that Hathor would protect her,” Sweeney told Haaretz.
“It’s actually quite sad,” she continued. “She was probably quite adventurous to go so far away from home, which was rare for women in Egypt. But she never came back.”
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