Ivory cosmetic box in the shape of a fish

Canaanite, 13th century BC
From Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, Jordan

Fish played a role in an unusual burial

This ivory fish-shaped cosmetic box was found inside a bronze bowl which had been strapped, using Egyptian linen, to the genitals of a body found in a grave at Tell es-Sa'idiyeh. Most unusually, the body had been placed face down in the grave, and over the back of the skull were found the skeletons of three fishes.

The site of Tell es-Sa'idiyeh controlled a shallow ford across the river Jordan. In the thirteenth century it was under Egyptian control. This was the final phase of Egypt's domination of the Levant.

Most of the graves at Sa'idiyeh consist of simple, sub-rectangular pits, but the items found in them either show strong Egyptian influence or are purely Egyptian. This Egyptian influence helps explain some of the unusual burial practices. In several instances a bowl made of pottery, or more usually of bronze, had been placed either over the face or sometimes, as here, the genitals, of the individual buried. The majority of the bronze objects from the graves were found to be covered in textile remains, preserved by mineralization through the corrosion of the metal. The textile proved to be Egyptian linen. In some instances the evidence would suggest that the objects had been wrapped in cloth and deposited separately, but in others it is clear that they had been incorporated into a tight binding around the body. This is clearly related to the Egyptian practice of mummification, and indeed in a few cases a black resinous material covered the bones, presumably as a way of preserving the body.

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Ivory cosmetic box in the shape of a fish

Ivory comsetic box

  • Charred cereal grain

    Charred cereal grain

  • Animal bone with butchery marks

    Animal bone with butchery marks

  • Charred wood thin section

    Charred wood thin section


More information


J.N. Tubb, 'Tell es-Sa'idiyeh: preliminary report on the first three seasons of renewed excavations', Levant, 20 (1988), pp. 23-89

C.R. Cartwright, 'Interim report on the archaeobotanical remains from the 1996 season of excavations of the Early Bronze Age complex at Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, Jordan', Interim report on the ninth se, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 129 (1997), pp. 72-75

D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

C.R. Cartwright, 'The archaeobotanical remains from the 1993 season of excavations of the Early Bronze Age complex at Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, Jordan', Interim report on the seventh, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 126 (1994), pp. 52-67


Height: 3.800 cm (bowl)
Width: 13.500 cm
Length: 11.500 cm (fish)
Width: 13.500 cm

Museum number

ME 1987.7-27,138


Excavated by Jonathan Tubb, The British Museum


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