Israeli researchers have uncovered artifacts that "professional sorcerers" used in "magical rituals" hundreds of years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a news release.
The professional sorcerers would have been visited by Muslim pilgrims traveling from Cairo in Egypt to the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. The rituals would include attempts to ward off the "evil eye," heal diseases and more. The three researchers on the project said in a joint statement that the discovery shows that "people in the Early Ottoman Period — just as today — consulted popular sorcerers, alongside the formal belief in the official religion."
"This is the first time that such a large assemblage of ritual objects of this kind has been found," the researchers — Itamar Taxel of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Uzi Avner of the Dead Sea-Arava Science Center and Nitzan Amitai-Preiss of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — said in the news release.
The artifacts were discovered in the late 1990s, at an archaeological site in Southern Israel's Eilat Hills. The finds included "dozens of fragments of clay globular rattles, mostly like table tennis balls, containing small stones, that sound when the rattle was shaken" and "two artifacts like miniature votive incense altars, a small figurine of a naked woman or a goddess with raised hands, a characteristic feature of deities or priests, a few other figurines, and colored quartz pebbles." The items were found broken, which the researchers said might have been intentional and done during the ritual ceremonies. An analysis of the clay the items were made of showed that they came from Egypt.
The artifacts were found along the Pilgrimage Road, also known in Arabic as the Darb al-Hajj, which ran from Cairo to the Arabian Peninsula. Camping sites and structures have also been found along the route in the same area the artifacts were found. Researchers believe these areas began to be used in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.
"The find-spot of these artifacts next to the camping site, and the comparison of the artifacts to those known in the Muslim world, as well as the fact that these artifacts were found together as a group, lead to the understanding that they were used in magical rituals," the researchers said. "It seems that these rituals were carried out at the site by one or several people who specialized in popular magical ceremonies."