Archaeologists find mysterious 2,000-year-old marble dolphin surfaces near Gaza

Archaeologists find mysterious 2,000-year-old marble dolphin surfaces near Gaza
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An archaeological group discovered a rare dolphin statuette at a site near Kibbutz Magen, 12 miles (20km) island from the Mediterranean Sea, on the border of the Gaza Strip during the ruins of a settlement dating from the late Byzantine and early Islamic periods.

It depicts a dolphin carrying a fish in its jaws and is Made out of marble, standing about 16 inch (40 cm) high. It may have been part of a larger sculpture, perhaps that of a god or goddess.

The announcement of the carvings discovery was made by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority around the similar time in 2015 that Hamas claimed to have captured and Isreali spy dolphin off the Gaza coast. Coincidence? Definitely.

Discussing about the statue, head archaeologist Alexander Fraiberg said to The Times of Israel , “It’s interesting because the statuette was lying face down, so it was difficult to see its appearance” 

Mr Fraiberg believes the sculpture could be Roman, but it may have been incorporated into the later, Byzantine-time building.

“The mystery is where the statue is came from, who destroyed it, when, and under what circumstances, and who brought the piece with the dolphin to the site” Fraiburg said.

Talking of the spy dolphin in a different article, The Times of Israel said an Army Radio report had made clear that Hamas was referring to a mammal and not one of the Israel Navy Dolphin class submarines.

The marble dolphin found near Gaza.
The marble dolphin found near Gaza.

Dr. Rina Avner, an IAA archaeologist who ha some expertise in the Roman and Byzantine periods, added that the carved item may represent Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of affection and beauty.

According to myth, Aphrodite was born from ocean foam and she is often depicted alongside a cetacean in order to symbolize her birth from the sea.

An example of such a work is the statue of Aphrodite Pudica with Eros astride a dolphin which is protected at Dayton Art Institute.

According to legend, Aphrodite wore a magical girdle that caused everybody she encountered to desire her.

She was the daughter of Zeus, the lord of the gods, and Dione, a goddess worshipped at the Oracle of Dodona in Greece. Another record of her birth says that she appeared from the sea riding on a giant scallop, following the castration of Uranus by Cronus.

She then walked to Cyprus. a 3rd version of the legend says she was born near Cythera, which caused some to call her ‘Cyth

Aphrodite pictured standing in a sea shell and with 2 dolphins at her feet. ‘The Birth of Venus’ by William Adolphe Bouguereau 
Aphrodite pictured standing in a sea shell and with 2 dolphins at her feet. ‘The Birth of Venus’ by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Aphrodite was also loved by the Romans who called her Venus, the name by which she is more popularly known today. In some portrayals of her , she is accompanied by the god of love & adoration, Eros. Items and animals associated with her include the dove, an apple, the scallop shell and a mirror.

In both traditional sculpture and in fresco she regularly appears nude. Amid the Trojan war she supported Paris and Aeneas against the Greeks. She also killed Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, for scorning her.

Another possibility is that it may have portrayed Poseidon, the god of the sea, who was also often depicted alongside dolphins. Poseidon was the brother of Zeus and Hades.

He was the defender of all marine animals and plants and was regularly venerated by sailors. His most distinctive feature was his trident which he could use to cause earthquakes.

A statue of Poseidon with a dolphin 
A statue of Poseidon with a dolphin

Both deities appear on contemporary coins Found at the ancient port city of Ashkelon. However, dolphins have long been viewed as magical beings in mythology.

The first portrayal of them in a mythical context appears in the culture of the Minoan civilisation of Crete. The Minoans painted Pictures of the animal on the walls of their palaces.

In later years, Byzantine and Arab sailors and Chinese and European explorers told stories of dolphins rescuing seafarers who had been shipwrecked or in trouble at Ocean.

One of the earliest dolphin stories is that of Homers Hymn to Apollo which clarifies how the god Apollo founded the temple at Delphi.

In Roman myth, the dolphin carries the souls of the dying to the ‘Islands of the Blest’. The dolphin is also associated with Dionysus, or Bacchus, who was a god of death and rebirth.


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.