Archaeologists in southern Israel have found the remains of a 4-year old donkey in a grave at a temple courtyard in the center of the “scared precinct of Tel Haror. The site was a Middle Bronze Age City located near Gaza, fortified by massive ramparts and a deep moat dating back from approximately 1700 BV to 1550 BC.
The animal had been carefully laid to rest on its side more than 3500 years –ago, complete with a copper bridle bit in its mouth and saddlebags on its back. However, the archeologists noted that although “some parts of the bit were extensively worn and it likely wasn't functional at the time of the burial,” adding that an examination of the donkey's teeth suggests it was never meant to be practical.
"The absence of any sign of bit wear on the lower premolars indicates that the animal was not ridden or driven with a bit for prolonged periods of time," the researchers write in a paper published online this week in the journal PLOS ONE. "Moreover, the young donkey was still in the process of shedding its teeth and permanent teeth were just erupting. Based on its age, the Haror donkey would probably have been too young to be a trained draught animal."
The researchers say this is the only known Bronze Age bridle bit to be found in the mouth of an equid and that it likely served as a symbol of status, evoking the chariots that pulled soldiers, people of high-rank, and in a ritual context, images or statues of deities.
Additionally, because their weren’t any butchery marks or traces of burning on the donkey's bones, experts contend that the animal was not slaughtered for consumption, in contrast to a pile of scratched-up bones from sheep and goat discovered just above the donkey's carcass. These, they believe could be evidence of a feast after the ritual killing.