Israeli authorities have issued a warning to porcupines after a 1400-year-old oil lamp surfaced at the Horbat Siv ancient ruins, a Roman-Byzantine site near Emek Hefer in central Israel.
The oil lamp was unearthed by a porcupine in the course of constructing its underground burrow, according to the Jerusalem Post, and found atop a pile of dirt by inspectors on the lookout for illegal looting of antiquities. Porcupine burrows can be more than 15 yards in length. The Israeli Antiquities Authority noted that the persistent digging of porcupines makes them “excellent archaeologists” while offering a tongue-in-cheek warning that “The IAA calls on all porcupines to avoid digging burrows at archeological sites and warns that digging at an archeological site without a license is a criminal offense.”
In other news from the world of archaeology, a beautifully preserved limestone head of the Assyrian king Sargon II (722-705 BCE) that had been chiseled from a winged bull and illegally sold by an antiquities dealer in Dubai has been repatriated to Iraq after years of delays. The looted head’s recovery, accomplished by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of Homeland Security, is a reminder that many more priceless antiquities are currently being illegally dug up in Syria and Iraq, then sold by the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIS) as a means of financing their barbaric enterprise. While some antiquities are destroyed in staged-for-video demonstrations that claim to be a fight against idolatry, others are blatantly collected and sold to unscrupulous dealers and collectors.
After hooligans from ISIS destroyed the Mosul Museum, destroying both plaster copies and genuine artifacts, and bulldozed much of the ancient city of Nineveh, some Iraqi officials are vowing to protect the cultural heritage of Babylon, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, from similar attacks. Let us wish them success in that effort.
A final note from the ancient front: if you think your taxes are heavy, consider a small group of Egyptian investors whose tax bill on a land transfer amounted to 75 talents of silver, plus a 15 talent penalty for paying in bronze. The recently translated tax receipt, written in Greek on a pottery sherd, is dated to July 22, 98 BCE. The tax represents an astounding amount. A “talent” was a measure of weight: 90 talents of silver would have amounted to 540,000 bronze drachma, about 30 times the annual wage for an average worker. Paying that amount in bronze would have required about 220 pounds of assorted coins.
As we close in on the deadline for paying our federal taxes, perhaps the thought of not having to haul donkey-loads of coins to the tax collector’s office will leave us feeling some gratitude for the convenience of electronic filing and payment, even if it does leave us feeling financially lighter.