A recent study, authored by Dr. Itamar Taksel from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Dr. Uzi Avner from the Desert and Dead Sea R&D, and Dr. Nitzan Amiti-Price from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and published in the Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World, delved into a fascinating collection of artifacts unearthed in the late 1990s at an archaeological site nestled in the picturesque mountains of Eilat, Israel. This comprehensive analysis sheds light on these ancient objects, revealing their probable use in magical rituals, including the warding off of the evil eye and the treatment of various ailments.
Dr. Taksel, Avner, and Amiti-Price assert that the discovery unveils a captivating aspect of history: "the revelation that, akin to contemporary times, the Ottoman period also bore witness to the practice of folk sorcery alongside official religious beliefs."
The intriguing objects in question were initially discovered by Motti Shemtov, a resident of Eilat. Subsequently, an excavation was conducted at the site under the auspices of the Antiquities Authority, led by Uzi Avner and Asaf Holtzer. This collection of objects, presumably associated with rituals or worship, encompasses a plethora of fragments of pottery rattles, with most resembling the size and shape of ping-pong balls. These rattles contained small stones within, which produced a distinctive rustling sound when shaken.
“The artifacts were found along the #Pilgrimage Road, called Darb al-Hajj in Arabic, that led from Cairo, crossed the Sinai Peninsula, continued through the Eilat region to the town of Aqaba, and then crossed the Arabian Peninsula to reach Mecca.” https://t.co/Lpx0nFwcnL— Heather A. WARFIELD, PhD (@prof_warfield) September 11, 2023
Among these artifacts were two miniature altar-like structures, likely employed for the burning of incense. Additionally, a statuette depicting a naked woman or goddess, with her hands raised in a pose reminiscent of deities and priests, was uncovered. Several fragments of similar statuettes, along with colored quartz stones, were also found. An analysis of the clay from which these diverse pottery items were crafted revealed their Egyptian origin. This discovery marks the first instance of unearthing such a substantial quantity of distinctive ceremonial artifacts, all within a temporary site that was not used as a permanent settlement.
Remarkably, these objects were found adjacent to Darb al-Hajj, an Arabic term signifying the 'Pilgrim's Road.' This historic route, which originated in Cairo, traversed the Sinai Peninsula, and wound its way through the Eilat Mountains before reaching the city of Aqaba and subsequently extending into the Arabian Peninsula. The road's historical significance is underscored by its use from the early centuries following the emergence of Islam in the 7th century AD, persisting until the late 19th century.
To every Muslim yearning for Umrah and Hajj, may Allah make it easy for you. Amin. pic.twitter.com/ZRTJ6tNkl7— Islamic Strength (@islamicstrength) September 12, 2023
Notably, as the road traversed the Eilat Mountains, numerous camping sites and structures were unearthed, likely serving as accommodations for pilgrims. It is surmised that these sites were most active during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, commencing in the 13th or 14th century.