for National Geographic News
The home of a mysterious female "king" in Canaan, the land that became ancient Israel, may finally have been identified.
Archaeologists digging in the ruins of the Canaanite city-state Beth-Shemesh last summer found a decorated plaque with what could be the first known depiction of a ruler known as the Mistress of the Lionesses.
The plaque—which is slightly smaller than a cigarette pack—shows a bare-chested figure wearing a kilt, with short-cropped hair and bent arms holding up two long-stemmed lotus flowers.
The figure is standing on a basket called a neb, which in ancient Egyptian iconography signifies a ruler or deity.
Although the tablet bears no writing, the figure's hairstyle and the fact that it is holding lotus flowers suggests it is a woman, said Tel Aviv University archaeologists Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman, who made the discovery.
Mistress in Distress
Before it became the Promised Land of the Hebrews, Canaan was a collection of city-states ruled by mostly male kings who paid tributes to their more powerful neighbors the Egyptians.
Around 1350 B.C., several Canaanite kings sent clay tablets to the Egyptian pharaoh requesting military help from nomadic marauders known as the Habiru.
Of the 382 tablets that have been found, two were signed with the feminine epithet "Mistress of the Lionesses."
"The Mistress complained to the Egyptian court that the Habiru were around and that her city was in danger," Lederman said.
Some archaeologists believe the Mistress was a female ruler of a Canaanite city, but which city has remained an open question.
The new plaque could link the Mistress to the city of Beth-Shemesh, Bunimovitz and Lederman suggest.
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