Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, states that recent archaeological discoveries are revealing new aspects of cult practices of ancient inhabitants in the Levant. At Tel-Haror, a site with strata dating to the Middle Bronze II period (1,800-1,550 B.C.), archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren from Ben Gurion University excavated a temple complex with a “migdal” or tower temple. Here, Klenck directed the removal and excavated the skeletal remains of dozens of juvenile dogs, ravens and crows in various states of articulation.
In 2011, the animal bone data was compared to the unique material assemblage at the site that includes serpent figurines, the upraised arm of a statuette, and a pentagram design in preparation for a forthcoming manuscript. Many of the puppies, ravens and crows surrounded a square altar with a mudbrick base several meters away from the main sanctuary. The populations at Tel-Haror buried human shaped clay figurines, small ceramic bowls and other artifacts with these dog and corvid bones. Klenck states, “Several of the more complete animal skeletons showed the heads of these animals were severely twisted. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants broke the necks of some of these animals before interring them in the temple complex.”
The cultic significance of why puppies, ravens and crows were dispatched is less clear. Klenck notes several inscriptions that might shed light on the ideological motivations of the inhabitants at Tel Haror. In the Tale of Aqhat retrieved from Ugarit dating to the fourteenth century B.C. the tablet mentions the deity Baal splitting open vultures and interring them in the ground.
Other texts dating from the nineteenth to first centuries B.C. mention the use of dogs in conjunction with healing deities such as Gula or Ninisina in Mesopotamia, Asclepius in Greece, Eshmun in Phoenicia and Resheph-Mukal in Phoenician Cyprus. Further, Hittite texts such as the Ritual of Tunnawi mention puppies in rituals for purification, healing and to ward off evil omens. In contexts from the tenth century B.C., dog burials were found in a ramp leading to a temple at Isin in ancient Babylonia.
Conversely, ancient Israelites considered dogs and corvids to be unclean and these animals were forbidden in their sacred areas. Also, a text in the Tanakh deplores rituals that involve the breaking of a dog necks. Klenck concludes, “Although we can only speculate on their ideological motives, the excavation of puppies and corvids from the Middle Bronze Age temple complex at Tel Haror adds new insight into the ritual activities of ancient Levantine populations.”