Alexander Gemstone!

The spectacular finds continue to pour in! This time, it’s the discovery of what should probably be called an intaglio depicting Alexander the Great … from Tel Dor! Here’s the Arutz Sheva coverage:

Excavations in Tel Dor have turned up a rare and unexpected work of Hellenistic art: a precious stone bearing the miniature carved likeness of Alexander the Great. Archaeologists are calling it an important find, indicating the great skill of the artist.

The Tel Dor dig, under the guidance and direction of Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University and Dr. Ilan Sharon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, has just ended its summer excavation season. For more than 30 years, scientists have been excavating in Tel Dor, identified as the site of the Biblical town of Dor. The town’s location, on Israel’s Mediterranean Sea coast some 30 kilometers south of Haifa, made it an important international port in ancient times.

“Despite the tiny proportions – the length of the gemstone (gemma) is less than a centimeter and its width less than half a centimeter – the artist was able to carve the image of Alexander of Macedon with all of his features,” Dr. Gilboa said. “The king appears as young and energetic, with a sharp chin and straight nose, and with long, curly hair held in a crown.”

According to the archaeologists involved in the Tel Dor excavations, the discovery of the miniature Alexander gemstone carving in Israel is fairly surprising. The Land of Israel was not, for the Greek Empire, a central or major holding.

“It has been accepted to assume that first-rate artists – and whoever carved the image of Alexander in this gemstone was certainly one of them – were primarily active under the patronage of the large royal courts in Greece itself or in major capitals,” the scientists explained. “It turns out that local elites in secondary centers such as Dor could allow themselves – and knew to appreciate – superior artwork.”

Additionally, the new find is important for the study of the historical Alexander the Great. The gemstone was found in the remains of a large public building from the Hellenistic period in the southern area of the tel. Unlike most of the portraits of Alexander in museums throughout the world, with unknown origins, the Tel Dor carving was found and classified within its archaeological context. The face was definitively identified as that of Alexander the Great by Dr. Jessica Nitschke of Georgetown University and Professor Andrew Stewart of UC Berkeley.

Historically, Alexander himself passed through Dor in 332 BCE, during his voyage to Egypt. It appears that the city fell to him without resistance. Since that time until its conquest by the Hasmonean Jewish King Alexander Yannai around 100 BCE, Dor served as a stronghold of non-Jewish Hellenists in the Land of Israel.

Here’s the best photo of the find (tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer, who passed on a number of Hebrew-language items):



The identification of Alexander seems reasonable (based on the nose and chin) and the detail is amazing for the size of the object. It’s interesting that it seems to depict a pre-Zeus Ammon Alexander …


3 thoughts on “Alexander Gemstone!

  1. This was found in Area D4, which is excavated by the University of Washington Field School team (which I direct; what a lucky student who found it!). It’s a fantastic find; small indeed, but incredibly detailed. What a season!

  2. Dear Madam/Sir,

    The exquisite gemstone of Alexander the great that captured your attention, as seen in you website, is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of one of the largest, long lasting and high profile archaeological projects in Israel. If you care about the archaeology of biblical times (Israelites, Phoenicians and Sea People), the Classical periods, and the cultural heritage of Israel and the Mediterranean; and if you are interested in forging a bond between Israel and the international community – please take a moment to look at the attached file. Like almost cultural projects around the globe, we need your help to endure.

    We would be grateful if you could pass this message to any other interested parties.


    Dr. Ilan Sharon,
    Institute of Archaeology , Hebrew University Jerusalem
    Mt. Scopus , Jerusalem 91905
    Tel. 972-2-2881304

    Dr. Ayelet Gilboa
    Chair, Dept. of Archaeology,
    University of Haifa, Mount Carmel,
    Haifa 31905, Israel
    Tel: 972-4-8240234, 972-4-8240531

    Tel Dor website:
    Tel Dor has also a facebook wall, you are welcome to visit us

  3. Pingback: Greccy bogowie z Izraela « Archeowieści

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